The Contenders 2011

With its suspenseful, violent and downright unsettling tale of crusading Swedish journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Bond star Daniel Craig) and damaged but brilliant hacker Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) as an odd couple who team up to investigate a disappearance, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” may seem like an about-face for director David Fincher after last year’s “The Social Network,” when in fact it signifies the helmer’s latest study of an obsessive mind.

“Girl’s” late-December release suggests strategic Oscar timing, countering observations that early-favorite “Network” may have peaked too early. Adapted from Stieg Larsson’s international bestseller by Steve Zaillian (Oscar winner for “Schindler’s List”), the intense thriller should provide some dark counter-programming to the more conventional prestige fare opening next month, suggesting a possible “The Silence of the Lambs”-style contender — assuming the Acad isn’t repelled by the story’s litany of sex crimes.

Since no one has yet seen the film, awards guesses are strictly speculative, though it’s impossible not to notice how completely Mara transformed to play for the heavily pierced, punky role — a big switch from her role as Mark Zuckerberg’s assertive ex-girlfriend in “The Social Network.” Certainly, voters will be watching with an eye toward the contributions of Fincher repeat-collaborators Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor (whose “Social” score won last year), production designer Donald Graham Burt (a winner for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”) and d.p. Jeff Cronenweth (another “Social” nominee).

Release date: Dec. 21
Sony

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