Sunday poses a dilemma for any basketball fan with an interest in Hollywood movies. An hour after the NBA tips off the All-Star Game in Orlando, the Oscars air on ABC (plus, the red carpet coverage, which is really the best part, starts 30 minutes before the game). Anyone who cares about both worlds must make a choice between sports and film, with no room for compromise that won’t also limit the ability to make hilarious jokes on Twitter.
Luckily, we’re here to help. Many of the participants in the All-Star Game exhibit the same qualities as this year’s nominated movies. So by watching athletes, you can also pull for your favorite Oscar-nominate flick (or vice versa). Come, step into our dream factory.
Rajon Rondo is The Artist: This movie is from another country, and would be in another language, if not for the fact that it’s a silent movie. And a period piece, at that. Basically, it’s alien three times over, and wormed its way into the hearts of audiences members through a combination of good-natured, striking physical comedy and the kind of relentless, if muted, emotion that sometimes trumps more modern, and mouthy, forms of expression. Actually, The Artist isn’t totally silent—like Rondo, it has one line. If you play it backward, it’s a coupon for AAAA batteries, which (fun fact) is Rondo’s favorite thing to buy at the grocery store.
Roy Hibbert is The Descendants: Set in Hawaii, Alexander Payne’s story of a man in a funny shirt trying to deal with something domestic is, above all else, set in Hawaii. Many NBA players like those fancy athletic sandals, and there’s probably one Birkenstock wearer in the bunch, but Hibbert is one dude who may rock full-on flip-flops, like everyone does in Hawaii. It’s a good thing, really, and has nothing to do with that arch Parks and Rec gig of his. Incidentally, Blake Griffin’s “am I really famous?” deadpan is superb, but I’ll take Hibbert’s timing any day. Especially in flip-flops. Ponce de Leon, I see you!
Carmelo Anthony is Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: Melo’s New York adventure isn’t mawkish right now; if anything, it’s a bit of a horror story as Knicks fans embrace Linsanity and diminish the star power of him and Amar’e Stoudemire. But what if Melo learned an important lesson about the power of family by having a bunch of totally quirky meetings with assorted characters like a Black Jew, a mustachioed West Virginia transplant, a Harvard-educated Asian man, a blues musician, a guy who wears jorts, and a tattooed space alien? Wouldn’t he then be a lot like the adorable little moppet who teaches America how to get over 9/11? We’d only be missing a mute Max von Sydow.
The Help: There is no way to win here. A point guard, because of all the assists? Kevin Love, because he does dirty work that goes under-appreciated? Right, since Love’s stat line hasn’t been fetishized like it was 30 ppg. Maybe Love because he’s white, and that’s totally funny? No, that just makes it seem like we’re afraid to talk about race in any meaningful way. I give up. The Help is everyone, and we are all The Help.
Kevin Durant is Hugo: Kevin Durant is polite, boyish, ruthless, driven, meticulous, and still part of a deeper conversation about the direction of the sport. What brings it all together is his love of basketball, and the love we feel toward him for it. Hugo, a kid’s movie that ends up teaching the audience important lessons about film preservation, the history of early cinema, and the psychic scars left by World War I, comes off well because Martin Scorsese is so invested in the subject matter. And not just the individual moving parts (CLOCK METAPHOR), but the awesome mechanism they work together to form (CLOCK METAPHOR), a fusion of past, present, and future (CLOCK METAPHOR) that will never cease to amaze us like a bunch of children. The trick is, we the child-like audience make it possible (SPOILER ALERT: BROKEN ROBOTS). The canon only shines if there is a sense of wonder to go along with it. Scorsese has installed himself as the new high priest of this pop atavism; Kevin Durant, a totally unique player with almost no historical precedent, is the locus of that universal enthusiasm we have for seeing a ball go through a hoop.
Paul Pierce is Midnight in Paris: This movie is about the limits of nostalgia, which I know because Owen Wilson says it explicitly towards the end. Curiously, though, it’s also at its most enjoyable when it revels in that nostalgia, whether that involves Ernest Hemingway acting all manly or a throwaway joke about Djuna Barnes’s dancing style. In that way, it’s a lot like the Celtics, a franchise now forced to look back on their recent golden age even as they realize that can only make them feel worse about the present. Why not live in the moment and make the best of it? Maybe, if they actually thought back to the reality of their 2007-08 championship season, they’d remember that Sam Cassell and P.J. Brown used to play all kinds of shitty music in the locker room. No one wants to relive that experience.
Marc Gasol is Moneyball: Billy Beane wins the AL West with a shoestring budget and a roster made up a bunch of players nobody wanted (plus an MVP shortstop and three ace-level starting pitchers). Nevertheless, that accomplishment isn’t a World Series, which makes Beane question whether or not he didn’t just get lucky. Marc Gasol is a very good player who can take pride in his ability to overcome his previous status as the NBA’s Jeremy Giambi to play in an All-Star Game. On the other hand, he’s only in this game because of the league’s outdated requirement to put two centers on each side. Like Beane, he must decide if he can accept that he won against the odds or feel ashamed that he didn’t achieve unimpeachable greatness. Also, his partner-in-crime Zach Randolph is portly, just like Beane’s nerd lieutenant Peter Brand.
LeBron James is The Tree of Life: Terrence Malick has a transcendent vision for what cinema can be, turning a deeply personal family drama into an epic by marrying it to nothing less than the story of the universe. At his best, LeBron similarly changes the popular vision of what basketball can be, doing so much at once that he seems to be rewriting the sport’s rules as he goes along. Nevertheless, some people still find these guys annoying, or boring, even as they reshape the assumptions of their chosen fields. Oh, and the film falls apart a little late when everyone parties in the apocalypse desert. If you ask me, that’s why Tree of Life doesn’t have what it takes deep down inside to win a Best Picture statue.
Derrick Rose is War Horse: Comparing any NBA player to War Horse is a hoot. It’s also kind of demeaning, since that movie was silly and it draws an unfortunate parallel between athletes, most of them African-American, and animals on the field of battle in the service of dastardly imperial interests. But War Horse wasn’t really about that stuff. It was about making a movie where a horse, much loved, could run and jump and warm our hearts by being the perfect, uncomplicated hero.
Kobe Bryant is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: At this point in his career, David Fincher’s narrative sense is governed by the investigation and discovery of information, as if plots were structured less like the rising-action/climax model we learn in elementary school than a bunch of equally important events. It’s a cold approach, one where people are defined by what they do and how they do it rather than any emotional qualities. That makes cyberpunk Lisbeth Salander a perfect character for him, because she embodies his directorial approach with an obsessiveness that makes you wonder if she was raised by a laptop. In this analogy, Kobe is both Fincher and Salander, focused on accumulating basketball accomplishments with animalistic focus. He’s not pleasant or inviting, but, for him, being liked has little to do with reaching his goals.
Russell Westbrook is Shame: This was the movie with all the fucking, the remorseless, cold, senseless, frequently aimless fucking. And that is basically Russell Westbrook. He will fuck the opposition; he will fuck his own team. He is untrammeled basketball obscenity in action, way beyond the standard issue playground definition of “filth.” Shame has a dong shot that nearly ran away with its press. That’s what Westbrook does, every single game. He gouges out your ways, rubs your face in it, whether he’s totally fucking up the other team or emotionally destroying Thunder fans. Fuck. Fucking fuck. Fucking fuck fuck. Fuck yeah!