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The Social Network Clocks in as the Best Reviewed Film of the Year

The year is not over. There are still a few films left. Interesting, though, that The Social Network sits at 97 on Metacritic (sans Armond White’s pan). It has more scores of 100 than even Toy Story 3. Right now, Metacritic has as the top ten best reviewed films of the year:

The Social Network -97
Sita Sings the Blues -94
Toy Story 3-93
Children of Tokyo-91
A Prophet-90
Winter’s Bone-90
A Film Unfinished-88
The Tillman Story-86

It is significant that a mainstream Hollywood film sits atop the critics’ lists right now. Granted, the Metacritic scorers do this subjectively. A 90 score for Manohla Dargis’ review is debatable. I would have scored hers at 100. Perhaps hers lacks a certain “breathless enthusiasm.” Either way, even the bad reviews are pretty good with this film.

The only major critic who hasn’t yet weighed in is the LA Times’ Kenneth Turan, who has a video review of the film but it’s too short to really get an idea of his opinions. There is a distinct lack of hyperbole in it, however, which leads me to believe it will be more like Dargis’ review and less like, say, Peter Travers’.

The film is also sitting at a 97% fresh over at Rotten Tomatoes, where two critics panned it. Armond White’s pan seems to miss the point of the film completely – at this point, it would be more surprising if White had written a good review. This one borders on self-parody. The other review, by Prairie Miller, makes valid enough points. Okay, fine.

Why is this significant? The Social Network is appealing across several age groups and demographics. When have we seen a movie that was given the golden seal of approval by the bloggers and also by the critics? It hardly ever happens.

How will these reviews translate into the Oscar race? There is no question that The Social Network is headed for all of the major nominations from Best Picture/Director/Screenplay. From there, we’re probably also looking at at least one acting nomination — Jesse Eisenberg may very well give the second best male performance of the year behind Colin Firth — with Leonardo Dicaprio still hanging in for Shutter Island. Andrew Garfield seems a shoo-in for Supporting, and Justin Timberlake ought to be recognized, whether he will or not is a big question. Cinematography and sound are definite possibilities. Alas, Trent Reznor’s score is probably the one big snub the film will receive. s

Two more reviews well worth the read are Roger Ebert’s four star review of the film, and Owen Gleiberman’s perfect A.

For those of us who write about movies (I don’t consider myself a critic), two things inspire us to write at our best: a really terrible film, and a really great one. One can always measure the greatness of a film by the way it inspires some of the best writing from those who have to see everything and write about everything.


Hooked by the desire to belong, but also by his dream of what a game changer Facebook could be, Zuckerberg does whatever it takes to push his vision forward. He’s a cad, but in his devious techno-entrepreneurial way he’s also an idealist, driven by a force greater than greed. He’s an Asperger’s version of Citizen Kane, aware of everything around him yet disengaged from it, too. He undercuts the snobbery of the Winklevosses’ idea, making it more supple and democratic even as he snatches it from under their blue-blood noses.

The Social Network has everything you want in a thriller for the brain: huge doses of ego and duplicity, corporate backstabbing, and some very layered performances. Justin Timberlake plays Sean Parker, the Napster cofounder who helped launch Facebook, as an ultra-shrewd party boy who encourages Zuckerberg to see that what looks illegal in the Internet era may in fact be the rules of the future. As the ingenuous Eduardo, whose only crime is thinking small (which to Zuckerberg is the biggest crime of all), Andrew Garfield has a great moment where he confronts his ex-comrade. It’s the tongue-lashing we’ve been waiting for, yet the power of The Social Network is that Zuckerberg is a weasel with a mission that can never be dismissed. The movie suggests that he may have built his ambivalence about human connection into Facebook’s very DNA. That’s what makes him a jerk-hero for our time.

And from Ebert:

It’s said there are child prodigies in only three areas: math, music and chess. These non-verbal areas require little maturity or knowledge of human nature, but a quick ability to perceive patterns, logical rules and linkages. I suspect computer programming may be a fourth area.

Zuckerberg may have had the insight that created Facebook, but he didn’t do it alone in a room, and the movie gets a narration by cutting between depositions for lawsuits. Along the way, we get insights into the pecking order at Harvard, a campus where ability joins wealth and family as success factors. We meet the twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (both played by Armie Hammer), rich kids who believe Zuckerberg stole their “Harvard Connection” in making Facebook. We meet Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), Zuckerberg’s roommate and best (only) friend, who was made CFO of the company, lent it the money that it needed to get started and was frozen out. And most memorably we meet Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), the founder of two legendary web startups, Napster and Plaxo.

It is the mercurial Parker, just out of work but basked in fame and past success, who grabbed Zuckerberg by the ears and pulled him into the big time. He explained why Facebook needed to move to Silicon Valley. Why more money would come from venture capitalists than Eduardo would ever raise with his hat-in-hand visits to wealthy New Yorkers. And he tried, not successfully, to introduce Zuckerberg into the fast lane: big offices, wild parties, women, the availability of booze and cocaine.

Zuckerberg was not seduced by his lifestyle. He was uninterested in money, stayed in modest houses, didn’t fall into drugs. A subtext the movie never comments on is the omnipresence of attractive Asian women. Most of them are smart Harvard undergrads, two of them (allied with Sean) are Victoria’s Secret models, one (Christy, played by Brenda Song) is Eduardo’s girlfriend. Zuckerberg himself doesn’t have much of a social life onscreen, misses parties, would rather work. He has such tunnel vision he doesn’t even register when Sean redrafts the financial arrangements to write himself in and Eduardo out.

The testimony in the depositions makes it clear there is a case to be made against Zuckerberg, many of them sins of omission. It’s left to the final crawl to explain how they turned out. The point is to show an interaction of undergraduate chaos, enormous amounts of money and manic energy.

In an age when movie dialogue is dumbed and slowed down to suit slow-wits in the audience, the dialogue here has the velocity and snap of screwball comedy. Eisenberg, who has specialized in playing nice or clueless, is a heat-seeking missile in search of his own goals. Timberlake pulls off the tricky assignment of playing Sean Parker as both a hot shot and someone who engages Zuckerberg as an intellectual equal. Andrew Garfield evokes an honest friend who is not the right man to be CFO of the company that took off without him, but deserves sympathy.

“The Social Network” is a great film not because of its dazzling style or visual cleverness, but because it is splendidly well-made. Despite the baffling complications of computer programming, web strategy and big finance, Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay makes it all clear, and we don’t follow the story so much as get dragged along behind it. I saw it with an audience that seemed wrapped up in an unusual way: It was very, very interested.