5 Ways The Social Network Can Reclaim Its Oscar Mojo
A week ago at this time, after all but guaranteeing The Social Network's supremacy at this year's Academy Awards, the kudos cognoscenti watched uneasily as The King's Speech soared past TSN in both Oscar nomination count -- nabbing 12 to TSN's eight -- and awards-season profile. By yesterday morning, with three influential guild awards in its pocket and even its most dogged opponents conceding eventual Academy defeat, the King's team may as well have dropped some champagne on ice and started drafting Oscar acceptance speeches. But! Not so fast! The final ballots haven't even been mailed yet, and voting is open for three weeks. Might The Social Network have The King's Speech right where it wants it?
After all, The King's Speech's resurgence once again proves the two ineluctable truths of awards season (and Hollywood in general): Nobody knows anything, and everybody can be gotten to. So what does the gang behind The Social Network itself need to do to come back and win big on Feb. 27?
1. Don't panic.
At the end of the day, Sony's saturation campaigning (and its cost), significant critical worship and box-office prowess have left their impacts on Academy voters. No one can take those away from David Fincher, Aaron Sorkin, Scott Rudin, Michael De Luca and Co., and bitter guild losses aside, it's not like TSN has stalled or derailed en route to the Oscars. It just got surpassed. So what? You regroup and continue. Marathons don't end at mile 22. And even if TSN doesn't look like a conventional underdog, guess what? It's the underdog. And people love underdogs.
2. Ignore the guilds.
Easier said than done, I know. But come on: For all its fine performances, The Social Network was never going woo SAG away from The King's Speech or even The Fighter. And the last 10 years or so of SAG Awards history suggest actors' hearts often beat one way for ensemble awards and another way entirely for Best Picture. And, when it comes to the DGA, the majority of whose membership are TV directors, why wouldn't it reward the guy who not only made some of the most acclaimed TV movies of the last decade, but essentially made another good one with The King's Speech? Nothing against Tom Hooper! I think he's super-talented and should have received all this consideration last year for The Damned United, to say nothing of the achievement that is his miniseries John Adams. But unless it really, really hates David Fincher (and we'll get to that), the Academy's directors branch likely perceives this as more of a wake-up call than anything. It's Fincher and Rudin's jobs to capitalize on that dynamic, and they'd better start now.
3. Don't play dirty.
Last year, right around the time The Weinstein Company sensed a Best Picture opening for Inglorious Basterds, a flurry of suspiciously timed stories emerged in the entertainment media alleging inaccuracies, misrepresentations and other unsavory qualities in The Hurt Locker. It amounted to little more than transparent garbage in the end -- not unlike Locker producer Nicolas Chartier's own "Dear Academy" cheap shots against Avatar, which got him banned from the Oscar ceremony. In short, it was a cutthroat clusterf*ck of skulduggery and paranoia that reflected less than flatteringly on the Oscars as a whole. That's not what I'd call an advantage right now. Playing up historical flubs and Nazi-sympathy oversights in The King's Speech takes away from the more pressing issue at hand: Why is The Social Network worthy of Academy members' votes? And no one has time for detours right now.
4. Speaking of which, why IS The Social Network worthy of Academy members' votes?
Seriously: Has Sony or TSN's creative team really answered that question? Because they must: While the Weinsteins aggressively continue defining The King's Speech as a film that makes you "feel," stand up and cheer, etc. etc., The Social Network has little to traditionally recommend it beyond those aforementioned good reviews and its $200 million-plus international gross. So! It's like Don Draper advised: "If you don't like what's being said, change the conversation." For example, anchor an ad around the phrase, "The [blank] Picture of the Year." Then pluck every superlative from every review, find a creative way to fill in that blank (e.g. stack them high and tall in print ads, roll them fast and furious in Flash ads), and end it with "BEST." Period. End of discussion. Or, if "cutting-edge" is now considered a liability (which I think a lot of pundits are overblowing, but still), then emphasize the craft nominations -- the editing, the cinematography, the sound, the score -- that reinforce the hallmarks of classic filmmaking while telling a thoroughly modern story. If the Academy does in fact need to feel good about its Best Picture, then go out and make it feel good about The Social Network.
5. Maybe want it a little?
Regardless of the guy David Fincher truly is to his peers and collaborators, a reputation for arrogance precedes him. And TSN's swift, dominating march through the critics' awards and Golden Globes left the filmmaker, fairly or unfairly, streaked with the faint patina of entitlement. This is not going to work at the Oscars. If Fincher sincerely doesn't care, then fine; give it to Hooper or, in a shocker, Darren Aronofsky, and let's be done with it. But if he does care, then show us something. Trust me, David -- Sony will understand if you need a couple weeks off Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. I mean, if neurotic, awkward Jesse Eisenberg of all people could pull off hosting Saturday Night Live, then maybe Fincher can pull off a 60 Minutes segment or something else influential for the middle-aged voter demographic? Just spitballing! Other suggestions?