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This year, of the two front runners for Best Picture, The King’s Speech is the most obvious addition to the long list of “based on a true story” nominees and the fact vs. fiction questions that arise (as they do with any “Based on a True Story” movie) are largely immaterial. Conversely, The King’s Speech biggest competition, The Social Network, has been dogged by these questions from the start. And not unfairly. The former is considered largely accurate and the latter’s relationship with the truth is spotty. Yet…I don’t care.

The question of The Social Network’s authenticity is once again rearing its head as the inevitable backlash against the frontrunner begins. Andrew Sullivan already linked to one screed from The Awl that I mostly disagreed with. But it wasn’t until later that a friend was humming Mozart to herself that I drew a connection between The Social Network and Amadeus, the 1984 Best Picture winner; both are predicated on a glaring biographical lie.

In Milos Forman’s film, we are told the story of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce) through the eyes of Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham). Salieri is a jealous, spiteful, and senile old man when we first meet him. On his deathbed, he calls in a priest to confess one final sin: killing Mozart. For the next two plus hours, the Peter Shaffer script (based on his play by the same name) weaves an engaging story of Mozart’s path from child prodigy to alcoholic trainwreck — and how Salieri drove Mozart to his untimely death.

Much of what we are told about Mozart is faithful to the era, but there is one big falsehood that today would likely cloud its Oscar chances: everything about Salieri is based on centuries old slander. Not just the supposed murder (which even in the film is seen as the ramblings of a crazy man), but Salieri’s entire relationship with Amadeus was invented as a narrative technique. Music scholar A. Peter Brown broke down the truth vs. fiction in an incisive 1991 essay: “‘fictional ornament [using a term coined by Shaffer]’ understates the gulf between what was the invention of the authors and historical truth.”

Brown takes down many of the myths concocted about Salieri: that he was jealous (their relationship was a “healthy professional one”), that his music was simple and unworthy of the royal court (he was “a highly respected and successful” composer), and that he conspired to kill Mozart (“Salieri’s two attendants attested that they had never heard such words from their charge.”) Brown makes a great effort to show his admiration for Amadeus, in spite of the fact that Shaffer drew the central conceit of the film from unfounded rumors that had been circulating since Mozart’s death.

And Brown is absolutely correct in his evaluation of the film — it is brilliant, engaging, fun, and suspenseful. And the leading and supporting male actors put in career-defining roles.

I’d say the same thing about The Social Network — and it too derives its plot from a giant, but in the end immaterial, lie: that Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook in an attempt to get others (girls, finals clubs, the world) to like him. The critique I linked to above by Richard Rushfield gets into it, as have others. Sorkin, with help from author/fabulist Ben Mezrich, ignores the fact that the real Zuckerberg has had the same girlfriend for years — predating Facebook. He apparently had no interest in the finals clubs; he was a member of a fraternity. Rushfield writes, “Zuckerberg is portrayed as an angry, vengeful sociopath, which by most accounts and all appearances, he is not.”

So why should we judge these films differently? Shaffer made the decision to tell the story of Mozart through the prism of a manufactured competitor just as Sorkin told the story of Facebook by taking Eduardo Saverin’s side and twisting it a bit to make it more dramatic. The more I think about the comparison between these two films, the more it fits. And if The Social Network wants to combat the backlash it will get as the frontrunner of the Oscars, it would be good for them to consider what made Amadeus‘ half-truths seem less relevant to voters*

*Yes, the 80s were a different era of Oscar voting. Yes, I know one had 200 years of murky history and one had 5 years of rather well-documented history. I still don’t think it matters.

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Oscar nominees are announced on the 25th.  Yay!  So let’s summarize what we (the royal we, at least) know.  Keeping in mind, of course, that when it comes to the Academy, no one knows anything.  Especially me.  This time: Best Adapted Screenplay.

VIRTUAL LOCKS

  • Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network
  • Michael Arndt, Toy Story 3

I’ve almost started multiple physical altercations defending Studio 60, so it isn’t terribly surprising how strongly I feel about Sorkin’s script for The Social Network.  Fortunately, the rest of Hollywood seems to agree with me as this lockiest of locks has been cleaning up the precursors.  I’m kinda bummed about the love for Toy Story 3.  Sure, it has the touching scene at the end, but the rest of the film was generally unremarkable.  Michael Arndt wrote Little Miss Sunshine, though, and that’s probably worth an extra Oscar nomination anyway.

LIKELY IN

  • Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, True Grit
  • Debra Granik and Anne Rosselini, Winter’s Bone

Man, I really got to get my lazy butt to see True Grit, huh?  Given the film’s strong box office and the Academy’s love for the Coen brothers, this nomination should be nearly in the bag.  The buzz for Winter’s Bone started with Jennifer Lawrence, I think.  From there, it was an easy Frozen River jump to a screenplay nomination.  I don’t really get it.  The story is relatively weak and dialogue nothing special.  I think Hollywood wants to pat itself on the back for recognizing an indie, especially one that doesn’t take place in a city.

LAST ONE IN

  • Ben Affleck, Peter Craig, and Aaron Stockard, The Town

Don’t forget that Affleck already has a screenplay Oscar.  The film’s buzz may have peaked just a tad before nominations were due back, but the movie inexplicably raked in plenty of dough and generally positive critical reviews.  If it does get a nomination, I’m going to pretend the nom is actually for Inside Man, because it seems to me that a heist movie should actually have a compelling heist.

FIRST TWO ALTERNATES

  • Robert Harris and Roman Polanski, The Ghost Writer
  • Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy, 127 Hours

Adapted screenplays and I just aren’t getting along this year.  I’m completely mystified as to The Ghost Writer‘s buzz.  It just isn’t an interesting film.  127 Hours‘s star has been plummeting over the past few weeks, giving me mixed feelings because while I didn’t think it was anything special, I’d rather it get in than others on the bubble.  It may come down to how many people realize just how difficult it is to write an engaging screenplay when the film almost entirely takes place in one spot.

DARK HORSES

  • Laeta Kalogridis, Shutter Island
  • David Linsday-Abaire, Rabbit Hole
  • Glen Ficarra and John Requa, I Love You Phillip Morris

Shutter Island is floating around the fringes of a number of categories, but I really hope it doesn’t break through here.  Haven’t seen Rabbit Hole yet, but it seems like exactly the kind of movie Oscar loves to nominate.  Brian told me I wouldn’t like I Love You, Phillip Morris so I haven’t seen it.  The WGA gets a huge kick out of ruling films ineligible for its awards, so it doesn’t necessarily mean anything that Phillip Morris picked up a nomination, but youneverknow.

SHOULDA BEEN A CONTENDER

William Davies, Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders, How to Train Your Dragon
Michael Konyves, Barney’s Version
Michael Bacall, Edgar Wright, Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World

I think my biggest disconnect with the Academy this year will be in the Adapted Screenplay category.  There’s a ton of middling fare that will see nominations.

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