Crossposted on & commissioned by Film.com
Something's happened. For the first time in at least seven years, I actually want the Oscar front runner for Best Picture to win Best Picture.
This may not seem important to you, but check it out - Fantastic Mr Fox was my #1 last year. The year before, I hated Slumdog Millionaire. The year before that, No Country? Eh. I wanted There Will Be Blood to win. The year before that, my two favorite movies, Children of Men & United 93, were virtually ignored. This goes on...and on...and on...a brief break at Return Of The King, then on...and on...and on yet again. The aughts were terrible in terms of my taste matching the Academy's. So you can imagine how sublimely jazzed I, an Oscar enthusiast who lists the date as a conflict on any form I fill out because it's my CHRISTMAS, am that the front runner for best picture of this year may actually in fact be...the best picture of this year...and I'm here to break down exactly how and why The Social Network fits that bill.
It Fires On All Cylinders Beginning to End
Except for the hardly hangable offense of a little too much CGI breath, there is not a weak element in this movie. I've heard criticisms of course - that it's boring (have you seen a movie before?), that its characters are unrelatable (have you met people? - are you a person?) or even further - all the characters are "douchebags" (not the movie's fault if you can't read into subtext or understand acting...also, if you only like watching things where everyone is nice, I know this GREAT show called Wonderpets on Nickelodeon. It's about animated pets rescuing other animated pets through the power of teamwork, you'd love it), so on and so forth. Contrarians gonna be contrarians, but the fact of the matter is, The Social Network is masterfully crafted from top to bottom.
It is the complete package in terms of writing, directing, cinematography, performance (and for that matter - casting), score, editing, spot on costuming & production design, even visual effects (Winklevai!). It is technically superb. And even further, it tells an important, relevant story in a smart, compelling way. When you find yourself jealous that these actors get to say those lines and have those moments, you know the script is good. The direction is so seamless, it manages to step out of the way while still dictating the best path to follow. The Social Network is an example of what movies *should* be and *can* be . It's a film that is bare boned in its classic brilliance - it has nothing to hide behind and it doesn't need anything to hide behind. It's non-controversial (an American studio movie that did great at the box office!) while being totally controversial (young! edgy! plays with the truth! forces us to think about social networking in relation to our ability to connect on an interpersonal level!) Cinematic yet intimate. For more on the meaning of it all, head here for some great analysis.
Words This Great Rarely Look This Great
The Social Network is one of those rare movies that has a script sharp enough to be a play, but is elevated by the direction to such an extent that it could still only be a movie. Each scene is so fluid and expertly written, you could easily imagine seeing them performed live and still be at the edge of your seat, leaning in to make sure you get every word so that your brain can keep up with the verbal tenacity you're lucky enough to be witnessing. It's no coincidence Sorkin has plenty of playwriting experience under his belt.
But then Fincher pulls the camera back with cinematic sequences like In The Hall Of The Mountain King, the creation of Facemash intercut with the Phoenix party, even the sound levels in the club where Parker confirms his place in Zuckerberg's life that make you feel like you're next to them in the club eavesdropping - only movies can do that and The Social Network the only one this year to pull off such a feat.
Take The King's Speech - it could absolutely be a play as is. There is nothing that screams "technical achievement" about anything in the movie. It's mostly close ups and static two shots in one of three locations. Then take something like The Black Swan - it could absolutely not be a play, unless perhaps you were Julie "Cray Cray" Taymor. It uses the cinematic language to such an extent that cinema is the only home for it - same goes for Inception. But The Social Network is unique. It has a script so crackling, so complete but cinematography so dynamic, score so essential, direction so visually exciting and relentless in the pursuit of the perfect performance, that Fincher makes it *distinctly* cinematic. What other movie this year can live up to those standards?
It's Controversial In The Best Way Possible
In Oscar history, more often than not the safe choice overcomes the controversial one, it's true. But take a look at last year. The Hurt Locker was a tough movie with an even tougher message. It was incredibly timely in a way most people didn't want to think about or acknowledge as truth. And the Academy actually had the balls to consent to etching its name in the hallway of the Kodak Theater for the rest of time. I don't see why this year should be any different. Maybe it's the 10 movies, maybe it's the influx of new, young Academy voters, maybe it's a combination of both, where the unexciting vote gets divided too much amongst the other nominated films, so the passionate vote wins out, but I feel like we've entered into new era and that's awesome.
It's Written By Aaron Sorkin and Directed By David Fincher...Enough Said
These are both artists that have been honing their craft for years and are incredibly well respected in the community. It's the guy who directed Fight Club and the dude who invented Jed Bartlet! Together! I want to eat the very idea of it! They've both had creative slumps (...depending on who you ask), so they've been there, they've done that, but Fincher figured out how to to infuse his incredible visual style into just simply telling a story and Sorkin stopped doing shrooms. The fact that neither has an Oscar should be remedied immediately and will. It's thrilling when two artists, both virtuosos on their own, come together and manage to create something even greater, much greater, than the sum of its parts. And shouldn't the best written & directed film of the year be, you know, considered the best picture of the year?
It Defines A Generation (I Went There)
I connected with this movie in a very intense way. I went to one of the first few schools that had Facebook, I've been around for every update, for every privacy debate, to see other websites come and go (yes, I was a member of ConnectU), to see new forms of social networking come into existence because Facebook set the groundwork for how to do it right, I've partaken in Facebook stalking and not to toot my own horn, but I'm sure I've been Facebook stalked. Who hasn't? And that's the point. This is very much a movie that could not have been made before now. And making it now and not in twenty years is rather courageous, if you ask me. The events depicted in The Social Network began eight years ago. Not only is every character in the movie able to see themselves portrayed, but most of us watching remember all of this happening. We remember site revamp after site revamp, the creation of the wall, the invention of tagging, the news stories about money and members and lawsuits. And if that doesn't convince you - the main character in the movie also happened to be Time's Person of the Year in 2010. The Zeitgeist Factor should play more of a role than it has in the past. And when someone can tap into the Zeitgeist and make beautiful art at the same time? That deserves some recognition. And you know what? Social networking isn't going away. So not only does it define our generation, but it will remain definitive for generations to come.
Other movies that defined their generations in terns of media impact & influence include Citizen Kane & Network, two powerful films that came very much out of their respective eras but are still applicable today to an INSANE degree. Neither film won Best Picture. They lost to safe choices. To triumph of the human spirit choices. To rather irrelevant choices. But as I touched on earlier, this may have happened in the 30s or the 70s, but 2011 is another story. How about we finally award a film that challenges the predominant form of media that runs our lives? Make it so when people look back on 2011 and ask which film won Best Picture, the answer is "The Social Network! Of course!" instead of "I don't remember, but it beat The Social Network.
It Would Be Really Awkward If It Lost
I'm seeing lots of articles making proclamations along the lines of "But remember that one year where something was a front runner and lost? And that other year where that happened too?!" but everyone seems to be glossing over the true universality of praise this film has gotten. It is not simply the frontrunner - it has won *every* critics award and *every* top prize at an awards show so far this season (except for the PGA...inexplicably...but it's only forecast the Oscar choice 65% of the time and that's when other awards/critics groups have agreed at least once, usually many times, which is not the case here.) The last movie that was the closest in echoing this sweep? Schindler's List. Just saying.
And if The Social Network doesn't win Best Picture - why? The only film being groomed to upset is The King's Speech, which is the safest, most conventional, least creative, least use of the film medium of any movie being talked about right now. For that to win would set the Academy back and just be really awkward for everyone. Even if something that was actually artistically deserving like Black Swan or True Grit pulled an upset, the prevailing thought would still be "Really?" This might not seem like a valid reason, but accept it or not, politics do play a factor in the Oscars and the odds are politically stacked in The Social Network's favor. I normally rail against this kind of funny business, but when said business is actually backing something that deserves it, that's a miracle and I'd like no one to futz with it.
Because most importantly here, we should be celebrating the fact that The Social Network is the front runner, not inventing rivalries and pretending movies can & will upset it. Think about what this movie is and what it has accomplished on multiple levels. This is the kind of movie we wait for and hope will get the kind of love it deserves. And it happened! It actually happened. Let's ride the wave of acclaim all the way to the podium and dance around and update our Facebook statuses when it wins and get The Social Network trending on our social networks. We can root for the movie that is likely to win, not against it this year! I mean, are you really gonna own The King's Speech and watch its commentary and show it to your kids years from now? I highly doubt it. The Social Network is a special movie, it truly is. Don't let the hype fool you. You don't always have to root for the underdog - when the front runner deserves the win, you're allowed to enjoy it.
For more on this matter, specifically why I don't think The King's Speech should or will upset on Oscar night, head here.