So we made it to November when fall starts getting serious, Thanksgiving is but a delightful memory (sorry America), and we’re only feeling mildly guilty about eating all that Halloween candy. All-in-all it’s a good time of year and I didn’t even have to mention pumpkin spice. November is also when certain people (ie: me) get all huffed up thinking about two things it is far too early to think about: who is winning the NBA title and who is winning Best Picture at the Oscars. Yes, even months and months away, I wonder which team (sports or production) is going to take the ultimate prize in their field. So naturally, to facilitate this ridiculous line of thought I decided to try to predict both by lumping them together: the double early NBA-Oscar predictions.
It made a ton of sense at the time.
For the purposes of comparison, we’ve got three main groups of contenders. There are the happy-to-be-there hopefuls, the serious minded challengers, and finally, the true powerhouse finalists. Most of these teams/movies have no real shot of winning anything, but the dreams of holding trophies and saying thank yous into a wall of cameras is ever present. Yes, even in November. Let’s get started.
Just Happy To Be There
Are you a plucky independent film that tore through Sundance? Perhaps you’re a big market team that hogs a lot of the national sports discussion? Or could you be a gritty outsider film with something to prove? This is where your team and production will end up.
After a decade plus spent in the depths of the lottery, the New York Knicks have emerged as a legit playoff team. They aren’t real contenders but they believe they are. Likewise, NYC legend Woody Allen went through his own creative drought for a solid decade plus only to find himself once again, post-Match Point, in the thick of awards talk. Like the Knicks, Allen’s latest film, Blue Jasmine, has a strong central performer in Cate Blanchett (a Carmelo Anthony stand-in), a bunch of bizarre supporting personalities, a small but appreciated NYC setting and, most importantly, no chance of winning it all. And if you were wondering, I was legitimately torn as to whether Andrea Bargnani was Andrew Dice Clay or Alec Baldwin in this comparison.
In the western conference, the Memphis Grizzlies are known for two things. Thing number one? Grit. Thing number two? Grind. I watched the trailer for Scott Cooper’s Out of the Furnace and I swear, I felt like I had spent the day trapped in a factory and needed a shower afterwards. It is absolutely coated in grit, filled with actors (Christian Bale, easily the Tony Allen of the season; Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson) grinding away. I realize some will probably push the Grizzlies further in the discussion than I have despite their ritual dismemberment by the Spurs last year (with Z-Bo continuing to fall apart). But look, while both team and film have a clear identity, both appear to be lacking in fire power. Not even the addition of Mike Miller, who could easily fit into the cast of Out of the Furnace (more easily than Zoe Saldana, anyway) will change that.
Our final ‘happy to be there’ team? The Golden State Warriors. I have no bad words to say about the Warriors. At this point, if you’re badmouthing Steph Curry, easily one of the most likeable stars in the league, you’ve got to reassess. In fact, the whole team is stacked with wonderfully likeable players (Andre Iguodala, Andrew Bogut, Kent Bazemore). The same goes for Fruitvale Station, this year’s Sundance darling that is currently riding a wave of grassroots support and ‘we believe’ emotion. The film is anchored by an immensely winning performance by Michael B. Jordan (with a name like that, I had to include this film), and delivers a stirring message even more potent than one of coach Mark Jackson’s half time speeches. Neither can win it all (both are not deep enough) but we’ll happily cheer for them just the same.
The Serious Contenders
So that was fun, but now we are getting to serious business. These are the teams/movies that have big aspirations, big goals, and are spending big money to achieve them. They probably won’t make it to the Finals/Podium, but they’ll definitely try everything they can to convince you they deserve to be there.
Up first in the Western Conference, the Los Angeles Clippers renew their semi-vain hopes of making it all the way. I’m not sure I’m ready to live in a world where Donald Sterling is on stage, covered in confetti, holding the championship trophy. I mean, I get it, everybody likes Chris Paul (except Vinnie Del Negro) and Blake Griffin is a fan favourite, but it still feels like something is missing. They look like a championship team, but I’m not sure I believe it. So, naturally, the Clippers are August: Osage County. Think about it. We’ve got some fan favourite performers (Benedict Cumberbatch, Ewan McGregor, Abigail Breslin), headlined by the acknowledged master Meryl Streep (I’ll let you decide if she is Paul or new coach Doc Rivers) but, what is this movie supposed to be about? From the trailer it looks like people yelling in a house. And, how much do we really want to count on Julia Roberts? She’s a little Griffin, Jamal Crawford and, of course, the immortal DeAndre Jordan rolled into one. She looks the part, but can she hit her free throws, er, I mean, make us care? If you look too closely at this whole team/production, it starts to fall apart despite the obvious pedigree. Also, it sounds like Harvey Weinstein has his unlikeable fingers all over the film; the ugly Donald Sterling comparisons are too easy.
Staying in the Western Conference, the re-revamped Houston Rockets get the nod here with the addition of Dwight Howard. Their appropriate spirit movie? Inside Llewlyn Davis. First of all, GM Daryl Morey and coach Kevin McHale are definitely the Coen Brothers of the NBA (all four of them seem super clever, crafty and delightful). The next fun parallel: Oscar Isaac’s titular character is a struggling folk singer trying to prove his worth despite being his own worst enemy at times. Just like Dwight Howard (sort of)! Throw in wacky mishmash casts for both situations (John Goodman, Justin Timberlake, Carey Mulligan for Davis; Omer Asik, James Harden, Jeremy Lin for Houston), clearly defined local music scenes (NYC folk/Houston rap) and you’ve got yourselves a semi-serious contender that could burn all the way up to the top or dramatically fade away.
Now, remember when David O. Russell was just another pariah in Hollywood, seen burning metaphorical bridges and fighting, literally, with actors? Well, he’s a legit Oscar contender now with American Hustle as his next chance at the big prize (after a run that included The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook). Similarly, the Indiana Pacers would prefer it if you forgot about their troubled past (hello Malice at the Palace) and focused on their steady ascendency to the top. With their improved bench (Luis Scola is the Michael Pena of the NBA, just FYI) and another year of seasoning for its stars, Indiana figures to be in the mix for, at the very least, the eastern conference finals. Meanwhile, American Hustle brings in a cast of actors with established reputations (Bradley Cooper, Bale, again; Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner) and lets them go to work. Yes, Jennifer Lawrence is Lance Stephenson here. Just a crazy hot mess, I don’t care what you say.
Our next pairing has some fascinating cosmetic similarities and will probably end up in similar situations come next year. Let’s see: black and white look, a cast filled with wizened veterans, a central performer not known for pulling the dramatic weight. Are we talking about the Brooklyn Nets or Nebraska? Admittedly, this pairing is a tad off from perfect (since we burned through the only valid Mikhail Prokhorov analogue here by comparing Weinstein to Sterling; and Alexander Payne is a veteran director while Jason Kidd is a rookie coach), but come on, the second and third male leads are Bruce Dern and Stacy Keach. The Nets are counting on an aging Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Will Forte, God love him, is going to try his best, but can he anchor the movie? Can some combination of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez get you to the Finals? Good luck.
We needed one more small market but serious contender to add to this list. Who is left, you ask? I am not ready to give up on the Oklahoma City Thunder. They still have superstar Kevin Durant, they’ll have the unfairly maligned Russell Westbrook back at full strength soon to whirlwind around the court, and Serge Ibaka can be a force. Sounds like a case for the Dallas Buyers Club. It’s got a big star in Matthew McConaughey, an unfairly maligned actor who is much better than people realize in Jared Leto, and Jennifer Garner can be a force. I’m not sure how much I trust Scott Brooks as coach and Jean-Marc Vallee as director, though. Both have produced some great work (60-win seasons and a trip the Finals, C.R.A.Z.Y. is one of the best Canadian films of the decade) but both haven’t done much since then.
Speaking of people who haven’t done much in awhile, I think we can all agree that we have been missing Derrick Rose in our lives. With his soft spoken demeanour and athletic intensity, the NBA is just better when Rose is around. And the Bulls are contenders when he rejoins his running mates Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and the newly installed Jimmy Butler. Similarly, Alfonso Cuaron has been gone for some time. He was responsible for creating some indelible images in the past (like Rose!) with his previous movies (Y Tu Mama Tambien; Children of Men) and now he’s back with Gravity. I can confirm the film to be deliriously life affirming, just like seeing Rose take flight in his return to the court to resume his campaign to win an NBA title. Much like Gravity‘s astronauts’ desperate fight for survival, the Bulls are a team clawing for the top spot (even if their respective narrative and scoring punch feel a bit flimsy). And, fittingly enough, both team and film have to deal with very loud bits of dead weight (re: orbiting space debris and Carlos Boozer).
The Big Time Finalists
And then there were two. They care not for your participation ribbons. These are the favourites.
Learning our lesson from last year, I’m not going to bet against the San Antonio Spurs for another chance at the title. Sure, Tim Duncan is a year older, and Manu Ginobili is aging in dog years, but they still have Tony Parker, Gregg Popovich is still directing the show and the supporting cast (Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter, Marco Belinelli) is raring to go. So, who is the one man in Hollywood I don’t want to bet against? The guy who seems to get better with age to consistently prove the critics wrong? I was ready to answer George Clooney but then Monuments Men got pushed to 2014 and this paragraph fell apart. My fall back answer: Tom Hanks. With Captain Phillips and Saving Mr. Banks in the running, you’ll be hearing previous Oscar winner Hanks’ name mentioned again and again come March. Similarly, Duncan, the indefatigable and hugely likeable four time NBA champion, will once again be in contention come June. Saving Mr. Banks has the experienced, yet relatively self-effacing, Spurs-like cast (Emma Thompson, Paul Giamatti, Jason Schwartzman), while Captain Phillips provides an air of military professionalism (just like Air Force vet Popovich), a middle aged man’s heroic struggle (can the Spurs get their fifth title before Duncan and Manu retire?) and, um, an interesting understanding of international relations (the Spurs have tons of foreign born players).
Don’t worry; my work here is almost done.
Still, only one can win and despite heart-warming twin tales that include Duncan and Hanks, my pick for eventual champions are the Miami Heat and 12 Years a Slave. Yes, just a couple years removed from ignominy (the Heat getting embarrassed by the Mavericks; Shame not getting nominated for anything), both the Heat and 12 Years a Slave are poised to have tremendous seasons. In Slave’s favour are some of the best actors of this generation (Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, Chiwetel Ejiofor) and a steady young hand (Steve McQueen) directing. Similarly, the Heat have some of the best players of this generation (Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh) and a steady young hand (Erik Spoelstra) running the show. 12 Years a Slave won the Audience Award at TIFF (an early signifier of success) while Miami is coming off two straight titles with the team largely unchanged (No Mike Miller, but he fit a little too comfortably into this scary southern analogy anyway). More important though is the subject matter, 12 Years a Slave tells the story of a free man kidnapped into bondage who spends 12 years trying to free himself. Now, I’ll tip toe around this point, but there is a comment to be made here regarding Lebron’s own (obscenely well paid) tour in Cleveland and the sweet release he could only find in the state of Florida. Did I just compare living in Cleveland to slavery? Let’s move on.
The Miami Heat are going to win the NBA title. 12 Years a Slave is going to win Best Picture at the Oscars. Call me crazy (seriously) but don’t come crying to me after my parlay wins big money.