Oscar Talk: The Social Network

"The Social Network"

The Social Network has become the awards season darling. For a while the film was grappling with The King’s Speech for the front-running position, but after the Golden Globes, it seems everyone knows who the winner is going to be.

In 2008 and 2009, it was the little films that could that took home the Oscar. Slumdog Millionaire was once going to be released straight to DVD, and The Hurt Locker appeared doomed by the onslaught of love for James Cameron’s high-grossing Avatar. But both those films won out in the end despite their very humble beginnings, and perhaps it is that fact that makes me so hesitant to push for The Social Network.

The movie does not have humble beginnings. It experienced wide release after a very prominent advertising campaign. You didn’t go to see it in little arthouse theaters, but in those giant cineplexes that charge $6.50 for a water. It starred an artist from the biggest pop boy band of all time, and its subject was something so corporate and a part of mass culture that we all use it every single day. There is nothing humble about The Social Network.

But maybe it’s also weird to us that this movie is such an Academy favorite because it was so enjoyable. Sometimes those good films all the critics are buzzing about aren’t exactly the movies we want to go see with our friends on a Friday night. No one even saw The Hurt Locker until after it won the Academy Award, but The Social Network made $22 million opening weekend and eventually made over $200 million worldwide. Its popularity and its critical recognition is a jarring combination for us.

So what is it that made this movie a phenomenon but also a respectable film? It has been called a commentary on our times, and maybe that’s the key. The theme, of course, is that a networking website that was designed to help us connect made it intensely difficult–or even impossible–to effectively communicate with one another. It isolates us, and we feel that in Mark Zuckerberg’s eventual alienation from everyone in his life. This movie that was so enjoyable to watch didn’t even feel like a film–it felt like our lives.

In the train wreck of poorly written romantic comedies and heist thrillers, maybe what we needed was some meaning. We need movies that are contemporary enough that we haven’t seen them before and universal enough that they speak to us, and The Social Network delivers both. It is of the times and of our lives, and that’s what makes it a great film.

On that note, everyone should check out Ben Affleck’s The Company Men this weekend. It deals with another issue a lot of the country is facing. Maybe it will give us a break from the unfortunate studio burial ground that is January.

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