The blogger consensus out of last night’s AFIFest screening of David O. Russell‘s The Fighter is that Christian Bale is a lock for Best Supporting Actor, and that the film itself has a fighting chance for a Best Picture nomination. Mark Wahlberg, they’re saying, may not make the cut as a Best Actor contender, but that’s okay because the movie pleases and engages and looks like an across-the-board hit (i.e., snooties + Eloi).

I’ve sifted and sifted through Jeff Sneider‘s longish Wrap piece about the showing, and I think I’ve finally found the nub of it.

“As far as The Fighter‘s awards potential is concerned, Best Picture is more of a probability than a possibility now that most of the contenders have been screened for critics. Paramount is still testing everyone’s patience by holding True Grit like a carrot over critics’ heads, but give the studio credit for a shrewd marketing move with its AFI surprise.

“Best Actor is, to be perfectly honest, going to be difficult for Wahlberg, but I wouldn’t count him out just yet, as I expect the film to be warmly embraced by both critics and audiences alike. Like I said, it’s not a showy role for Wahlberg, and some of my colleagues argued last night that Bale was more of a co-lead, but Wahlberg was the 4th or 5th Departed cast member who I thought should’ve been nominated for an Oscar and yet his performance was the only one recognized by the Academy, so who knows?

“While Wahlberg may not give a ‘great, iconic screen performance,’ as former Variety critic Todd McCarthy wrote of Mickey Rourke‘s work in The Wrestler, his years of training and preparation for the role result in a surprisingly quiet and restrained performance that ranks amongst the best of Wahlberg’s career (I’m tempted to call it his best but Boogie Nights is pretty epic).”

Bale “might well walk away with the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor this year,” says In Contention‘s Kris Tapley. “He’s mercilessly precise, committed and authentic as Ward’s crack-addicted half-brother, Dickie Eklund, a former next-big-thing boxer who blew his chances and lives life vicariously through Ward. The film mostly concerns itself with that sibling relationship and finds its most profound notes of grace therein, and Bale is really something to behold throughout.

“I’d say we’re looking at a solid contender for a Best Picture nomination. The film played like gangbusters and I’ve heard from numerous critical minds responding likewise, so erase all doubt. The Fighter is here to play, and what a coup for Paramount to have this dual reveal to the populace and industry alike. It was smart to eschew the typical festival strategy. This is a film meant to hit and hit big.

The piece by Deadline‘s Pete Hammond doesn’t really say if he truly admired it. For me calling a film a “vivid and colorful crowd pleaser” feels like a slight hedge. A circus act with elephants and lions can be vivid and colorful, and crowds can be easy to please if that’s all you want to do (as opposed to accomplishing something really special and/or unique in terms of new territory).

“The crowd ate it up” — the film, Hammond means — “and seemed to be with Wahlberg all the way. The supporting cast is rich, too, including choice roles for Melissa Leo as Micky’s mother/manager, and Amy Adams as his tough bartender girlfriend. Bale is terrific. He’ll go up for supporting actor, while Wahlberg will go for lead. All have real shots for this vivid and colorful crowd pleaser.

“Although The Fighter could be classified as a boxing picture, it’s [essentially] a character study of two very different brothers and spends much of its time defining that rocky relationship,” Hammond adds.

Indiewire‘s Anne Thompson says Bale “risks going too far with his druggie extrovert, but he slowly wins us over. He seems to excel when he’s dieted and sweated out every ounce of fat on his frame. He should land a supporting nomination; it would be his first.

“Will The Fighter make the best picture top ten? If all goes right (reviews/box office/critics and guild prizes), it’s possible. [But] it’s the actors shine in this, and should be rewarded.”