The NBA All-Star Break Means It’s Time For The Academy Awards

This is a big weekend for both the NBA and Hollywood. As basketball enjoys its All-Star break Tinseltown gears up for the Academy Awards this Sunday night. Now is as good a time as any to predict both the winner of the Best Picture Oscar and the NBA Championship.

Outside Looking In

New York Knicks/Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close: After last night’s humbling loss to the Miami Heat I have some serious reservations about even including New York on this list. But the Knicks still deserve mentioning in large part because these past few weeks of Linsanity have been much too captivating to at least not consider a title run for this team. The Knicks will probably not get past either the Bulls or Heat but their presence in the Eastern Conference playoffs will do wonders for the television rating, that is of course if you are a Time Warner customer living in Manhattan.

Movie buffs aren’t quite sure how Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close ended up being nominated for a Best Picture Oscar with some reviewers calling it “self important” and “crass”.With Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock leading the cast, EL&IC boasts an impressive starting lineup but much like Knicks, the movie’s crunch time lineup includes crucial performance by supporting players like Max von Sydow and Viola Davis. But can you really win a championship wtih JR Smith launching 3 pointer after 3 pointer?

Dallas Mavericks/War Horse: Can’t discount the champs, even if free agent acquisition Lamar Odom has spent more time worrying about how to fix his sex swing than trying to figure how to help the Mavs win another title. You have to wonder whether or not this team has the drive again this season to push themselves all the way to the NBA Finals or maybe they are just satisfied to wait a year until they can go out and sign both Deron Williams and Dwight Howard this summer.

Speaking of running on past laurels, War Horse, directed by Steven Spielberg and based on a famous play, is the story of a boy and his horse and World War I. In other words, how did they ever turn this into a Broadway show? This film, much like the Dallas Mavericks, is on this list because of the past successes of Spielberg. And just like Dirk Nowitzki, it’ll take a whole roster of thoroughbreds for this director to win the big prize on Sunday.

Los Angeles Lakers/The Tree of Life: The Lakers have no point guard, zero depth, and are rumored to be shopping Pau Gasol. However, as long as they have Kobe Bryant they remain a threat to win the Western Conference, even if he is surrounded by a group of ripening corpses and Andrew Bynum’s fragile skeleton.

The Tree of Life is very very hard to understand, which is probably exactly what director Terrence Malick was shooting for. Is it about a middle class family in Texas during the 1950’s or the end of the world as we know it? Does Malick really believe that dinosaurs will inherit the earth once again or was he simply trying to make a statement about the ephemeral nature of human existence? Either way, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that The Tree of Life is much too ambitious to appeal to the average Academy voter. And like the Lakers, it’s really hard to win a championship when your roster is full of lifeforms from the Cretaceous era.

The Darkhorse

Denver Nuggets/Midnight in Paris: The Nuggets are an incredibly entertaining basketball team. They get up and down the court, defend, and take boatloads of threes. They also have the depth and athletic ability to match up very well with the Clippers and Thunder.

Midnight In Paris is a whimsical tale that brings us back to the Belle Epoque of Woody Allen’s illustrious career. But just like the Nuggets, the most entertaining movie doesn’t always win the Best Picture Oscar. (see 1997)

The Contenders

San Antonio Spurs/Moneyball: The Spurs have always spent their dollars wisely, acquiring a valuable stable of role players like Matt Bonner, Gary Neal, and Kawhi Leonard to compliment veteran stars Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili. Once again the issue for the Spurs will be the health of their aging nucleus. If any of their stars are unavailable or hobbled for the playoffs then it becomes next to impossible for the Spurs to keep up with the younger legs of the Western Conference.

The Oakland A’s, like the Spurs, have a history of cobbling together a starting lineup by signing other teams castoffs. Moneyball is a baseball movie about the island of misfit toys with Brad Pitt at the center of a statistical revolution that transformed professional sports. The story ends in defeat which may be an ominous sign for Spurs fans.

Los Angeles Clippers/Hugo: Hugo is a movie about the magic of movies. (Go figure. Scorcese going the PG route.) There’s a lot of magic taking place at the Staples Center this season and for once it’s not just the Lake Show. Blake Griffin continues to defy gravity and Chris Paul has established Lob City as more than just a passing fancy. It will be interesting to see whether or not the Clippers can carry this mystique into the second half of the season. In either case, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see either walk away with big prize.

The Favorites

Oklahoma City/The Descendants: OKC is young, energetic, and most importantly after last season’s playoff run, experienced. The Thunder certainly have the young legs to outlast their Western Conference competition but the question will always be, who takes that final shot: Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook?

When it comes to Hollywood, there is no doubt that George Clooney is the man in charge. However, his character in The Descendants is very un alpa dogesque. The Descendants is two hours of scowling self loathing woe is me catharsis. In other words, a typical night in the life of Thunder center Kendrick Perkins.

Chicago Bulls/The Help: It was unfortunately only a matter of time before Derrick Rose broke down. His bad back is asymptamatic of his relentless style of play and effort on both ends of the court. Bad backs are really hard to overcome, just ask your dad.

Rose certainly could use a little help in Chicago but he has recently denied reports that he was asking the Bulls front office to trade for Pau Gasol. The Help is riding waves of momentum and it would make a lot of people smile to see the feel good movie of the year ride away with Hollywood’s biggest prize.

The Winner

Miami Heat/The Artist – The regular season does not matter because this Heat team will be judged by their performance in the playoffs. However, if recent games are any indication, LeBron James and company are motivated and capable of eviscerating any foe in their path. Silence has never been the answer for the Big Three but it could be the gimmick that pushes The Artist over the top. But, as with the Heat, there will be a lot of people rooting against it on Sunday night. If the past is any indication then Harvey Weinstein will not mind that there are a lot of movie fans out there who don’t like him. Unlike LeBron James.

 view from American Airlines Arena courtesy of @PLRLifestyle

 

Maurice Podoloff and the 2011 Academy Awards (Part II)

5: Toy Story 3/Amar’e Stoudemire (F, New York Knicks) – With every new Toy Story movie, it feels like a little piece of my childhood fades away.  I can remember when Andy first came home with Buzz Lightyear and now he’s (Andy not Buzz) headed off to college? College is no place for a guy who still plays with his childhood toys. This will lead to years worth of ridicule and stunted mental development. Andy has “clock tower” potential written all over him. It’s all too much for me to take right now.

Speaking of too much to take right now, how about the minutes Mike D’Antoni has Amar’e playing? It’s only a matter of time before both of his knees spontaneously combust. The addition of Carmelo gives fans something more to cheer about but does not mean the Knicks are ready to compete for a championship. The Garden is going to have to wait for 2012 and Chris Paul for that.

4: The Fighter/Dirk Nowitzki (F, Dallas Mavericks) – In between my junior and senior years of college, I spent an entire summer working and playing baseball in Lowell, Massachusetts. It was just like the movie Summer Catch, except there were no Cape Cod beaches and I never did get to see Jessica Biel in a bikini. The general manager of our baseball team, a great old guy who ran a heating/air conditioning business downtown, told us before the first day of practice that it was important for us to avoid Lowell at night.  As I watched The Fighter, I couldn’t help but think about college kids being terrorized on the mean streets of the Mill City by the likes of Christian Bale.

Nowitzki fourth on my list is more a testament to the success of the Mavs than Dirk himself.  He’s struggled to return to form since an early season knee injury but as the most talented player on a very dangerous western conference team, he deserves at least a mentioning.

3: True Grit/Kevin Durant (F, Oklahoma City Thunder) – My main issue with this Coen Brothers iteration of a John Wayne classic is that Jeff Bridges makes his Rooster Cogburn sound eerily similar to Billy Bob Thornton’s character in Sling Blade. It was so distracting that at one point I could have sworn Bridges asked the erstwhile Hailee Steinfeld whether or not she would like some “French fried potaters”. My other issue with True Grit was that Josh Brolin received top billing for a total of 4 minutes 32 seconds of actual screen time.  How is this allowed?  This is Hollywood stat stuffing akin to baseball home run records and Tammany Hall elections.

It’s only a matter of time before KD wins an MVP award. Probably won’t happen this year, unless the Thunder move up a few spots in the western conference before the playoffs, but he has the flashy offensive game and gaudy statistics to at least put him in the conversation.  Another factor that could stand in his way of an MVP award is the emergence of Russell Westbrook. Baseline to baseline, Westbrook might be the quickest player in the NBA.

2: The Social Network/ (tie) Lebron James & Dwyane Wade – Impossible for me to choose between the two Heat superstars.  Both are playing at an unbelievably high levels and their individual games seem to compliment each others much better than anticipated. I still don’t think Miami will compete for a NBA championship this season, not enough of an inside presence/defense, but I do expect this core to rattle off 2 or 3 titles in a row sometime in the near future.

The future is now for Facebook. Human culture and the way we communicate will never be the same – see Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, etc. The Social Network was a brilliantly scripted movie. My main issue with the film is that none of the main characters were likable. Couldn’t root for anyone of them, especially the Winklevoss twins. Have you ever seen those two in real life? Frightening looking mutants. Some rogue foreign dictator should develop a clone Winklevoss army.  They would instantly become the top threat to global security in the 21st century.

1: The King’s Speech/Derrick Rose (G, Chicago Bulls) – I find myself gravitating towards this entire Bulls team. They play hard, great team defense, and a have a likable/brash group of young all star caliber players (Noah, Rose, and Gibson). D-Rose is the total package and has put this team in position to challenge the beasts of the east for a shot at the NBA Finals. One worry, his game is so aggressive/reckless that I feel he could seriously injury himself at any moment.  Same thing goes for Blake Griffin and Luke Harangody.

The King’s Speech is everyone’s pick to win the Oscar.  It was my favorite movie of 2011 and really what’s not to like? Who doesn’t enjoy the inspirational story of an underdog monarch overcoming personal obstacles to lead his country during a pivotal time in world history? I am also calling Colin Firth for Best Actor, Christian Bale/Hailee Steinfeld for Supporting, Natalie Portman for Best Actress, and David Fincher for Director. Agree to disagree.

view from the United Center courtesy of @ShwanGan

Maurice Podoloff and the 2011 Academy Awards

Two of my favorite things…the Oscars and professional basketball awards speculation. It seemed like a logical proposition to try and rank the 2011 Best Picture nominees, from worst to first, along with the current NBA MVP favorites.  And the nominees are…

10. Winter’s Bone/Steve Nash (G, Phoenix Suns): I know next to nothing about Winter’s Bone, other than one of its actors, Jennifer Lawrence, will be playing Mystique in the upcoming summer blockbuster X-Men: First Class, and that the title Winter’s Bone could easily pass for a low budget porno starring the entire cast of Fargo. (Coincidentally, doesn’t it feel like Peter Stormare has already been in his fair share of adult films?)

Nash is quietly enjoying a a superb season for the Phoenix Suns. He is currently second in the league in assists, averaging 11.3 per game, and leads the Suns in scoring with 16.8 ppg. Not bad for an over the hill point guard playing with a roster full of castoffs and has-beens (see Carter, Vince). The fact that the Suns are competing for a spot in the Western Conference playoffs is a testament to the Canadian savvy of Nash.  I would love Phoenix to trade Nash to a contender, like the Mavs or Heat, giving him just one more shot at an NBA title.

9. 127 Hours/LaMarcus Aldridge (F, Portland Trail Blazers): James Franco was a guest on NPR’s Fresh Air podcast this past week and, true to form, he is a very interesting young talent. (Reason #44 that I am turning into my parents: public radio has become my preferred selection for both the morning and evening commutes.) The guy is also one of the busiest people in Hollywood. Franco is currently balancing grad school, directing, acting, and prepping to co-host the Oscars.  Quite an accomplishment for your run of the mill stoner.

As far as we know, LaMarcus Aldridge does not share James Franco’s affinity for marijuana but, much like 127 Hours, the 2011 Blazers are a one man show. Aldridge has turned into one of the best power forwards in the Western Conference.  He has yet to receive the same national notoriety as Blake Griffin or Kevin Love, but Aldridge certainly deserves the lion’s share of praise for keeping Portland in the mix to host a first round playoff series.

8. Black Swan/Kobe Bryant (G, Los Angeles Lakers): This union was a no-brainer, especially after Kobe asked the enigmatic Pau Gasol to be give the Lakers more Mila Kunis and less Natalie Portman. Los Angeles is a really tough team to figure out, kinda like Portman’s character in the Black Swan. Some nights they glide around the court like the lead ballerina in a major production of Swan Lake, while other times their play resembles someone under the influence of heavy narcotics.

Kobe continues to be the backbone of the entire Laker organization.  His effort/performance during the recent NBA All Star game showcased his unrelenting determination and desire to compete. It’s too bad his Nike “Black Mamba” movie hasn’t received more play. Who knew Kanye could act?

7. Inception/Chris Paul (G, New Orleans Hornets): All I can say about Inception is that I loved it the first time. Second time I sat down to watch the movie I was both underwhelmed and confused. Let me get this strait, there’s a chance the entire movie could be a dream right? If that top keeps spinning than Leo is still asleep. This is just not a very satisfying conclusion.  I mean, what was the whole 2.5 hours of movie for in the first place? Just a silly little rouse/slight of hand? Damn you Christopher Nolan. Damn you. (Also, the soundtrack…haunting. Can’t escape it. Feel like every shoe commercial and movie trailer has been sampling it ever since.)

The New Orleans Hornets are enjoying somewhat of a dream season, thanks in part to the valiant efforts of Chris Paul. Rumor has it that Paul has been playing on a bum knee all year, which makes his, and the teams, accomplishments all the more impressive. New York Knicks fans should hope for Paul in 2012 to go along with Carmelo and A’mare.

6: The Kids Are All Right/Dwight Howard (C, Orlando Magic): I have to say that in an attempt to be authentic, The Kids Are All Right ended up a downright predictable Hollywood movie. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the film, but just that I saw each and every dramatic twist and turn coming a mile away.

Same can be said about the Orlando Magic and Dwight Howard.  GM Otis Smith can retool the roster all he wants but the Magic still won’t be able to stand toe-to-toe against the Celtics, Heat, or maybe even Bulls. D12 continues to dominate the glass and block around 2 shots per game. The surrounding cast in Orlando will probably cost the Magic a second round playoff exit and then must sit and wait for Howard to demand a trade to the Lakers.

Part II coming Thursday

view of the Pepsi Center courtesy of @bryantlee16