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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(500) days of bad puns and other items of interest

It’s been a weird day for me, and not only because I’m a politically junkie and my side sustained a bit of a loss today (if you don’t know what I’m talking, well, let’s just keep it that way). Still, the movie news beat never stops and there are certainly days when Hollywood makes a lot more sense than politics, relatively speaking.

Spiderman
* It’s official and Nikki Finke has claimed another “toldja.” Newcomer Marc Webb of “(500) Days of Summer” will, it appears, direct the 2012 Spiderman reboot that’s been bandied about since Sam Raimi stepped aside from the now never to be filmed “Spiderman IV.” Even though, as I’ve made clear here several times, I’m not a particular fan of Webb’s feature debut, I think Anne Thompson‘s analysis is probably correct:

Webb’s “(500) Days of Summer” is a deliciously commercial hit movie: witty, breezy, defying romantic comedy formula while not straying outside the realm of accessible entertainment. That’s what studios want: that sweet spot between “original and fresh” and “accessible and commercial.”… He will be eager to prove himself on a big-budget VFX franchise, so he’ll do what he is told.

All she left out is the gift they’ve given us pun-crazed headline writers and bloggers because of Webb’s spider-suggestive last name. I guess Eric Nid was too busy on other projects.

* You knew it had to happen: Here comes “Paranormal Activity II” — from the director of “Saw VI.” (Via Bad Guy Wins.)

* I don’t know why they waited until after Martin Luther King day to announce this, but a long-planned biopic on the single most effective civil rights leader in American history is underway, and veteran playwright and screenwriter Ronald Harwood is penning the screenplay with Steven Spielberg and Stacey Snider coproducing. The more recent films in Harwood’s long career include “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” and “The Pianist.” His best known play, the semi-autobiographical “The Dresser,” was nicely filmed back in 1983. Harwood migrated to England from South Africa in 1951 and he’s proven himself a fairly able cultural chameleon over the years. I’m not sure it’s an inspired choice, but it’s not a a bad one. The tricky part now is choosing the director.

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* Some time back, I was not thrilled to report that Danny Elfman’s orchestral score was being removed from “The Wolfman” and was being replaced by a not at all promising sounding, possibly synth-driven rock, score. Well, as I’m still kind of looking forward to the apparently trouble-plagued film, I’m happy to report that Elfman’s score is apparently back in. Yeah, I’m kind of a traditionalist about things like that. I don’t like to hear futuristic sounds with my 19th century gothic chillers anymore than I want chocolate syrup on my pizza.

* It’s probably not at all fair, but I can’t help but think of this concept as “Tim Burton’s ‘Wicked’.”

* The zombie-centric romantic comedy (“zom coms”) is a subgenre that threatens to take over the planet, devouring us all. Latest to be bitten: “The Wackness” writer-director Jonathan Levine, so says Devin of CHUD.

* In China, Chow Yun Fat and the nation’s most venerated philosopher push out the Na’vi, writes Krystal Clark.

* Today we also had a trio of sad deaths of important contributors primarily to other arts whose work also impacted the movies film, singer Kate McGarrigle, and novelist Erich Segal famously of “Love Story” and less famously of “Yellow Submarine,” and mystery writer Robert B. Parker of “Spencer for Hire.” RIP all.

  

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Roman Polanski arrested in Switzerland

Roman Polanski in 1978

I’ll be getting to the weekend box office fairly soon but we have some breaking news today. Kind of a bombshell, actually.

As if to fill the void left by the conclusion of the Phil Specter case, a long-running Hollywood legal drama of some real significance has reemerged this morning and is almost certain to be filling the gossip and news pages for some time. As I write this, arguably one of one of the world’s five or so greatest living directors, whose resume includes “Chinatown,” “Rosemary’s Baby,” 2002’s “The Pianist” and the psychological horror classics “Repulsion” and “The Tenant,” is under arrest at age 76 and may be extradited back to L.A. county. This one could get messy and makes yet another painful and extraordinary chapter in the life of a director and occasional actor who escaped the Holocaust as a child, became an internationally famous filmmaker during the sixties, lost his pregnant actress wife in one of the most brutal murder rampages in U.S. history, and then nearly lost everything else over a inexcusable drunken encounter nearly a decade later.

Younger readers may not be aware how, in 1978, 45 year-old director Roman Polanski was arrested after having sex and sharing champagne and part of a Quaalude — a tranquilizer and de riguer party drug of the time — with 13 year-old Samantha Geimer. The victim’s name has only become public knowledge in recent years when, now middle-aged, she has come out publicly to forgive Polanski and call for a conclusion to the extremely muddy and muddled case which, however you come down on it, has more sides to it than you are likely aware of.

Indeed, though you may be hearing now end of moral grandstanding this week, this is no simple case. Even as someone who literally grew up with the matter and with Polanski’s career, I really knew very little about it before seeing and reviewing Marina Zenovich’s outstanding film about the matter: “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired.” As Zenovich said in the film’s commentary, Polanski was both a perpetrator and a victim of a publicity hungry judge who used to case for his own ends and drew out the case needlessly. The real heroes of her film were, ironically, both the prosecutor and the defense attorneys in the case. Yes, Virginia, there may be two honest lawyers in greater Los Angeles.

Anyhow, there are any number of questions at this point, including how did Polanski’s lawyers not know what the Swiss authorities might do? (Polanski has been able to live peacefully in France because the U.S.-France extradition treaty does not cover his particular crime and he is highly regarded there. He has carefully avoided being seen in countries such as England where the laws are different.) Nikki Finke calls it a double-cross.

This case is huge and has already been condemned by French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand who is in communication with President Nicolas Sarkozy. No doubt, even as we speak poor Robert Gibbs is probably trying to figure what President Obama’s answer should be when he’s asked about it. Maybe he can use the whole “ongoing legal matter” construction to avoid it. That’s what I’d try to do.

Whatever happens, we certainly won’t be avoiding the case here. Stay tuned.

  

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