You may recall I reported some weeks ago that there was positive buzz about Robert DeNiro in “Everybody’s Fine.” There was even some talk after years of making comedies and formula police dramas that DeNiro could be nominated for an Oscar.

And now, I am happy to say, I was right.

You should have been in the Dolby 24 screening room yesterday to hear the sniffles and tears from a bunch of hardened movie critics. But there it is: DeNiro is so moving in “Everybody’s Fine,” a family drama from the now lame duck Miramax, that he will most certainly be in the mix for Academy Award nomination and awards from other groups as well. You’ll need a nice little packet of Kleenex tissues or a good sleeve for this one.

“Everybody’s Fine” could have devolved into absolute shmaltz. At its worst, I feared “About Schmidt” mashed up with “The Family Stone.” But British director Kirk Jones, who has “Nanny McPhee” and “Waking Ned Devine” on his resume, has managed to rein in the the potentially worst aspects of his own story, based on an Italian movie. Luckily, no one dies or gets cancer in this film ‘ I was so glad when DeNiro’s Frank, the widowed father of four adult children, announces that early on.

So what’s up with Frank? Recently widowed, he’s trying to connect with his children after letting his late wife be the liaison between parents and kids. And Jones has set up a nice metaphor: lack of communication and the fact that Frank worked encasing millions of miles of phone wire with copper.

Sam Rockwell, Kate Beckinsale, and Drew Barrymore play three of the four children, and each is well cast and perfectly matched with DeNiro. They are all “fine,” professionals whose lives seem good on the surface but are nuanced with normal problems ‘ only they’ve been afraid to confide these real issues to their father. None of the problems is earthshaking. Rather it’s the way they interact with their dad that stands out.

DeNiro is in nearly every frame, and he’s just outstanding. There’s none of the “Fockers” nonsense, even when he’s working in scenes with a baby or a teenager. Maybe he found something in his relationship to his own late father, the artist whose name he carries, but DeNiro feels more invested in “Everybody’s Fine” than he has in any film since maybe “Marvin’s Room” or before. He almost reminded me of Spencer Tracy: refined, elegant, wise. Now new generations will want to reconsider DeNiro, and see why we have considered him one of the handful of great actors of his generation. Whatever qualms there might be about the conventional nature of the film, it’s DeNiro’s command of it that turns Jones’s film into something of a greater mission.

So add Robert DeNiro to that list of formidable potential Best Actor nominees. It’s getting mighty crowded!

P.S. Just one observation about the house Kate Beckinsale lives in in this movie: this is real estate porn, that’s all I can say. No one can be unhappy living in this house. I am moving right in!

One more thing: it will be wild in the DeNiro household this winter. His wife, Grace Hightower, one of our favorite people , not only has a small role in “Precious,” but a great song ont that movie’s soundtrack as well!

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