Can Jesse Eisenberg Win an Oscar?

Very little about The Social Network surprised me. I wasn't surprised that Aaron Sorkin wrote one of the best screenplays of the year. I just launched my arms up in the air and enjoyed his dialogue coaster. I wasn't surprised that David Fincher directed one of the best films of the year. He's hit the jackpot on more than one occasion. No, the one thing that surprised me was that I would be singing praises of Jesse Eisenberg and championing him for Best Actor. I figured this to be more of a supporting actor's showcase (and there are fine performances to go around here) helping little Jesse to carry the load. Instead, he was the guy carrying the movie.

On a whim the wife and I decided to take in a midnight-thirty screening of The Social Network, mostly because we had nothing to do and didn't feel like sleeping yet. I was a little groggy but I figured if the movie was good enough it wouldn't put this old man to sleep. Two hours later, I left the theater energized, one of those great movie highs, and I attribute this primarily to Sorkin's dialogue and Eisenberg's delivery.

When I got home, I sent a few e-mails to some of friends about the film -- the sort of bizarre, rambling e-mails people write at three in the morning and only vaguely recall the next day. In one of my insane wanderings I wrote:

"Can Jesse Eisenberg win an Oscar? YES!

The kid from Zombieland and Adventureland who's been perfecting his fast-talking, twitchy, nerdy shtick since I first saw him in Roger Dodger? That guy? Yeah, that guy.

I've since slept. Numerous times, in fact. And my surprise and excitement has made some snug way for reason. No, he probably won't be winning any Oscars any time soon. But he can get nominated and that in itself would be a major win for Mr. Eisenberg, who has always come across as a rather likable fellow. Likability only gets you so far, though. In fact, sometimes it can hurt you to the point that people (like me) don't take you seriously. Eisenberg has surprising talent and he took it to the next level here. Fifteen minutes into the movie I turned to my wife and asked, "Is it me or is he great in this?" He even has his own Alec Baldwin-in-Malice moment that -- even though they've milked it in the trailers -- still sent chills down my spine for his arrogant, and unfeeling delivery: "If you guys were the inventors of Facebook, you'd have invented Facebook" Because, damnit, he was right! His best scenes, in fact, take place in similar deposition hearings sprinkled throughout the film. Who could have thought that Eisenberg, the likable nerdy kid, would be so good at playing a cretin?

To be fair, at this stage he has very little competition. In fact the entire Best Actor race looks pretty weak on the surface when you compare it to most Oscar seasons. Leonardo DiCaprio's work this year, particularly in Shutter Island, is the only thing that comes close in my book (so far). Right now it's still early. And for now, the "nerd" is the big man on campus.

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Dre writes for Film.com weekly.