The Social Network over the past couple months has been unabashedly accepting every award and congratulatory remark that has been sent its way. It seemed the film was determined to be held in eminence amongst other films that are in awards contention this year. Since the film opened in early October it has been on an irrepressible ascent, exceeding every other film in critical acclaim (according to the online site Metacritic it scored an impressive 95).
Satisfaction endured on the film’s behalf all the way up until this past Tuesday morning, where David Fincher’s Facebook film tallied a total of 8 Oscar nominations. You may say such a particular outing is absolutely superb. But taking into consideration the mentality of students attending Harvard University (like those in The Social Network), 8 is somewhat of a disappointment when you can have many more. Such students anticipate nothing but the best. Given the multitude of accolades The Social Network received, a measly 8 nominations simply cannot be adequately embraced.
Even more unsatisfying does The Social Network become when two films eclipsed its total of 8 nominations. Joel and Ethan Coen’s western True Grit garnered 10 nominations, including picture and director, while Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech triumphantly reigned over all films with a whopping 12 nominations, including best picture and best director, making it King of the 2011 Oscars.
What needs to be acknowledged is whether The Social Network peaked too soon. Though The Hurt Locker, last year’s Oscar winner for Best Picture, was widely released in the summer months of 2009, it was the later released Up in the Air collecting all the successes that publications and award shows gave it. Peaking too early doesn’t mean when the film happened to be released. I’m referring to peaking early by getting so much critical love so soon. Another example of this occurring was in 2005 when Crash accomplished a monumental upset over the presumed Best Picture winner Brokeback Mountain. The Social Network undoubtedly received too many accolades, but the question is, is it too soon? The Academy is known to not always adhere to what other award shows and publications seem to deem Best Film of the Year. So it may indulge in dismissing The Social Network just so another film can receive some attention.
Farther does The Social Network travel away from Oscar gold as we take into account the Academy being mostly comprised of men of old age. Instead of showing impertinence on their behalf due to their misunderstanding of such contemporary films, can voters sufficiently grasp and relate to Fincher’s film? Are voters too snobby to embrace a film depicting the devising of Facebook as well as the moral decline of its creator? We can see the Academy’s disengagement from popular entertainment and radical contemporary themes by their dismissing of Christopher Nolan’s direction in Inception. Yeah Inception is up for Best Picture, but only because there are 10 slots to fill. The true Best Picture nominees are found in the directing category made up by Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan), Joel and Ethan Coen (True Grit), David Fincher (The Social Network), Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech), and David O. Russell (The Fighter).
The advantage, as made evident by the 12 nominations The King’s Speech got, is in Tom Hooper’s favor. The Academy wants intimacy and familiarity, and also (this may be the deciding factor) an affectionate film that chronicles an against-all-odds tale. Black Swan is too bleak. The Fighter has the problem of having its main character subordinated by its supporting character. And we will get to True Grit in a bit. The delicacy of The King’s Speech clashes with the harshness of The Social Network and it is this clashing that renders the latter a film not worthy of Oscar gold. Both of these films are bounded by the same subject matter: Each film concentrates on a form of communication (speech/networking). But both couldn’t be more different in the way it presents its subject. Perseverance is the greatest theme in Hooper’s film, while pain and greed share equal dominance in Fincher’s. Best Picture is a showdown between old Hollywood and new Hollywood.
The 10 nominations True Grit received are a surprise. Some year-end lists didn’t even recognize the film at all, and the Golden Globes neglected every aspect of it. The film has been rapidly gaining momentum the last few weeks (thanks to impressive box-office numbers) and the Academy, as recent history has shown, has a cult-like obsession with the Coen brothers, finding pleasure in almost anything they do. Their nomination for Best Director may have taken Christopher Nolan’s slot. A Best Picture win for the Coens’ film would be a stunner because it is a remake of the 1969 film that starred John Wayne, a role that finally brought to him his much-eluded Best Actor award. Though in 2006 The Departed won for Best Picture (it being a remake of a 2002 Hong-Kong film), a win for True Grit would be an interruption in Oscar history, making it the first Best Picture winner that is a remake of an American film. The resurgence of the Western genre these past few years has been much needed, and the Academy showering True Grit with 10 nominations is evidence of that. Jeff Bridges and 14-year-old Hailee Steinfeld are nominated for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress, respectively. Both have an unfortunate path to go through in obtaining statuettes. But Bridges seems to have the most daunting as he goes against the impressive Colin Firth (The King’s Speech), James Franco (127 Hours), Javier Bardem (Biutiful), and Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network).
Black Swan seems most likely to strike gold in the Best Actress category. Natalie Portman’s plethora of awards she has already won for sinisterly portraying a ballet dancer on the verge of a nervous breakdown has made her competition disappear. Like Firth, Portman’s competition is a non-factor. Neither can Nicole Kidman (Rabbit Hole) or Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine) muster up enough momentum because so few people have seen their films. Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone) is in the same boat as Kidman and Williams, but what Lawrence does have going for her is the fact that her film, Winter’s Bone, is nominated for Best Picture and has been the “underdog” this entire award season. And this leaves Annette Bening. Her performance in The Kid’s Are All Right is a complex one, juggling many emotions. But her performance doesn’t leave you in awe. Portman takes total command of her film and makes it her own. We can imagine The Kid’s Are All Right without Bening, but I won’t begin to entertain any thoughts of watching Black Swan without Portman as the lead role.
This year’s Oscars, as the nominations show, promises to be a rampant critique of two dissimilar eras. And the arena for such a battle is occurring in the Best Picture category, mainly between The King’s Speech, on a vicious ascent and The Social Network trying to withstand immediate evaporation. The Academy hasn’t awarded its top prize to a retro-throwback-lavishly-depicted-period-piece since 1998 when Shakespeare in Love upset Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. We will see what way voters are swayed on February 27, 2011 when the Oscars are televised. Until then we will have constant bickering between geeks, snobs, buffs, and traditionalists. The Academy always wanted to get the attention of such diverse people. This is their year it happens.