What do you mean you don’t think this is great acting? I’m not moving, not blinking and I’m speaking brilliant sarcasm as fast as humanly possible.
One of the perks about storytelling is that you get to create the rules of whatever universe you place the story in. You create characters in your own image or someone else’s as desired, and you don’t (technically) have to stick to historical facts, or any other kinds of facts. There are laws saying you can’t write untrue stories about the private lives of ordinary people, but they don’t apply as much to famous people, and hardly at all if you are writing about dead people. For many decades all that’s been required is to stick a label on the work that (in legalese) says, “If this story resembles something or someone real it’s an accident. We meant it to be FICTION. It’s all made up. Can’t sue us, neener-neener.”
It’s kind of pointless to use a term like “best” when you are estimating the quality of a movie. Movies are collaborative, and many kinds of work done by many people go into the finished product. Still, let’s take a look at three likely Oscar contenders for this past year’s BEST PICTURE:
1.) The Social Network, which is about famous and non-famous living people and some fictional characters. It concerns real and current events, uh maybe.
2.) The King’s Speech, which is about famous people who’ve died. It also concerns real events from the 1930s, mostly, probably.
3.) True Grit, which is an adaptation of a novel that was also a famous movie 40 years ago. It concerns fictional characters and events, but tries to make them seem as real as if they actually happened.
So, how do you pick which one’s best? All three films are effective, though aimed at different audiences. Is the one that surmounts the biggest creative challenge the best, like when you give extra points for degree of difficulty in diving? How do you even determine that? True Grit is entirely made up, though it was the novel’s author who made it up first. It took a lot of work to infer the motives and actions of Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg (Social Network) from public facts such as the way his past friends are suing him. Social Network is based on a “non-fiction” book. The King’s Speech is adapted from an unproduced play. It’s the most accessible story; how a reticent heir to the throne of England must overcome his speech impediment because radio is the new medium and war with Hitler (best villain ever) is about to begin. No one knows what the king and his speech therapist really said to each other.
Another view is that the audience should get to pick what’s “best” by buying the most tickets. That’s how a GRAND ENTERTAINMENT like Titanic wins. It’s happened a lot, though not always. When a good movie not many people saw (like Crash) wins, it upsets people who hold the “majority rules” view. These people assume Social Network should win, since “everyone’s talking about it” and maybe because so many people use Facebook, proving somehow that it must be an important subject.
As a critic, I assert that it makes no difference what you, I or anyone else thinks about which one is the best picture. All that matters is the basis upon which you made the choice. When you read a review, try to read between the lines to discern the biases of the reviewer. I’m an optimist, I love westerns because they employ a heroic myth structure, and I’m a sucker for a well-acted story of how someone overcomes their limitations. Therefore I loved True Grit and The King’s Speech and hated The Social Network.
I’m not saying The Social Network isn’t clever. It’s very hard to make scenes where people talk about typing interesting. There are big ideas being presented in the film. For how much money would you abandon and betray your friends? Zuckerberg did become the world’s youngest billionaire. The nature of real life versus online life is also under examination. It’s got a great, ravey/vibey innovative score and razor-sharp dialogue. It even has one oscar-worthy performance, Justin Timberlake as Napster founder Sean Parker (aka Satan, the Tempter). It’s a movie worth seeing.
However, I hated it because it’s so full of characters that are SCHMUCKS! Every “based on a real person” person in the film is morally challenged by weakness, arrogance, repressed anger, avarice and/or dishonesty. The central character, the “hero” based on Mark Zuckerberg is the WORST of them all! If I hadn’t already loathed the idea of using Facebook, this movie would have convinced me, if only to keep my meager consumer dollars out of this guy’s hands. The only character I liked was the ex-girlfriend who tells Mark what a terrible thing he did by trashing her online. Apparently that character wasn’t based on a real person, and the event never occurred. Too bad.
I’ll admit that Aaron Sorkin’s script is great work. I would vote for it. The lines are so biting and acerbic they elevate the pedestrian performances offered by most of the young actors. The writer’s view that what these guys were up to was immature, vicious behavior is superbly placed in the mouth of the (imaginary) ex-girlfriend. Sorkin makes the audience perceive the success story of Facebook as ironic.
If you want to argue with me about why I should consider this the best film, go ahead. I’m not jealous of the real guys though. I have no desire to be uber-rich. I think it’s awful that they all got rich either by stealing each other’s ideas or through lawsuits, and that the thing that made them all rich is now just another portal by which merchants get personal info about you in order to sell you things. (Don’t worry; they only want to sell you things you need, right?) I hope all the real people involved grow older and wiser real soon, but I’m not holding my breath. That is, if it ever happened at all.