David Fincher‘s The Social Network (Columbia, 10.1) is Zodiac‘s younger, geekier, greedier brother. That means it’s good, as in really good — a movie for guys like myself and critics like Eric Kohn, Karina Longworth and Robert Koehler to savor and consider and bounce up against, and basically for smart, sophisticated audiences to savor in every cultural corner, and….can I just blurt it out? It’s the strongest Best Picture contender I’ve seen so far this year, and in saying this I’m obviously alluding to Inception.

I flew down from Toronto today [i.e., Monday] to see it in New York. Huge pain to travel all that distance and deal with customs and all the usual crap, but it was worth it and then some. Because now I have something to live for and feel great about. All hail screenwriter Aaron Sorkin for the deliciously hyper, cyber-attuned dialogue, and for the bracing, always inquisitive, often confrontational vibe in each scene.

The Social Network is a high-velocity art film about greed and human values and shadows and feelings of loneliness surrounding and blanketing everything. Fincher is up for Best Director, guaranteed. In fact, everyone involved with this sucker will benefit. Cheers to Scott Rudin, Dana Brunetti and Michael De Luca for producing yet another edgy, high-toned drama that will probably play best with people who (gulp) went to college.

It has a Best Actor performance in Jesse Eisenberg‘s turn as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. He’s playing a certain kind of intellectually remote monster — an incandescent asshole with brains — and yet a semblance of humanity (or at least Zuckerberg’s idea of what humanity might be if he managed to find a piece of it within his parched and arid soul) seeps out of his pores. He wears a kind of mask the whole time, but emotional leak-throughs occur.

On top of which Network has two Best Actor-level supporting performances from Andrew Garfield as Zuckerberg’s former partner and his one and only emotional pally Eduardo Severin, and Justin Timberlake as Sean Parker — the best thing Timberlake has done since his largely unseen turn in Alpha Dog.

The Social Network is tight and fast — like His Girl Friday on Adderall, like a machine gun — and a gripping moral fable about how Zuckerberg fucked certain people over, and is perhaps even a tale about where GenY really and truly lives. It’s a whipsmart, brilliantly written, wired-tight drama about greed and soullessness and the emptiness of the Facebook dream (i.e, all my “friends” really like me), and a superb revisiting of the Treasure of the Sierra Madre fable, which is to say a reconsidering of what gold does to men’s souls.

It’s only mid-September but The Social Network, a story of hard 21st Century hunger for the hot thing and more-more-more, feels to me like the absolute shit. I’m not able to figure how it isn’t at the front of the pack now. A movie might come along that’ll “beat” The Social Network, but I can’t imagine right now what that might be, and I know whereof I speak. The contenders have been thinned and there are very few Best Picture contenders that seem anywhere near as good in a high-throttle, smart-ass sort of way. This is brilliant Fincheresque agitation, brilliant madness — the kind of movie that makes the struggle of my life seem worth it and then some.

You know you’re seeing something exceptional and amazing when all you can think about 20 minutes into it is “I have to see this again as soon as possible.” This is significant. I’ve been seeing film after film at the Toronto Film Festival that has made me want to open my veins in the bathtub, and then this thing comes along and I’m going “oh, fuck… this is good…please let it go on longer…this is it, I love it, I’m in Zodiac Heaven, thank you God.”

And now that I’ve ruined or at least colored the Social Network waters for some by over-praising it….sorry. 6:51 am Update: I had a graph up about the ending last night — I’ve since taken it down.

I’ve recently been thinking I need to stop reading scripts because the final movie versions always disappoint. I loved Sorkin’s script, but I was a bit afraid of what I might see. So I knew it was something exceptional when it hit me that The Social Network is better than the script. The last time this happened was when I realized that the projected version of Rushmore was better than Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson‘s script.

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross‘s original music is award-quality — don’t even think about disputing this. Ditto Jeff Cronenweth‘s cinematography and the editing by Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall — all world-class.

There’s a scene between Eisenberg and Timberblake in which they excitedly discuss in a club where Facebook should go, and the sound mix is just astonishing. It’s the first scene of this kind in which the music is mixed at the proper realistic levels sot you can hear the dialogue the way it always sounds to anyone trying to converse in a club with extra-loud music, which is to say barely.

I could go on and on about this film, but it’s 12:27 am and I have to fly back to Toronto on an 8:55 am flight tomorrow morning, or this morning, I should say.