Okay, now we can talk about the Oscars…

…Because the somewhat mysterious organization that mysteriously somehow sets the stage and begins the momentum for the awards season, the National Board of Review, has given its awards. Perhaps not so unexpectedly, the big winner appears to be “The Social Network” which earned awards for Best Picture, Best Director (David Fincher), Best Adapted Screenplay (Aaron Sorkin), and, most interestingly, earned a Best Actor nod for Jessie Eisenberg, making him suddenly something of a frontrunner for Best Actor, which is not to say that the award makes him some kind of a sure thing.

Jessie Eisenberg and I'm not sure who in

At 27, if Eisenberg does wins for his thoroughly on-target performance, he’ll be the youngest winner in that category yet, beating 29 year-old Adrien Brody for “The Pianist.” Still, he’ll likely be facing stiff competition from 50 year-old Colin Firth (“The King’s Speech”), 70 something Robert Duvall (“Get Low“), 30 something co-host James Franco (“127 Hours“) and, perhaps, 60 something Jeff Bridges (“True Grit,” a bit less stiff since he won last year and Oscar likes to spread the love around).

The Best Actress prize was equally interesting. Lesley Manville won for her extraordinary work in the upcoming “Another Year.” I’ve seen (and will be reviewing here), the latest from Mike Leigh. There’s no doubt that Manville did an absolutely remarkable job but her supremely needy, depressed, alcoholic character is often irritating to the point of distraction, on purpose. It hits closer to home because I think most of have known or have actually been (hopefully temporarily) people very much like her. Still, sometimes people tend to blame actors for playing characters they dislike or are made uncomfortable by. Regardless, she’s been noticed. At the press day, I half-jokingly suggested to Ms. Manville that she should work on her American accent.

Jacki Weaver's back in Another heretofore far from world-famed actress who might consider studying up on U.S. dialects is Australian veteran performer Jacki Weaver. She was nominated for her magnetically squirm-inducing crime grandma in the effective thriller, “Animal Kingdom.” It’s the first time she’s been in a film to make a splash stateside since Peter Weir’s “Picnic at Hanging Rock” back before Jesse Eisenberg and James Franco were yet born.

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Los Angeles Film Festival Recap: The Movies, part 1

Absent any actual movie news bombshells (not the quite possibly fake or misleading nuggets that you might have heard about), for the next day or so I’ll be posting with thoughts about the just completed Los Angeles Film Festival. There will be some kvetching later, but first I’m going to concentrate on the more positive aspect of the festival, which are the films themselves, even if most of them already screened at other festivals. I’ll be going in random order over what I saw, ignoring a few films I walked out on which may or may not be an accurate reflection of their quality.

* No one walked out on “Four Lions” which got an uproarious reaction from the crowd I saw it with and won the audience prize. It might well have been the best film I saw at the festival. However, I can’t be sure because I was very late to it and probably missed at least 15 or 20 minutes, which was partly my own fault/bad habit but mostly the result of…oh, yeah, I promised to save the kvetching for later.

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Getting back to “Four Lions,” it’s a very ballsy English ultra-black comedy about an Islamist terrorist cell in need of a bit more cells of the gray variety if it’s going to rack up the kind of body count every suicide bomber dreams of. It makes a fit companion piece to the equally dark and zany, and really quite similar in style and manner, “In the Loop.” It’s director, interestingly, is best known here as one of the stars of the popular BBC America series, “The IT Crowd,” Christopher Morris.

* “Animal Kingdom” is a sharp witted, muted Australian crime thriller and a cautionary tale about really bad surrogate parenting, made much worse when cops start pulling extra-judicial executions. (Has this been a common problem in Australia?)  Though there are definite but subtle echoes of “Goodfellas” and “Sexy Beast,” this film has a style and story all its own from talented first-timer David Michôd. Even so, it nearly lost me during its middle portion, it’s a bit too dour, even for the subject matter, and features a dull, annoying music score that strives way too hard to underline the seriousness of the story. Still, the seeds are being planted throughout for a last act that is character driven crime suspense of the best kind.

The film is anchored by three outstanding performances from three actors of varying ages who are essentially unknown here — Jacki Weaver, who is sweetly chilling as the underage grandmother hen of the group, hasn’t been seen in the States since she appeared in Peter Weir’s 1975 “Picnic at Hanging Rock” — but they won’t stay that way for long. The one known face in the film, Guy Pearce, is almost as good, playing essentially the Australian cousin of his morally compromised, not entirely likable cop from “L.A. Confidential.”

* “Monsters” — Ever wonder what would happen if an old fifties monster movie like the George Pal “War of the Worlds” decided to concentrate on characterization and its romantic subplot, and kind of let the rest of the story take care of itself? This mostly improvised film from effects guy/writer/director Gareth Edwards is actually a lot more like ur-rom-com “It Happened One Night” than the film it’s most frequently compared to, “District 9,” as it focuses on a tough-guy news photographer (Scoot McNairy) escorting the beautiful-but-engaged daughter of his media mogul boss (Whitney Able) across a Mexico plagued by giant squid monsters. It’s not nearly as funny as it sounds — it’s not really meant to be, nor is it as compelling as Newsweek critic-turned-programmer David Ansen was claiming, though there are some interesting political echoes.

It is, however, gorgeously imagined and, including the somewhat comically old-school squid monsters, something of a visual miracle considering what appears to have been a minimal budget. Nevertheless, Edwards concept of basically filming where he could and then trying to shoehorn those stolen locations into a storyline with entirely improvised dialogue, doesn’t even come close to flying dramatically. His shoehorning of effects worked better.

More to come.

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