If David Fincher's film is going to climb back into the race, it needs to start this weekend
Between the Scripter Awards on Friday night and the Writers Guild Awards on Saturday, it'll probably be a good weekend for "The Social Network."
It could be the start of a remarkable comeback for the David Fincher film as it heads toward Oscar night … or it could be the film's last good weekend.
For "The Social Network," it's been a season of extremes, and a season that now hangs in the balance. An unprecedented sweep of the critics' awards made the film look like a prohibitive favorite to win the Best Picture Oscar – until the Hollywood guilds began handing out awards, when "The King's Speech" won top honors from the Producers, Directors and Screen Actors Guild, which made it a commanding favorite.
If "The Social Network" is to turn the tide, it needs to start now. The Scripter Awards, which take place on Friday night at USC, are given to the best screen adaptation of a literary work. The nominees include "Winter's Bone," "The Ghost Writer," "True Grit" and "127 Hours" – none of which are expected to put up much of a fight against Aaron Sorkin's screenplay for "Social Network."
(The writer of the original work also wins, which means that "The Accidental Billionaires" author Ben Mezrich will share in Sorkin's victory if the film triumphs, even though Sorkin says he and Mezrich wrote their individual works simultaneously and separately.)
The Writers Guild of America Awards takes place the following night at Hollywood & Highland, and once again Sorkin is a strong favorite to win in the Adapted Screenplay category. WGA restrictions mean that "Winter's Bone" is not eligible; "Social Network" is up against "127 Hours," "I Love You Phillip Morris," "The Town" and "True Grit."
As an added bonus, "The King's Speech" is guaranteed not to win – but since that film isn't eligible, the WGA Original Screenplay Award for "The Kids Are All Right" or (less likely) "Inception" won't really damage the frontrunner.
The question that'll face "The Social Network" on Sunday morning is whether it can capitalize on the small shot of momentum that comes from a pair of expected victories – and if so, how.
Columnists have been offering scenarios in recent days, ranging from S.T. Van Airsdale's suggestion that David Fincher show that he actually wants the award to John Lopez's theory that the preferential system of ballot-counting – in which a film can win if it picks up enough number two and three votes from movies that are eliminated from contention – will help a critical favorite like "TSN."
In fact, I'd guess that the preferential count will help "TKS" or even "The Fighter" or "Toy Story 3" more than "TSN." The question to ask: among voters whose first choices are "Winter's Bone," "127 Hours," "The Kids Are All Right," "Inception" and "True Grit," which film is likely to be ranked second? If the majority of those voters go for "Social Network," it can pull off an upset; if they split their votes or rally behind something else, the Facebook flick is in trouble.
Another hope: that just as the deluge of critics awards for "The Social Network" may have caused some Oscar voters to say "it's not that good," so might all the press crowning "The King" a sure winner cause a backlash of sorts.
The main hope to which the film's many partisans cling, though, is a simple one: that voters, when faced with that ballot, will realize that the critics are right and "The Social Network" is a better movie,
The problem with that hope, as I see is, is that the Academy voters I've talked to who plan to vote for "The King's Speech" don't just like it. They love it, and they see nothing embarrassing or shameful in admitting that.
People (including me) tried to float a similar notion last year with the idea that voters just couldn't check the box next to Sandra Bullock's name when Meryl Streep was so overdue. It didn't work then, either.
If "Social Network" has a chance, though, it'll start in the Best Director category, where even some "King's Speech" fans in the Academy think that Fincher has a real shot.
"I think Fincher will win director," one Academy member told me at a recent "King's Speech" event. "It'll be a way of letting voters recognize what he did, while also voting for their favorite movie for Best Picture."
If that's true, there's a strategy to follow: reminding Academy members that if they honestly think that Fincher did the best job of directing, doesn't that make his movie the Best Picture as well?
(Tom Hooper partisans, on the other hand, can take the opposite tack: if "The King's Speech" is the movie you liked the best, doesn't that mean that the guy who made it is the best director?)
Fincher, who has spent most of the season out of sight filming "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" in Sweden, is now more visible than he's been at any other point in the awards season. He came back to Los Angeles and did a handful of Q&As around the holidays, and now he's also begun to do interviews: this week there's a cover story in the new Hollywood Reporter and a talk with the British newspaper the Guardian.
And Sony is certainly not letting up in Oscar ads for the film, continuing a push that appears to have made them the season's most aggressive buyer. (The latest: a Hollywood Reporter insert containing the bonus disc that comes with DVD copies of the film.)
Now there's a new tagline that may go head-to-head with the perception that the movie with heart is the one about the stuttering king, not the one about the antisocial college kid on his computer. "ONE MOVIE CONNECTS US ALL," it reads.
But will it connect Fincher, Scott Rudin and crew to the stage of the Kodak Theater? Don't bet on it, but it's not over yet.