‘Social Network’ finds friends in critics, awards

NEW YORK (AP) — Why can’t we be friends?

“The Social Network,” David Fincher’s pulsating account of the contentious creation of social networking behemoth Facebook, has rolled through awards season like a dot.com on fire. On Wednesday, founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg was named Time magazine’s “Person of the Year” for 2010.

At 26, Zuckerberg, who owns about a quarter of Facebook’s shares, has put himself on the map not only as one of the world’s youngest billionaires, but also as a prominent newcomer to the world of philanthropy. Earlier this year, he pledged $100 million over five years to the Newark, N.J. school system.

“The Social Network” has been picked as the best of the year by the New York Film Critics Circle, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and the National Board of Review. On Tuesday, it received six Golden Globe nominations, including best picture, drama, going up against its chief rival, the British monarchy tale “The King’s Speech,” which led with seven nominations.

Though Facebook might have initially hoped that “The Social Network” wouldn’t have staying power, it’s clear the film has captured the public consciousness at a time when the social networking site surpassed half a billion users and is going to be right at the top of the movie discussion right through the Feb. 27 Academy Awards.

Now, the two sides to the Facebook-“Social Network” drama have seemingly learned to live with each other, settling on coexistence, if not outright friendship.

“The Social Network” premiered amid great discussion about its accuracy, with Facebook watchful of the potential public relations problem of having its co-creator, Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg in the film) portrayed as a power-hungry, back-stabbing hacker motivated by social acceptance and girls.

Ahead of its release, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin — who based his script partly on Ben Mezrich’s book “The Accidental Billionaires” and did not have Zuckerberg’s cooperation — defended the movie’s veracity.

“I have to believe that their PR people are every bit as good as our PR people, and they’ve decided just to say “fiction” as often as they can,” Sorkin said. “They have not identified yet anything in the movie that’s been fictionalized. They’ve nibbled around the edges a little bit that he was drinking a Manhattan when he was really drinking a martini, and that kind of thing. But they’re not going to be able to. The movie’s true.”

Fincher, for his part, professed sympathy for Zuckerberg, seeing similarities with a young talent with little patience for those less intelligent. He said accuracy was important, but that it was worth remembering the stakes: “You’re talking about people who had their feelings hurt.”

Facebook and Zuckerberg at first said little publicly about the film. In September, right as the movie was coming out, Zuckerberg donated $100 million to Newark Public Schools. He also began making more public appearances, behaving more comfortable and confident than he had in the past. He even took the whole company to see “The Social Network,” renting out two theaters for the occasion.

“The Social Network,” it turned out, wasn’t something for Facebook to fear so much as to ridicule.

“It’s pretty interesting to see what parts they got right and what parts they got wrong,” Zuckerberg said earlier this month in a “60 Minutes” interview. “They got every single T-shirt that they had the Mark Zuckerberg character wearing right. I think I actually own those T-shirts.

“But I mean, there are hugely basic things that they got wrong, too. I mean, they made it seem like my whole motivation for building Facebook was so I could get girls, right? And they completely left out the fact that my girlfriend, I’ve been dating since before I started Facebook, right?”

Zuckerberg even said the film had the positive effect of showing that Facebook is “an interesting enough thing to make a movie out of,” and that it had been inspiring to people intrigued by computing.

It’s remarkable that a movie that started out, as Sorkin said, “to pick a fight,” has yielded so much consensus. Not only are critics and awards groups lavishing praise on it, but even Zuckerberg has found at least some attributes worth applauding. (Facebook didn’t reply to requests for comment about the awards success of “The Social Network.”)

To be sure, “The Social Network” still has plenty worth discussing (for example, see author Zadie Smith’s remarkable essay in the New York Review of Books). But while that chatter continues through Oscar season, it seems likely that it need not be at the expense of either Facebook or “The Social Network.”

“It’s a movie for its time,” said Kevin Spacey, a producer of the film. “And yet I think it’s a movie that’s going to last.

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