Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Runner-Ups: Andrew Garfield in "The Social Network" (2010)

Andrew Garfield in The Social Network
Every Oscar season, there are a handful of actors who get tagged with the "snubbed" moniker. While it is always unfortunate to see our favorites not honored with at very least a nomination, there's another trend that goes largely unnoticed: those who never even got that far. The Runner-Ups is a column meant to honor the greats in cinema who put in phenomenal work without getting the credit that they deserved from The Academy. Join me every Saturday as I honor those who never received any love. This list will hopefully come to cover both the acting community, and the many crew members who put the production together.

The Runner-Up: Andrew Garfield
Film: The Social Network (2010)
Oscar Nominees in the Best Supporting Actor category (2010):
-Christian Bale (The Fighter) *WINNER
-John Hawkes (Winter's Bone)
-Jeremy Renner (The Town)
-Mark Ruffalo (The Kids Are All Right)
-Geoffrey Rush (The King's Speech)

In the six years since its release, there have been few films deemed to be modern masterpieces quite like director David Fincher's The Social Network. From the script to the acting, it's all a master class in how technology unifies and isolates us. For the most part, one could even look at the film as see the future of cinema. Besides Fincher and writer Aaron Sorkin remaining mainstays in film culture, it's hard to remember this as the film that turned Jesse Eisenberg from Michael Cera clone to legitimate actor - as the Best Actor nomination would suggest. Add in that Armie Hammer and Rooney Mara have both had considerable careers since, and you'll be surprised at how effectively the film fused a zeitgeist moment out of a website that has remained surprisingly viable in a time when websites like MySpace have shelf lives before becoming the butt of jokes. To a large extent, The Social Network is one of those rare films that feels timeless, or at least indicative of the era better than most films since.

Then there's Andrew Garfield. To say the least, he feels like a footnote in conversations following the film. He may be the memorably betrayed friend in this almost classic tragedy structured story, but his career hasn't necessarily been as fruitful since the way that Eisenberg, Mara, or even Hammer's career. You could argue that he had the most immediate "success" in that he was a superhero in The Amazing Spider-Man and its sequel, but in 2016 that seems almost disappointing just for the sheer fact that those critically maligned films lead the studio to sell the rights to Spider-Man and in turn has cast yet another actor in that role. To say the least, there hasn't been a role as immediately defined by Garfield yet as was the case for The Social Network. In a sense, it goes back to being the victim of the time honored tradition of "The Oscar Snub."

2010 was definitely a bizarre year for The Academy. With the expanded 10 nominees, there was a chance to get more diversity. There was also the desire to appeal to younger viewers: a move that worked with the wide nomination diversity, but failed when the Best Picture award inevitably went to The King's Speech. It emphasized to a certain demographic that the awards were "out of touch" and mostly appealed to older, white audiences. There's been little to refute that in years since. However, the impact of The Social Network still unfairly causes any of its losses to be in some ways inferior notes in The Academy's history book. While not held to as much vitriol as Brokeback Mountain losing to Crash for Best Picture, it's still has a sting that will love forever, especially as The Social Network grows in clout and will likely be seen as Fincher's greatest achievement.

In some regards, this informs why Garfield was snubbed. Beyond technical and writing fields, The Social Network was too youthful in 2010 for Oscar voters. It could only have one acting nomination, especially in a year where the familiar genres came up strong. Don't get me wrong. It was a great year for cinema. However, the magic of Eisenberg's performance isn't the only thing that made the film pop. One could go further and argue that Justin Timberlake deserved a nomination as well - even if he was playing a variation on himself. Yet there was something amazing about Garfield that goes unnoticed, likely because it's an insular performance where the heartbreak is on the inside of the character. In a sense, it's a cold movie, and Garfield's coldness is harder to read because of his somewhat familiar role. He's the guy who got screwed over, thus making him seem more like a victim and easier to ignore at Oscar time.

For the most part, the film is a "court room" drama told with flashbacks, where Eisenberg and Garfield sit opposite each other and try to settle a case that unfolds before our eyes. It makes sense that Eisenberg gets the credit. He is the ambiguous yet mean-spirited protagonist who revolutionized technology. More people know Mark Zuckerberg than they do Eduardo Saverin. Still, there's a sense in just those scenes that Garfield is tormented by the past decisions and almost wants to lash out at his former friend. There's an urgency that plays in every exchange, whether in the court room or in various flashbacks. You sympathize with him as he transforms from naive partner to a man who missed out on the chance of a lifetime. It's a complicated morality tale, and one that reflects Sorkin's strengths as a writer. However, it also reflects how Garfield is an underrated actor in a sea of showier performances where even Hammer's Winklevoss twins somehow earns more conversation points.

That is essentially a decent way to understand why Garfield was snubbed. Despite being a key player in the story, he didn't have the showy side to get recognition. He wasn't as present in the marketing as Eisenberg or Hammer. He was there doing his job, and I do think that the lack of nomination may unfairly have hurt his career. While The Amazing Spider-Man looks good on paper, he hasn't had that next big movie yet that would define his career positively. While there's chances for this piece to be obsolescent in the next few years with either Hacksaw Ridge or Martin Scorsese's Silence, there's no guarantee that he will ever break out of the rut. Had he been nominated, there is the off chance that he may be taken more seriously and maybe his career would look a little differently. Again, there's starting to be movies that could benefit reconsideration, but it's odd that it took six years whereas Eisenberg, Mara, and Hammer all have had some considerable longevity since.

I know this is a wild decision, especially with the odd rationalization that an Oscar nomination would've made all of the difference. Yet it feels rarely truer than it does here. Maybe David Oyelowo for Selma beats it, though even his career has been consistently impressive (check out Nightingale for proof). I do honestly think that Garfield's performance is one of those underrated tools in the masterpiece, and one that makes it work so well. It's a film worth a lot of discussion, and one could easily be "Why hasn't Andrew Garfield become a major star yet?" He definitely has the chops, and I'd argue he had one of the more impressive careers leading up to The Social Network with Never Let Me Go and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. I'm hopeful that he will get due credit in time, though I still wish that it came a whole lot sooner.

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