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National Board of Review Hails 'Social Network': So What?

The Social Network

The year's first influential salvo of kudos, Thursday's National Board of Review awards, did important things:

1) Showered four top awards on The Social Network and invited The King's Speech into the Top 11 Films group only to pee on its shoes and favor its rival.

2) Gave slow-mo contender Lesley Manville the best actress cred she desperately needs.

3) Reversed the Gotham Awards' controversial decision depriving Jennifer Lawrence of breakthrough performance honors.

4) Helped the Afghanistan doc Restrepo gain ground on frontrunners Inside Job and Bill Gates-backed Waiting for Superman.

5) Gave newcomer Jacki Weaver of Animal Kingdom and scrappy Christian Bale a fighting chance at repeating their NBR best supporting wins come Oscar night.

But let's get real: how much chance is there that NBR foretells Oscar behavior? NBR foresaw gold for No Country for Old Men and Slumdog Millionaire, but those were oddly arty wins in Oscar history, much more in keeping with past NBR picks like Quills. Movies only win Oscars if their moment is right, not because NBR gave them a shove. At the Telluride party after Slumdog's premiere, I told Danny Boyle it would win the Oscar. He widened his eyes, shook his head and said, "A movie half in Hindi is going to need all the help it can get." But history gave him an unexpected push. "Slumdog caught a wave of Obama optimism," says its screenwriter Simon Beaufoy. "A wave of hope and openness, openness to the rest of the world." Hope and openness are over. Maybe this means The Social Network's study of our nasty, brutish, winner-take-all, friendship-be-damned society is the movie of the Oscar moment. Or that we now crave retro movie comfort food like The King's Speech, a reprieve from a time when there are no good guys .

If the NBRs weren't so early, they wouldn't get so much attention. They probably do more for underexposed candidates like Manville than overexposed frontrunners. Though I have no idea who did what to court the NBR, the evidence is consistent with a guess that Sony Pictures Classics put some effort into it, sending screeners out early, while less-NBR-winning Fox Searchlight didn't, perhaps figuring it's too early to matter, and what a headache to schlep stars to a Meredith Viera-hosted gala January 11 that won't make that much of a difference at the Kodak February 27. Or will they?