The Oscar nominations will be announced the morning of February 8th and it is the best day of Oscar season. It doesn’t seem to make sense, but it is true. Just like the draft is the best part of the fantasy basketball season; a time before injuries and impotent performances siphon our joy like a dementor where optimism and opportunity run wild.
I’ve passionately followed the Oscars for over 25 years and have many specific memories of Oscar night. From having a near-perfect ballot in 2003 (which admittedly was picking Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King for everything except Animated Short, which I think it still managed to win…) to being devastated when my favorite film of the decade (Boyhood) lost Best Picture to Birdman. F**k Birdman.
Even considering all the memorable moments from Oscar night, nothing makes me jitter with my anticipation than the morning nominations are announced. The methodology has certainly changed, I’ve gone from cutting out the movie section from USA Today, to manically refreshing IMDB, but the enthusiasm remains.
Maybe you are a weirdo like me, but in all likelihood that you are not, let’s talk about the best sports league out there: the NBA. I am a fan of the NBA over all other sports league simply because of entertainment. It’s more fun to watch the games. Just that simple. After the Chiefs outlasted the Bills on Sunday in what I’ve been told is an all-time classic, it might not seem like the best timing for this take…but it doesn’t stop it from being 100% true!
While I certainly feel it stands alone based on gameplay, the NBA also has the best drama. Ray Allen’s corner three in 2013 to save that game for the Heat? That’s f**cking Shakespeare. I think it could be tied to the smaller rosters, more visible player emotions, or perhaps the freedom (compared to other leagues) that players have to express themselves.
Maybe you see the Oscars as a forum for Hollywood elites to engage in a pointless self-congratulatory festival, which is even more egregious since this high-fiving will be happening while the world burns. Fair point. But if you care about the NBA in any way, open your heart and let me orient you for the Oscars on March 27th with some NBA comps!
The Front Runner
Warriors/Suns — Ciaran Hinds and Jamie Dornan for Best Supporting Actors in Belfast
There is the viewpoint that Oscar movies can peak too early. You are boring, you are steady, but that’s okay because you are still the best—or are you?
The common wisdom now is that Belfast is going to meet the same fate of A Star is Born or The Trial of the Chicago 7, the horse that bolts out of the gate and gets caught in the home stretch.
The Suns technically haven’t always been the frontrunner after a 1-3 start and the Warriors are in the midst of a bumpy January (that home loss to Indiana was truly baffling), but the goal of both of these teams is the same: stay healthy, stay the course, keep swimming toward a title.
One of the subtleties that Kenneth Branagh’s direction in Belfast reveals about the life of the working class in Northern Ireland…just kidding…let’s talk about that Pacers game some more.
The Pacers are a bottom-five team in the league in three-point percentage and they outshot the Warriors from behind the arc. The Pacers were 4-17 on the road (after stunning the Lakers the night before) and they still won. If this isn’t bonkers enough, consider that one of these teams was without many of their starters—that team was the Pacers.
Steph is in an extended slump (under 30% for threes in January, after 42% and 38% in November/December) that we might eventually be calling a bad season. Perhaps not as bad the conditions of the working class in Northern Ireland…transition!
After being the top pick for months, oddsmakers are now giving Belfast the second-best chance of winning the big prize, (Power of the Dog claiming the top spot as predicted by Bronco Henry), but I’m stubbornly sticking with Belfast as my pick.
So if the analogy here is between the Western Conference top dogs and Belfast, why should we be constructing our vision boards and focus our positive energy crystals towards the two actors often dubbed “the Belfast Boys”? If they both get nominated, it will speak volumes for the film’s likelihood of a Best Picture win. If the Oscar nominations follow the script of the SAG nominations and go elsewhere? Belfast will be yet another film that peaked too soon.
The Underseen Talented Non-Winner
Utah Jazz — Drive My Car for Best Picture
Me: Really good, right?
Them: So good. Just so much talent.
Me: Have you seen them?
Them: No. I mean I’ve heard great things. I’ve been meaning to watch.
Me: Really hard to find showing anywhere, right?
Them: Yeah. Won’t win anything…but so good.
No one I know outside of film critics have seen DMC and no one I know outside of NBA writers have actually watched a Utah Jazz basketball game. I’m sure both certainly exist, but the clear narrative of these two is “amazing” and “no chance to win.”
The “One of These Kids is Doing His Own Thing” Ensemble
Brooklyn Nets and Philadephia Sixers Fans — House of Gucci for Best Picture
Stop me if you heard this narrative. The talent is there, but there’s just one guy who doesn’t seem to fit in the overall structure. Kyrie is at least sorta back on the Nets. Eventually, Ben Simmons will play for a different team (will that be this season?) and Jared Leto is definitely acting in a different movie.
The Precursor to Success
Cleveland Cavaliers and Memphis Grizzlies — Dune for Best Adapted Screenplay
Dune is not going to win Best Picture. Dune is going to win a bunch of below-the-line awards. It’s a lock to win Best Sound, Visual Effects, Most Space, Production Design, and Spiciest Planet.
Cleveland and Memphis are not going to win the NBA championship. Cleveland and Memphis are going to win a bunch of other awards. Bickerstaff and Jenkins are in the mix for Coach of the Year, Morant has a lock on Most Improved Player (could he sneak into the MVP conversation if the Grizzlies keep winning?) and every week Evan Mobley gets closer to seizing Rookie of the Year.
Just remember, fans of the Cavs, Atreides, Grizzlies, and Harkonnens, this is not your year for the big prize. LOTR was nominated for best-adapted screenplay for the first movie and then cashed in with the final installment. This year is all about laying the groundwork for the big prize down the road.
The MVP You Can’t Stop Watching
Denver Nuggets – Tick, Tick… Boom! and anything other than Andrew Garfield
Jokić is again the frontrunner for MVP and Andrew Garfield is the likely runner up to Will Smith’s eventual Best Actor win for King Richard. So let’s apply the test that many use when determining what the hell “most valuable” actually means: let’s evaluate each entity without the star.
Nuggets are 1-4 without Jokić this season. Without him on the team, they aren’t the worst team in the West (thanks Rockets and Thunder!), but they probably fall in line somewhere below the Spurs/Kings tier.
If we went the Spiderman route and replaced Garfield with Tom Holland in Tick, Tick… Boom!, would anyone care about this movie? It wouldn’t be the worst musical of the year (thanks Dear Evan Hansen!), but it’s certainly not in the class of the immersive spectacle of West Side Story or even In the Heights.
So anything else for these two would be a bonus. Make the Western Conference title game? A supporting actor nomination for Robin de Jesus? There is likely nothing else to do here other than admire the star’s greatness because you just aren’t bringing home any hardware.
The Return to Greatness
Chicago Bulls — Jane Campion for Best Director
Let’s go back to 1993. The Bulls just won their third straight title, knocking off the Suns in 6 games. At the Oscars that year, Campion would have likely nabbed Best Director for The Piano if it wasn’t for, you know, some guy named Stephen directing one of the best films ever.
The Bulls went on to win three more titles (I know I’m bending this a bit to force the narrative), but if you look at the 13-year span from 1998-2021, they really never came close to being on top (barring the short-lived but transcendent rise of Derrick Rose). They weren’t just a team that was stuck in mediocrity, they were a team that was viewed as outright toxic during the Gar Forman and John Paxson era which the internet summarized with #FireGarPax.
Campion’s absence from the mountain top is certainly the result of being selective and not because she drafted Eddy Curry. Even considering she was being deliberate, it was still a weird stretch for her films. Bright Star is a great film, but In the Cut is kinda terrible.
You don’t need to root for the Campion nomination. It’s a guarantee. Her nomination and upcoming Oscar win will be the golden coronation announcing she is back, and like Bulls fans, hopefully, we won’t have to wait 13 years for this level of greatness again.
The Fun to Watch Crowdpleaser
Hornets — As many CODA nominations as we can get
First, let’s admit to the bias here. Did you see that insufferable use of the word “we” in the heading? I’m not impartial. I’m a big-time Hornets fan. I’m also a big fan of CODA. Seemingly not going to win, but both can be described as “crowd-pleasers.” The crowd-pleaser is quite often the “you should be glad you are here” type prize. Recent examples are Ford vs. Ferrari in 2019 and Bohemian Rhapsody in 2018.
I’d love to say that the through-line here is “if you aren’t going to win it all, be fun to watch.” It works for the Hornets who play a lovely team-first (third in the league in assists) style. The Hornets are third-best in average field goals made, third-worst in field goals allowed, and the internet tells me 22nd in defensive rebounds, but that seems way too high.
It is the most fun I’ve ever had as a Hornets fan and that’s including seeing way too many games in person in the 2011-2012 season where we went 7-59.
Here is why I can’t say that though—and I’m going to whisper this quietly like the announcer that just noticed the pitcher still hasn’t allowed a hit with two outs in the 6th inning—I think CODA can win Best Picture.
Portland Trail Blazers — Absolutely anything at all for Mass
I had huge hopes for both. Now it is just a giant…meh. Lillard surgery. Mass didn’t get a single SAG nomination.
Based on original predictions vs. actual results, the math suggests that the Lakers are the biggest letdown. The problem with Mass is that not enough people have seen or are talking about it and no one is accusing the Lakers of being under the radar. The Blazers just seemed like that team that was knocking on the door that it would eventually breakthrough. Nope.
Every Oscar voter should have to testify saying they saw five better Supporting performances than Anne Dowd if they don’t vote for her! Then we can arrest them all for perjury. I’m not sure that’s how the legal system works, but please, something, anything for Mass.
This was all written from the perspective of the NBA fan entering the world of Oscar nominations, but did you know it could work the other way around? Maybe you are a Lin-Manuel Miranda fan and now it is time to buy a Nuggets jersey. Regardless, you know where I will be on February 8th, and I invite you to join me on the best day of Oscar season, even if you aren’t rooting for CODA and the Hornets.