movie reviews - the oscars, 2011

February, 2011 Oscar Reviews & Predictions —
A Comparison of
The King's Speech and The Social Network

How Technology has changed the course of human events, both historically and in our modern-day, 21st century world
—through invention

February is healthy heart month, and also one of my favorite months of the year! While the beginning of the month had a blast of cold air with record-breaking snowstorms, lately the snow has subsided, and things have been warming up a bit with a few signs of spring on the horizon. February is also a month of celebrations, including Valentine’s Day, and the Academy Awards. With that in mind, I think it is always fun to consider what some of my favorite movies of the past year have been...

So, getting first to the movies: I have to say, that my two favorites this year were The Social Network and The King’s Speech.
While there were other good movie contenders also, in the Best Picture category, these two films really stood out to me as the most interesting and oscar-worthy.

The Social Network is an semi-fictional account of how the social networking website, “The Facebook” was created and developed by Mark Zuckerberg while he was a freshman at Harvard along with some of his friends, in their dormitory room. It has 8 Academy Award nominations, that include: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Actor ( Jesse Eisenberg); as well as Best Original Score, Film Editing, Sound Mixing, and Cinematography. The story is told through a series of flashbacks, beginning with a scene with Mark Zuckerberg and his legal counsel seated around a large conference table, across from the opposing counsel and their clients, who have brought lawsuits against him. The movie then tracks back to Mark as a freshman in college at Harvard, and the action scenes that relay the chain of events which lead up to the lawsuit (and simultaneously, to the creation of the first social networking site, Facebook, created while he during his first year at Harvard. The use of flashbacks is a very effective technique for storytelling and screenwriting in this movie, and one of the elements that makes the movie so captivating for the viewer; in addition to its realistic portrayal of the characters by Jesse Eisenberg and the other actors in the movie, of the emotional ordeals they each faced as a result of their involvement with the development of The Facebook. Although not all of the scenes in the movie are necessarily happy ones to watch, the means of using flashbacks to convey the timeline of events that led to the development of the present-day Facebook and how the social networking site came into being, makes for a very exciting story. The fact that it is based on the some of these real-life and hitherto, untold events of Mark Zuckerberg and the other students from Harvard, makes it all the more so, in light of what we all know aobut already about the invention of the site, and how it has become such a huge force on the Internet.

The King's Speech, also a fantastic movie, relates the previously untold story of King George VI’s (know to his family as Prince Albert or "Bertie," who was the current Queen Elizabeth’s father) ascension to the throne. The movie details how Bertie overcomes a serious speech impediment, as well as learning to deal with timely historical events in the process. It has 12 Academy Award Nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actor (for Colin Firth), both Best Supporting Actor (Geoffrey Rush) and Actress (Helena Bonham-Carter); in addition to Best Director (for Tom Hooper); as well as Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Original Score, Art Direction, Costume Design, and Sound Mixing. I especially liked the role that Geoffrey Rush played as the King’s speech therapist, Lionel, in the movie next to Colin Firth’s oustanding performance and portrayal of the future King.

Although these two movies take place in two different centuries and times, and involve completely different people and circumstances, they share some similarities in light of the fact that they are both compelling stories based upon true events, told through the use of exciting plots and acting, in addition to other factors. The movies also portray the use and development of modern technologies that further a purpose, and in so doing, become representative of their times as well. Both of the main characters in each of these films also rises to the occasion in their respective acting roles; and both actors—Colin Firth as well as Jesse Eisenberg—do an excellent and insightful job of representing their characters.

The King’s Speech is a historical drama about a member of the British royal family who must face some of his own demons to overcome a severe stutter, in the early part of the 20th century, prior to World War II. He is also faced with having to take control and running his country at a time of war and great uncertainty (when Britain was being attacked by Germany), after asking his older brother Edward, who is first in line to the throne, to step aside (presumably due to his philandering behavior in his association with the American divorcée, Wallace Simpson). It is a remarkably told story in terms of how Lionel Logue, the Australian speech therapist, works with Bertie to overcome his impediment as well as his past, and in so doing, is able to bring out his best leadership qualities. And it is also the story of how Bertie himself, who was very hesitant and unsure of his capabilitites, ultimately succeeds in becoming a capable monarch. The King’s Speech is a very moving story about character and how that prevails in the face of emotional obstacles, conveyed through great acting skill on the part of Firth. The movie is enhanced by wonderful costumes and set design, as well as filming locations and cinematography. Some reviewers have suggested that the historical facts of Bertie’s ascension to the throne, as well as the timing of the role that Lionel played as his speech therapist were actually altered to create a better drama and story in the film. Apparently, this was done by condensing the events of a 10-year period into a much shorter timeline, to make it appear that Edward’s abdication occurred around the same time as Bertie’s work with the speech therapist, and this may have in fact have given the movie's storyline more impact. See: David Freeman's movie review for the Los Angeles Times. footnote 2

In contrast, one might wonder how The Social Network— a modern-day tale about a computer geek who invents a new computer website, which becomes a network through which people everywhere can interact socially, to share visual and other information with each other through an online site called “The Facebook,” — could have something in common with greatness? But after seeing the movie, one can appreciate and understand how the character, Mark (as well as how Mark Zuckerberg in real life) does achieve this, despite facing serious legal allegations and setbacks along the way; and how he also deals with his own betrayal of friendship and ethics. Ironically, it is still left for the viewer to decide, however, what the ultimate merits (or vices) of the social networking site are, as well as the Mark Zuckerberg of the movie, in addition to the real-life Facebook and Mark, for that matter, in terms of how the site has taken over most of our lives, and in many cases compromised our privacy and caused other controversial issues for users. Ultimately though, The Social Netowrk story is still one about creative invention, and achieving tremendous success, against odds. At the time of its making it may have also been an unfinished story — with regard to the pending legal cases which had yet to be resolved, but which make it all the more timely and immediate, as a movie as well as a story, real and fictional. see footnote 1

Although these two movies are in many ways fundamentally different, one very striking similarity that both The Social Network and The King’s Speech do share, is that both are stories about communication on a basic level, as well as technological advancement. To elaborate upon this point, I would like to show how, in both movies there is a clash of traditional values, versus new values, ideas and/or innovative thinking, along with the technological advancement.

In The King’s Speech this is illustrated when Bertie must speak into the microphone at the stadium at the beginning of the horse-races, in front of a large crowd of people. He is unable to speak for fear of losing his confidence and train of thought, and so begins to stutter. His wife recognizes the problem and seeks help for him from the therapist, and it is Lionel, his speech therapist, whose innovative and non-traditional ways of coaching him finally allow Bertie, over time, to cast aside some of his reserve as well as his fear, and move beyond the rigidity imposed upon him by royal traiditon, to overcome his psychological barriers and the speech impediment; and to be able to stand and speak clearly and concisely before his countrymen, by the end of the movie. It is a story about how he masters the skill and no longer fears using the microphone, which in his day was also a great technological and communcation advancement, as well.

A similar clash of values occurs in The Social Network. In this case, a conflict arises between the traditional old-school values of the Harvard Winkelvoss twins, who first seek to employ Mark’s help in developing their own idea for a college social website. Mark Zuckerberg is at this time, experimenting with computer code on his own in his dorm room with Eduardo Saverin, and he wants to create something too, but is not sure exactly what, (until he figures out how to break into the college's student database, and manages to upload all of the freshman class student profiles to a connected network, and then puts it all online, on a site he calls “Facemash,” where people can rate student faces, and compare them to decide who they think is more attractive. Mark is a wiz-bang at computer coding, and this accomplishment was easy for him, but breaking into the database was not legal, and for this he gets into deep trouble with the college for using the student body’s private data. Once he figured out how to put this website code together to utilize the database, import and set up the profiles on his own website, he suddenly realizes he does not need to work with the Winkelvoss twins now, because he has beaten them to the punch in his quest to invent his own “social networking site.” Even though he had agreed to work with them to help them launch the site that they intended to call, “The Harvard Connection,” he has broken his agreement with them, by launching his own site first. Mark seemingly does not care that he did this, but rather sees it as a natural evolution in his own coding capabilities. But he deals with the Winkelvoss twins in a brash way, and in effect, betrays them. They realize this is what has happened to them, and they are angry. This conflict demonstrates the difference between the Winkelvoss twins who had old-school way of thinking and dealing with one’s fellow students on a gentlemanly basis, versus Mark being smart enough to discover and create something, and to provide the vehicle by which a new technolgoy can operate, but not necessarily following an ethical path to accomplish it. The Winkelvoss twins had an idea that they also wanted to get credit for, but were not able to execute that idea without Mark’s coding abilities. The clash between their traditional values and Mark’s opportunistic manipulation, shows how in the age of the Internet, the more aggressive coding skills won out. How Mark wins out with his peers in this collegiate setting, (but not necessarily with the college) is highlighted in a most unforgiving way in a scene from the movie when the Winkelvoss twins go to see then-President of Harvard, Larry Summers, and complain to him that Mark has broken ethical rules of the colleges, when he stole their idea for a website they wanted to launch, using excerpts from the Harvard Handbook of Ethics, to back up their claims. Mr. Summers’ response is curt and to the point, essentially telling them (that), “at Harvard people are always inventing things” and he suggests that they should “get over it and go invent something else,” (themselves). He may not have understood though, that Mark broke some of the privacy rules of the college with his invention, at this time. So it is ironic that while the President says this, Mark will still be held accountable, eventually for the laws he has broken, by both the college, and also by the Winkelvoss twins, in a legal setting. While the President'’s response wasn’t very respectful or honorable in the eyes of the Winkelvoss twins, especially after Mark’s betrayal, it does demonstrate thouugh, how in today’s world, modern business ethics can and do shape outcomes, and traditional values are changing due to the interaction of such coding and computer inventions and technologies that are shaping the Internet. This point is further emphasized when Mark Zuckerberg finally drops out of Harvard, after being threatened with legal action for compromising the school’s privacy rules, and moves to California to continue building his new Facebook empire. He is ultimately faced with legal action, and decides not to return to Harvard. Instead he moves with a group of the initial friends who developed Facebook, to California where he eventually meets and takes up with another computere geek, Sean Parker, inventor of Napster fame, who is depicted in the movie too, as a morally corrupt, and opportunistic computer coder. And, while peer-to-peer file-sharing may have been an accidental discovery for which Sean eventually is also forced to make legal amends as well, in the movie, he is depicted as an operator who knows how to make money, and leads Mark to the people and opportunities which will allow Facebook to become an invaluable investment commodity and the future of the Internet. Although I don’t really think Mark was as morally corrupt in the same way that Sean Parker was, it appears that he was influenced by him and may have benefitted from his business relationship with him, in advancing Facebook, and perhaps this is one of the reasons that Facebook was so successful. How much of this actually happened, is hard to know for sure, but most likely there is some truth in the movie’s portrayal of their relationship. As we all know, in the end, Facebook becomes a viable and ever-expanding force on the Internet, and the Winkelvoss twins are left to ponder why they have lost out on it, and do pursue legal action for some of the rights to the profits. This is sequence of events is what makes up the movie storyline, and highlights again, the fact that the Internet is reshaping traditional values, both from a legal as well as a business perspective.

In another interesting twist however, The Social Network movie has in some ways itself, not only become a part of, but may have also eclipsed the real-life Facebook story. While we may not know all of the details of Mark’s real-life story, we now have a more complete picture of both Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg, because of the movie. So the movie itself now becomes a part of the history of this huge social networking website. And so, one is left to ponder whether Facebook has been a good thing, and not only whether or not it advanced the Internet. It has in fact advanced the Internet in both good and bad ways; and Mark Zuckerberg has also done some good things with the profits from his company, (such as giving a huge monetary donation to the New Jersey public school system, for instance, and also pledging to spread his company across the globe to be used in other countries, as well as here in the U.S., forever, as a free and accessible software available to anyone. Facebook has since the initial launch of it, become a means for people all over the world to share ideas, as well as lots of other important information that includes photos, news articles, organizational and company profiles, as well as ways to organize events, and to advertise and fundraise for millions of organizations and groups, in addition to a myriad of other possibilities of connecting ideas and information with people. It has also enabled a means of communication that, prior to its inception, only existed in part through websites, photo-sharing sites like Flickr, or through such things as blogs, emails, and list-serves. The advanced PHP code that drives Facebook has now enabled all of these kinds of web technologies and capabilties to be rolled into one, very powerful web application and tool, as an all-encompassing social networking mechanism, which has given people the ability to share and communicate spontaneously, almost any type of information across the globe in real time, proving to be an extremely effective tool in fact, for communication. Its reach has been far and wide, and as we have seen recently, it has even played a role in the uprisings in Egypt and the Middle East. A world without Facebook, would now, in fact, be hard to imagine, and probably there is “no going back” to where we were before, or from what we have all become used to, in terms of technological advancement and communication online. Another advancement too that Mark has been instrumental in, is the extrapolation of the "Like" button across the Internet, along with other newer types of sharing mechanisms. The "like" buttons are now part of something called the open-access platform, which allows for people to “like” articles, videos, or other things on websites beyond just Facebook, and then to share them simultaneously, back to Facebook, or to other social networking sites too, on a blog, or even a website, or in a private email. These social networking icons have now been popularized to such an extent, that they are everywhere on the Internet, and any website without them, is one that is no longer relevant or viable in today's world! So, one can inevitably conlude, that Facebook and Mark Zuckerburg have both radically changed the way we communicate, as well as the technological world we now live in, because of his dorm-room invention in which he broke some privacy laws at his college.

And the technology continues to change at a rapid pace — for example, just look at how mobile technology has become the next "Internet frontier." LIkewise, many websites now use popular social networking icons to connect to Facebook, and to "share" their information back on other social platforms too. Facebook has in effect, eclipsed much of the modern technology we call the Internet, and is continually reshaping it. For this reason, it is easy to understand that Mark’s invention has led to great possibilities, but not without some pitfalls of course, along the way. Facebook continues to be criticized for its compromising of privacy with regard to people's posts, comments, likes and uploading and sharing of photos, as well as other personal information. It is up to the user to become savvy enough to know how to control their Facebook settings, and to be able to deal with the exposure to many people that results, which in many ways is not a natural way of interacting with others, as it is face-to-face. So in effect, people must adapt to how they use this technology, with the option still being there to not use it, if it becomes “more trouble than its worth,” to someone, for example. Computers it seems, cannot completely replace human interactions, but some like Zuckerburg will still try to do that.

The conflict between technology and ethics is one that we have seen frequently therefore, in the age of the Internet,where it has been difficult to draw the line between traditional intellectual property laws, and new inventions; or, more specifically, applications of code and software. Or, even more simply, just how much information should be shared online, with regard to concerns for personal privacy issues? This leads to the question then of, where in fact, should the line should be drawn between the invention of new code for a website or a software and technolgy, versus stealing someone else’s (supposedly copyrightable) idea for that website? This is a question whose answer is not entirely clear yet, but it seems to be the central dilemma that the Winkelvoss twins were faced with in how to deal with Mark’s betrayal of them, when he launched his version of The Facebook, before their proposed site, “The Harvard Connection” could come into being. Computer code is in fact, copyrightable, but then again so are ideas! In the movie, I think it is fair to say that Mark may have taken some elements of the idea for Facebook from the Winkelvoss twins, who had entrusted him and asked him to be their business partner in the venture of builidng their version of the social network, The Harvard Connection. Or, the other possibility is that both parties somehow came to a similar idea around the same time, and Mark just managed to make it a reality first, because he had the computer coding skills to do so. On the opposite side of this issue, is the simple fact that the Winklevoss twins needed Mark to create the code to develop their idea and their website first, and without his help there basically would not have even been a Harvard Connection (or a Facebook site) anyway. This conflict and tension between the boys, and their execution of the idea for The Facebook, is masterfully recreated in the movie, and is one of the dramatic elements of its timeline that makes it such an enthralling and inspiring recounting of the real-life story, (even if some parts are fictional or embellished). Who owns the idea, versus the execution of it, is, theoretically, still a central question in the film, and also a higly debatable question in real life. And therein lies one of the problems with our modern technology world—where things are changing so fast, it is hard to keep up with them from a regulatory, or even a legal standpoint. Laws have, in fact, had to be rewritten to address the conflicts that have inherently developed with copyright infringement on the Internet, as well as privacy issues. In the movie though, as in real life, the parties to the lawsuit do reach a settlement, rather than taking it to a jury to decide. And the actors in The Social Network, Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Sorkin, and Justin Timberlake (who plays Sean Parker), were extremely effective in portraying both Mark as well as his relationship with his roommate and original business partner, Eduardo Saverin, and also his encounters with the Winkelvoss twins, in a way that makes the movie totally believeable, and spellbinding to watch. It is the type of movie that one could watch again, and not be bored by already knowing the outcome, which is one of the reasons it is an oscar-worthy tale, in my opinion; along with the relevance to our current culture and advancements in our technologies that the movie highlights.

Getting back to the first part of this essay, the final comparison that I would like to make between The Social Network movie, and The King’s Speech, is that both explore this issue of traditional values and ideas, versus innovation, even though they take place in different centuries, and involve characters who experience completely different life circumstances and problems. These characters however, both share the commonality of using communication devices to accomplish something important, and are also faced with obstacles along their paths, that create moral dilemmas as well. In general, the dilemma between technological innovation and tradition, as well as ethics, also illustrates the fact, that while we may be influenced by the events of our times as well as by its technologies, we are also faced with human nature. Therefore, it is the outcome —or more precisely, how the technology is used, and what it does for individuals, or for a society in the end—that matters. One can goof up with a microphone, as well as with a computer. But in The King’s Speech, it is the therapist’s speech coaching that allows Bertie to get used to using the microphone— the technology of his day—and to become a successful and convincing leader and speaker through this means of communication, allowing him to ultimately reach out to a nation at a critical point in its history in an effective and successful way. It might also be said that Bertie faced the moral dilemma of having to ask his brother to abdicate from the throne, so that he could lead the country during this time of crisis. The movies differ however, in many other ways, including in the moral character and role of the main characters, so I would not compare them beyond this. It is just interesting to see how the technology of the past influenced a country at a critical time in its history; and consequently, how computer technology of today has done the same for not only our country, but the world. The legal and moral implications are still there, but people are progressively adjusting to the technology and its capabilities, as well as how to better use it. Without invention, though, our lives would be fairly limited, so one can decide for themselves what the merits are of these technologies, given such considerations; or by considering how they may have changed their own lives, for better (or worse), and how then once can to better use them. Either way, The Social Network is a fascinating tale, and so is The King's Speech.

Be sure to check out the websites for The Social Network, and The King's Speech. They are fun to look at with lots of informative links about the stories, characters, and actors from each. In the case of The Social Network, there is also a tab full of news articles and critiques which have been written about Mark Zuckerberg and the Facebook phenomenon, the film, and what it all of it means; as well as videos on how the movie was actually made that are also interesting -one being how the Winkelvoss twins were actually played by the same actor, Armie Hammer.


1.) See: What did the Winkelvoss Twins think of “The Social Network?”
Interview, Piers Morgan Tonight | February 8, 2011.

2.) Perspective: How True is the King’s Speech?
By, David Freeman, Special to The Los Angeles Times | February 13, 2011.

3.) Oscars.comCheck out the reviews of these films under the nominations tab/category for Documentary Features.

Other Reviews worth reading:

Is Civility Enough to Sustain a Film?
Firth is Royalty Even if ‘King's Speech’ is a little stiff

By, Ty Burr | Movie Review, The Boston Globe, December 17, 2010.

“The real story” on Mark Zuckerberg | Business Insider, from an article adapted from Wikipedia, November, 2010.

Mark Zuckerberg’s Most Valuable Friend | | October 3, 2010


Other Oscar-nominated Movies:

This past year also seems to have been the “Year of the Documentary,” especially with regard to films about urgent issues with overtly political messages. Just reviewing the titles for nominees in this category are revealing. For example, the titles, “Inside Job” and “Gasland” suggest exactly what these movies are about and the issues they portray. Inside Job looks at the factors that led to the breakdown in the financial and housing markets through the use of predatory lending practices, credit default swaps, and a serious lack of regulation on Wall Street, all of which contributed to the global economic crisis. In addition, it also investigates who is to blame. Gasland reviews the potential environmental impacts on clean air and water of drilling for natural gas through hydraulic fracturing of the bedrock; and Restrepo looks at the devastating effects on the lives of soldiers that the war in Afghanistan has taken. see footnote 3 Another good movie which covered the financial collapse in a fictionalized way, but was not nominated for an Oscar, was Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, with Michael Douglas playing Gordon Gecko.

Usually, there are a couple of other categories that I love which include Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume Design and Best Animated Feature Film. Black Swan was amazing in terms of cinematography, and Natalie Portman’s dancing and acting skill too, but it was not one of my favorite films this year as I thought it was too dark and psychological. However I do think that Natalie Portman will win the Oscar for Best Actress, and I think it is a toss-up in terms of Black Swan and The King’s Speech in the Cinematography and Film Editing categories. The Social Network was also nominated in both of these categoires, which makes it even harder to choose or predict which one will win. I am going with The King’s Speech for Cinematography, and Black Swan for Film Editing.

I usually like the Harry Potter movies as well as other films that fall under the Costume Design or Visual Effects categories, such as Alice in Wonderland or The Tempest, but have only seen the Harry Potter movie so far in these categories. This year under the animated movies, I did like How to Train Your Dragon, which I think I would make a great Oscar choice/favorite, but did not see either The Illusionist, or Toy Story 3, which is a contender under the Best Picture category as well. I just saw the Oscar-Nominated Animated Shorts this week, and have to say that The Gruffalo was the best story and best animated in my opinion, but there were several others that used interesting animation effects like Madagascar, carnet de Voyage, and Night and Day, as well as The Lost Thing.
See:, for the Short Film (Animated) category nominees, and YouTube for trailers:

Comparing these to some of last year’s animated films, I also liked Coraline, the trailer for which can still be seen on YouTube:; and another small, but very charming Irish film which I did not actually see in the theatre, but learned about on the Internet, called The Secret of Kells. I enjoyed both of these movies for their creativity in story-telling as well as graphic illustrations, artwork and animation. You can read more about them on the Internet!

And, for a complete listing of Academy Award nominees as well as to fill out your own ballot or review the movies, visit:

Post-Oscars —Nominations in Retrospect:

The Academy Awards, 2011: Oscar winners and presentations
February 28th, 2011

Well, now that the Oscar winners have been deterimined for this year, I feel that most of the awards were well-deserved, even if predictable. I was glad to see The King’s Speech win oscars for Best Actor, Best Director, and Most Original Screenplay, as well as the Best Picture award. The awards were meaningful for the Director, Tom Hooper and Screenwriter, David Seidler apparently, for personal reasons, and the movie was also inspiring to most viewers.

On another note, I was surprised to see Inception win four Academy awards, all in categories like Cinematography and Sound Editing. While The Social Network did not make it for Best Picture, but it did win the Film Editing award, which I think that was definitely deserved, and makes total sense in light of the flashback technique that was used to tell the story in the movie. (I had predicted Black Sawn for Film Editing, but was completely wrong.)
It also won Best Adapted Screenplay, which was exciting for its director, Aaron Sorkin, as well as Most Original Score. I think that all of these awards are perhaps, a more fitting tribute than just a Best Picture award might have been. I thought that the background music of the movie was exciting and had an ominous and interesting quality about it, and complemented the action and storyline well.

The only real disappointment of the evening for me, was not seeing Geoffrey Rush win the Best Supporting Actor award for his role in The King’s Speech. I am sure Christian Bale was very good in The Fighter, but iIt would have been really exciting to see Rush from The King’s Speech win that award instead, as I think he did an excellent job and was an extremely memorable character — which would certainly be one of the elements looked for in a performance like his, but the movie itself will be remembered because it was such a great story as well as a recounting of a time in history. Colin Firth’s performance as the King of course, was excellent and the Best Actor award was well placed. It seems that tradition is still "king," in the movie industry as well!

I also thought that Natalie Portman’s award was well-deserved and that she did an excellent acting job in her portrayal of the Black Swan.

Finally, one of the best moments of the evening was in fact, the presentation of the Best Picture award, when they replayed the actual King’s speech from the movie, against a backdrop of scenes from all of the other Best Picture-nominated movies, in which the actors and actresses demonstrated similar emotions and feelings to those being parlayed in the words of the speech, capturing some of the universal emotions that human beings experience in such circumstances. It was a very creative ending to the Oscars, and lent more excitement and meaning to the presentation of the Best Picture award, even though most everyone had already anticipated that the Best Picture was going to be, “The King's Speech.”


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