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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Money Can't Buy You Friends

Mark Zuckerberg's story drips with irony. Zuckerberg, a Harvard undergrad so desperate to be liked that he created Facebook, the ultimate "killer app" for online socializing, is so socially inept that we find ourselves wondering if anyone will accept his friend requests.

Yes, Nation, we have officially begun our annual getting-around-to-it of watching the Oscar nominees. We watched "Inception" awhile ago, and last night we took in the David Fincher-Aaron Sorkin extravaganza "The Social Network." The film tells an interesting story with a terrific script and good acting. We learn that Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg is a nerdy genius, who gains our admiration for creating something that pretty much everybody loves, even while being a generally unlikable human being. It is to the credit of Jesse Eisenberg, who plays Zuckerberg, that the main character comes across as even mildly sympathetic. And while Zuckerberg is surely a bright guy, we suspect that a good deal of his genius affect comes from the fact that he is speaking dialogue written by Aaron Sorkin. Everybody sounds like a genius when speaking Sorkin; Sarah Palin would sound like a genius if Aaron Sorkin wrote her material. (Well, OK, the man's not a miracle worker, but she'd sound a lot better.)

The screenplay was based on a book called The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich. Assuming Sorkin's screenplay sticks to the story in the book, we can guess who cooperated with Mezrich and who didn't. Eduardo Saverin (played by Andrew Garfield), who co-founded Facebook and served as the company's first CFO, comes across as the most sympathetic figure in the movie. Zuckerberg's level-headed superego, Saverin engages in battle with his id, represented by Napster founder Sean Parker (played by Justin Timberlake); the superego loses. Parker comes across as a fast-talking manipulator of Zuckerberg's essential naivete. And Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (twins played by Armie Hammer), who unwittingly inspired Facebook by recruiting Zuckerberg to design an exclusive Harvard social networking site, are spoiled rich kids who feel entitled to a piece of the Facebook pie.

We're not sure why this should be: The film gives no indication that Zuckerberg "stole" anything from the Winklevi. They wanted to create a Harvard social-network; they wanted Zuckerberg to design it; they gave him neither money nor code; and Zuckerberg went ahead and created the network for himself. It's not as though any of these people invented the concept of social-networking sites; Zuckerberg just tapped into a public desire that already existed--and was already being popularized by sites like MySpace and Friendster--and built a better mousetrap. Where do the Winklevi Twins fit into this? Who knows? Again, though, they may have been less accommodating to Mezrich and/or Sorkin than, say, Saverin was, so all these interpretations may be hopelessly biased.

We can't find any major fault with "The Social Network." At the same time, though, we don't see what all the fuss is about. The film moves along briskly, which is unsurprising with someone like David Fincher at the helm. There's nothing especially "cinematic" about the movie, though. No scenes stand out as exceptionally visually interesting; the settings are mostly dorm rooms and offices. We watched the movie on TV and can't imagine that we missed anything on the big screen.

Incidentally, since we've been burned in the past couple of years when we tried to "outwit" the Oscars, our picks this year are just going to be the favorites (and, remember, we've only seen two of the movies):

Best Picture: The King's Speech

Best Director: Tom Hooper (under the theory that the "Picture" director wins--although, of the nominees, we suspect that Darren Aronofsky ["The Black Swan"] did the most "directing." And, we're sorry, but how could Christopher Nolan ["Inception"] not be nominated? Did David Fincher really do a more impressive job with "The Social Network"--where he basically just had to point the camera and say, "Action!"--then Nolan did?)

Best Actor: Colin Firth (While it would be fascinating to see what would happen if James Franco, who's HOSTING the Oscars, won the award, it'll be even more fascinating to see what happens when he loses.)

Best Actress: Natalie Portman (We think this one's a lock.)

Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale (Again, from what we've heard, this is a lock.)

Best Supporting Actress: Hailee Steinfeld (We don't really know anything about the nominees, and we think we've heard that Melissa Leo is a heavy favorite, but this category seems to go to little girls a lot [see Tatum O'Neal and Anna Paquin].)

And we'll go with "The Social Network" and "The King's Speech" for the screenplay awards (adapted and original, respectively).

If you win your Oscar pool with these picks, be sure to send us our cut.

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