During much of 2010, many thought David Fincher would get the Oscar for best director. His film, The Social Network, received wild critical praise and enjoyed box office success. As the Academy Awards drew closer, the win for Fincher still seemed very likely. Fincher won the Golden Globe and the Bafta for best director. However, when Tom Hooper won the Director’s Guild Award for The King’s Speech, the Academy Award for David Fincher seemed a little less likely.

Then, Fincher’s film took a backseat to Hooper’s at the Academy Awards as well. Fincher has long been a household name, but it seems, especially early on, that he was considered a “movie” maker, not a “film” maker. Is Fincher now a certified filmmaker, with a string of nominations and potential awards in his future, or was The Social Network his big chance at the Oscar? The subject matter of The Social Network is tame in comparison to much of Fincher’s output. For a director with multiple films based around serial killers and who got his start on the big-screen directing the third installment of the Alien series, Network seems an odd choice. However, there has been a shift in Fincher’s recent output. With Zodiac, even though it is based around a serial killer, Fincher started to feel like more of a critic’s filmmaker than a box office moviemaker. It seems the Academy didn’t take notice. Yet, they did notice The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which got Fincher nominated for best director.

With his first Oscar nomination under his belt, Fincher directed Network, a film that doesn’t rely on special effects or gimmicks. Even Benjamin Button utilized Fincher’s affection for special effects, as Brad Pitt was digitally enhanced to make him appear as a boy in an old man’s body. Network forced Fincher to rely only on the script and his camera work, and from the general response, Fincher did everything right. He is obviously a talented director. Yet, he didn’t receive the Oscar for an award many thought would be his. The way I see it, there are two options for Fincher’s future success with the Academy. One option is that Fincher has matured as a director and the Academy has taken notice. The other option is that the Academy only wants Fincher when he tackles certain subject matter.

Fincher’s next project is an adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, another film dealing with a serial killer, and a film which is much more in line with what one would expect from him. With the two options, it seems Fincher’s chances of being nominated for his next venture are 50/50. His chances of actually taking the Oscar seem even less likely. Even if Fincher’s next film is as strong as Zodiac, there is a chance it will be ignored when the Oscars roll around. Network was hip, it tackled a recent phenomenon not yet explored in movies, it had great characters, and it had a great story. Returning to familiar territory seems like it might be a step backwards for Fincher, especially where the Academy Awards are concerned. Peter Travers, in a Rolling Stone review of Network, said of Fincher and Sorkin, “both do the best and ballsiest work of their careers.” If Fincher’s best work didn’t win the Oscar, that means he will have to do something as strong, or stronger, to receive the Oscar in the future. Sorkin knows he is in a similar position to Fincher, that is, how do you follow a movie regarded as your best work? After the Oscars, Sorkin was quoted saying, “I'll be very candid with you. Since the movie came out and got the critical reaction it's gotten, and the cultural reaction… I've been hyper-aware that whatever I write next will be the thing I write after The Social Network.”

Yet, Sorkin is in a very different situation, as he actually won the Oscar for best adapted screenplay. This raises the question, whose movie is Network? With almost no special effects, save for those used on Armie Hammer so he could play both Winklevoss twins, and a plot that feels almost anti Fincher, does this film actually belong more to Sorkin? It is definitely a possibility. There is no doubt that Fincher can direct, and not just anybody could have delivered Sorkin’s screenplay to the screen as well as he did. But it really does seem like The Social Network, if not Fincher’s only chance at getting the best director Oscar, was definitely his greatest chance to date, and unless he has a change in strategy, he won’t be as close any time soon. The future may prove me wrong, but with 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea following The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, the Oscar doesn’t seem likely to go Fincher’s way for some time.

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