30 Best Films of the Past Decade: Fincher’s Social Network, Best Amrican Film of 2010-2019

Watching Together While Apart

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Alone/Together in the Dark

I had an interesting argument a couple of weeks ago with a cherished colleague and friend, who’s also a film critic.  He claimed, based on his common sense, that during the Coronavirus pandemic, viewers wish to see escapist entertainment, sort of fluffy and undemanding fare, such as broad comedies, dazzling musicals, fast-paced actioners and adventures.

I have never fully subscribed to the escapist theory–in essence-, that in dreary times, audiences would opt for everything and anything that would let them forget for a few hours the surrounding grim reality.

When an international magazine asked for my choices of the great films of the past decade, I began to construct lists of films that have impressed me at their initial release, and have continued to linger in memory in terms of ideas, motifs, characters, images, and sounds.

For purposes of simplicity, my list of the 30 best movies of the past decade is presented alphabetically.  Obviously, the films reflect my taste as I look back and revisit them from a distance.  As such, they are inevitably singular and biased.  There’s no need to agree with my filmic hierarchy, but as a critic, it’s my duty and privilege to expose readers to films that they might not have seen upon initial release, or wish to revisit from a different viewpoint–with the privileged perspective of time.

11. Social Network (Best American Film of 2010-2019)

Both a movie event and an event movie, David Fincher’s The Social Network is his must fully realized and most socially significant work to day.  Though it’s only September, it’s clearly the best American picture of the year.

Everything you have heard about “Social Network,” the most eagerly awaited film of the year, is true—and more. World-premiering at the prestigious New York Film Fest (as opening night), the film will be released by Sony October 1.  By now the film has generated such a strong buzz that it should easily cross the $100 million mark domestically.

Our Grade: A (***** out of *****)

Watch trailer: emanuellevy.com/videos/view.cfm?id=254.

Sure to win some critics kudos and to sweep the Oscar nominations, “Social Network” should get at least ten nods from the Academy of Motion Picture, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, several acting (both lead and supporting) and several technical awards (cinematography, editing).  Handsomely mounted, the film is visually inventive, with an amazing score and sound effects.

Seven may be the lucky number in the career of the brilliant Fincher for a number of reasons. Made in 1995, his film “Seven” is still the scariest horror-serial killer picture I have ever seen. “Social Network” also happens to be the seventh feature in a career that began in 1992 with “Alien3,” his installment in the popular franchise (and his only disappointing film, perhaps because it was his first and he lacked control).

For some reason, Fincher has been (unfairly, I think) labeled as a visual stylist and genre director, though a case could be made that at least three of his movies have defied this easy categorization: “The Fight Club,” “Zodiac,” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”

In “Social Network,” Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (best known for TV’s “The West Wing”) explore the origins of Facebook, arguably the most revolutionary social phenomenon of the new century, and the socio-economic contexts in which it was invented.  They do it by focusing on the conflicting perspectives of a clique of Harvard’s ultra-smart young men, who each claims to be there at the inception of a new social medium, which went on to change the very way we interact and think of our lives.

The tale is largely set in the crucial years of 2003 and 2004. The title cards at the end inform us what ever happened to each of the players.  The film’s central character, Mark Zuckerberg, by the way, is still the youngest billionaire ever.

By digging deep into the tumultuous and exciting act of creating a new enterprise, Fincher and Sorkin offer insights into the very fabric of what is broadly classified as the American Dream, with its basic tenets of individualism, competition, achievement, and monetary success. As such “Social Network” is a zeitgeist film, reflecting the mores of our times, in the same way that “The Fight Club” reflected the zeitgeist of the late 1990s.

Due to structural similarities and narrative parallels, inevitable comparisons will be made to two seminal movies: Akira Kurosawa’s “Rashomon” (1950), still one of the most influential films ever made, and Orson Wells’ astounding debut “Citizen Kane” (1941), a certified masterpiece and a highlight of classic American cinema.

“Rashomon” is evoked because “Social Network” deals provocatively with the very issues of “Truth,” and the nature of “Objectivity,” through the presentation of multiple perspectives of one crucial event. Needless to say, the evidence presented in the hearings of the Facebook case is divergent and often contradictory.

“Social Network” also suggests strong links to “Citizen Kane” in its structure, thematic concerns, and central character. If “Citizen Kane” depicts the impossibility of constructing and comprehending the life a single visionary individual, “Social Network” does a similar thing in trying to understand the invention of a visionary idea by Mark Zuckerberg, a visionary individual.

In centering on a particular individual (and his clique of friends and peers) at a particular historical time, “Social Network,” like other great and classic films, becomes universal in its insights about free enterprise, American capitalism, and unbridled individualism.  Clearly, the motivation behind the foundation of Facebook was only partially monetary; it was also driven by the need for power and control, obsessive and addictive conduct, and the desire to succeed at all costs.

Every age has its visionaries who leave, as a combined result of their geniuses and idiosyncratic personalities (all outsiders in one way or another), a new, changed world. The life of visionaries in art, literature and science is often fraught with conflicts and battles over what exactly happened? How it happened? Who exactly made it happen? Who should get credit and recognition? Who is the ultimate beneficiary?

The film’s dramatic narrative depicts the contradictory processes of creation and destruction, using a storytelling mode that intentionally avoids a singular POV, thus running against the norm of most dominant and mainstream Hollywood cinema, which features a small number of protagonists and one perspective.  Instead, “Social Network” tracks and presents dueling narratives and clashing “truths,” based on a richly dense portrait of the social dynamics that defined the tangled web of interactions within one bright group of students.

Drawn from multiple sources, “Social Network” moves smoothly and rapidly from one peculiar and distinctive milieu to another, beginning in the classrooms and halls of the venerable Harvard University all the way to the cubicles of Palo Alto, capturing along the way the visceral thrills of the heady early days of one significant phenom, Facebook, which changed our culture in many ways, some of which anticipated, while others unpredicted and unseen.

As scripted by Sorkin, the tale’s central figure (who could be perceived as a hero and anti-hero) is Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), a brilliant Harvard student who conceives a website that went on to redefine our interpersonal communication and social fabric overnight.

Zuckerberg is juxtaposed with Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield, the next “Spider-Man”), a close and trusted friend, who provides the seed money for the fledgling company.  Of all the actors, Garfield gives the most emotionally touching performance, a possible function of his intriguing character and the way it is written, but also his considerable dramatic skills (He’s also good this season in the romantic melodrama, “Never Let Me Go”).

Also in the game are the Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer and Josh Pence), Zuckerberg’s Harvard classmates, who claim that he stole their idea.  After much deliberation with their own conscience, and after consulting with Harvard’s cynical president, they decide to sue him. (The details of the settlement are presented in title cards at the very end).  In a parallel story, we get a view of the siblings’ personas as they engage in boat racing, shown in a beautifully edited montage, which they end up losing.

Joining forces is Napster founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake in a breakout screen performance), who brings Facebook to Silicon Valley’s venture capitalists and turns it into an ultra-successful enterprise.

As in Kurosawa’s “Rashomon,” each player has his own narrative, his own version of the Facebook tale, how it all began and how it evolved into Big Business.  What’s most effective about Sorkin’s screenplay is that the individual players add up to more than the sum total of their parts.

End result is a mysteriously intriguing puzzle, a multi-level mystery that deconstructs one phenomenal success story at the beginning of the new Century.  Sorkin presents a well-rounded and highly-detailed (but never absolutely clear or definitive) anatomy of a youthful fantasy, which, initially, seems to have limitless possibilities—until it clashes with the harsher, more finite socio-economic realities and the display of strong egos.

What turns out to be a consequential saga actually begins sort of randomly, on the night of October of 2003. Drunk and desolate, having just been dumped by his girlfriend Erica, Zuckerberg hacks into the university’s computers. Sitting at his desk, he creates a site that forms a database of all the women on campus. He then lines up two pictures next to each other and asks the users to choose which is “hotter.”  He decides to be cute and calls the site Facemash.

At this point, Zuckerberg is unaware of the consequences of his rather spontaneous act. However, the idea takes a life of its own, when the site instantly goes viral, first crashing the entire Harvard system, then moving to Columbia, Yale and Princeton, generating along the way various controversies, which include the site’s purported misogyny, But not for too long: as the story makes clear, students attending college, even Harvard, are more concerned with getting laid and gaining acceptance and popularity than with getting formal education perse.

Soon Zuckerberg faces several grave charges. He is accused of intentionally breaching security, violating copyrights, violating individual privacy, and deviating from Harvard’s gentlemanly code of ethics.  Through the hearing of pros and cons, and testimonies by the various players, we get a full portrait of how the underlying framework for Facebook was born, and by implication, how a revolution in our predominant mode of communication was radically changed.

Shortly after, Zuckerberg launches the facebook.com, which spreads like a wildfire from one screen to the next across Harvard, and then to other Ivy League schools, Palo Alto’s Stanford University, Silicon Valley, ultimately reaching and conquering triumphantly the entire Internet world.  There is a wonderfully vivid scene, set in the new office, where a board is placed at the center of the room and the number of visitors is constantly updated; when the figure crosses the one million mark, the whole group is in a state euphoria.

However, there is price to be paid. The chaos of creation leads to highly emotional and passionate conflicts about how it all began, and who deserves credit and social recognition for what is clearly developing into one of the century’s signal ideas.  A good deal of the multilayered narrative dissects the tensions and battles that divide the formerly intimate friends, spurring major moral and legal actions.

Fortunately, the text never escalates into a routine courtroom drama.  In fact, the movie creates the impression of watching history in the making—and still being written.  The filmmakers present an aggregate of equally tricky narrators, with each individual holding that he (and not the others) is in the right, and that his particular memories represent the “truth” of the matter.

Sorkin, adapting to the screen Ben Mezrich’s book “The Accidental Billionaire,” should be

commended for writing a sharply-observed, focus-shifting, carefully constructed, non-aligned scenario, replete of witty punch lines that can give “All About Eve” (and its writer Joseph Mankiewicz) a run for its money.  The tale intentionally does not choose sides, instead leaving shades of gray and thus a lot of room for the personal interpretations of the viewers of the particular events and personalities.

Larger issues, such as professional ethics, personal integrity, passion for and obsession with one cause, ambition and greed, friendship and betrayal, are also left open-ended (or ambiguous) for the spectators to take a stand on.

Under the expert helming of Fincher, who propels the narrative with gusto and momentum, “Social Network” gets an extra shot of urgency and immediacy through the fast-moving, seamless integration of past and present events, and other admirable devices, of which the intricate editing is particularly impressive.

Did I mention that “Social Network” is vastly entertaining and should appeal to various types of viewers, even those who do not have a page yet on Facebook.

Cast

Mark Zuckerberg – Jesse Eisenberg
Eduardo Saverin – Andrew Garfield
Sean Parker – Justin Timberlake
Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss – Armie Hammer
Divya Narendra – Max Minghella

Credits

A Sony Pictures Entertainment release of a Columbia Pictures presentation in association with Relativity Media of a Scott Rudin/Michael De Luca/Trigger Street production.

Produced by Rudin, Dana Brunetti, De Luca, Cean Chaffin.

Executive producer, Kevin Spacey.

Directed by David Fincher.

Screenplay, Aaron Sorkin, based on the book “The Accidental Billionaires” by Ben Mezrich.
Camera (Deluxe color prints, widescreen), Jeff Cronenweth.

Editors, Angus Wall, Kirk Baxter.

Music, Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross.

Production designer, Donald Graham Burt.

Art directors, Keith Cunningham, Curt Beech; set designers, Aaron Haye, Jane Wuu, Randy Wilkins, Theodore Sharps; set decorator, Victor J. Zolfo.

Costume designer, Jacqueline West.

Sound, Mark Weingarten; sound designer/supervising sound editor, Ren Klyce; re-recording mixers, David Parker, Michael Semanick, Klyce.

Special effects coordinator, Steve Cremin.

Visual effects supervisors, Edson Williams, James Pastorius; visual effects, Lola VFX, Savage Visual Effects.

Associate producer, Jim Davidson.

Assistant director, Bob Wagner;.

Casting, Laray Mayfield.

MPAA Rating: PG-13.

Running time: 120 Minutes.

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