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'The Social Network' befriends Oscar voters after its Golden Globes triumph

The Social Network updated its Facebook status to Academy Awards front-runner Sunday, after claiming four Golden Globes, including best dramatic film of 2010.

As much as the academy detests echoing the Globes, voters won't find a more appropriate choice for its most coveted prize.

The Social Network offers Oscar voters another chance to dispel nagging complaints that the academy is out of step with modern, mainstream tastes.

Checking another movie on their ballots seems unduly contrarian after The Social Network cut a celebrated swath through previous award shows. David Fincher's movie is also that rare, artfully mature work qualifying as a box office hit by nudging the $200 million mark in worldwide ticket sales.

And don't underestimate the influence of its subject matter; the Facebook empire of an estimated half-billion users worldwide. That's a lot of potential viewers for the Oscars telecast Feb. 27, which is where the academy makes its fortune from selling commercial airtime.

A similar situation occurred last year when a best drama Golden Globe and best picture Oscar nomination for the blockbuster Avatar contributed to the telecast's best ratings in years. But the academy blunted that goodwill effort by resorting to stuffy business as usual, stiffing Avatar in favor of a more traditional, little-seen choice, The Hurt Locker.

Don't expect the academy to make that mistake again. Sure, other likely nominees such as Inception and Toy Story 3 sold many more tickets, garnering nearly as much praise. But handing a best picture Oscar to a sci-fi fantasy or an animated feature is too much changing of the old guard to ask for.

The Social Network possesses a combination of box office success and youthful appeal that the Oscars usually consider last when choosing one movie for posterity. Yet it is also fairly traditional in its themes and execution, so Oscar voters don't have to feel as if they're selling out.

Just as Facebook reinvented the way people communicate, a movie about its creation is poised to reinvent the way the Oscars are perceived. Bet the Farmville that it happens.

Steve Persall can be reached at Persall@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at tampabay.com/blogs/movies.

Moviegoers may learn 'Barney's Version'

Hands down, Sunday's most surprising winner was Paul Giamatti in the best musical/comedy actor category, for a movie that many moviegoers haven't heard of yet. Giamatti won for Barney's Version, based on Mordecai Richler's novel, and currently showing at only four theaters in New York and Los Angeles.

The most obvious explanation for Giamatti's win is that votes for Globes darling Johnny Depp were split between his nominated turns in Alice in Wonderland and The Tourist.

Barney's Version features Giamatti as a bellicose TV producer looking back at his life of multiple marriages and decadent behavior. Unlike other nominees, the movie didn't have a distributor until September when Sony Pictures Classics picked up its rights at the Toronto Film Festival.

A movie quickly fading into home video obscurity now has second life, with a slightly wider release expected, especially if Oscar voters tab Giamatti when nominations are announced Jan. 25.

'The Social Network' befriends Oscar voters after its Golden Globes triumph 01/17/11 [Last modified: Monday, January 17, 2011 8:53pm]
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