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The oh-so obvious parallels between 'Spotlight,' 'Revenant,' and 'The Big Short' and B-Ball's Spurs, Bulls, Warriors

By JOE OSTER/ VN FILM CRITIC
On February 23, 2016

BY JOE OSTER

VN FILM CRITIC

 

The 88th Academy Awards competition appears to be going down to the wire for Best Picture.

Just as in the three previous years, there is no clear-cut favorite with less than a week before the Oscars.

Unlike previous ceremonies, three films are still jockeying for position.

While we like to tell ourselves that these awards are about a film’s quality, they are truly about a movie’s narrative.

I’m not referring to the narrative within a film’s structured plot, but rather the narrative that exists around the commodity of the movie.

Naturally, I tend to irrationally see embellished connections between my ideal forms of entertainment: movies and basketball.

As the VN’s sports editor and film critic, I can’t help but see glaring similarities in the narratives of 2015’s top three contenders and three all-time great NBA championship teams.

Far-fetched? Maybe.

Accurate? 100 percent.

 

“Spotlight” as the Tim Duncan-era San Antonio Spurs.

Spotlight” has been called flawless filmmaking. The story of the Boston Globe uncovering the sex scandal within the Catholic Church is told through an understated, fairly simple lens. It chugs along like a well-oiled machine.

Coincidentally, “well-oiled machine” is also the phrase that best describes the Spurs under head coach Greg Popovich. Winning five NBA titles over a 16-year stretch, the Spurs simply plug players into Popovich’s system with Duncan as the fulcrum.

“Spotlight” mirrors this with the brilliance in its ensemble cast. From past-his-prime-but-still-amazing superstar Michael Keaton (a la Tim Duncan) to the relatively unknown Brian d'Arcy James (a la every Spurs role player), the entire cast never misses a beat.

For a majority of the year, “Spotlight” was seen as the movie to beat within the Academy. After being upset at the Golden Globes and PGA Awards, its stock has fallen and opened up the race for Best Picture.

This perfectly mirrors the LA Clippers’ upset of the Spurs in the first round of last year’s NBA playoffs.
While purists in both film and basketball circles call “Spotlight” and the Spurs flawless, others argue that they are rather one-note, and even boring. Although seen as irreverent, “Spotlight” or the Spurs could be accused of being overrated.

If dialogue-driven thrillers or expertly executed bounce passes tickle your fancy, then the Spurs and “Spotlight” are for you.

 

“The Revenant” as Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls

“The Revenant” is forceful, visually imposing and unforgiving. While watching it, you find yourself questioning how a movie like this was possibly made. It feels a bit old school as an epic Man vs. Nature revenge thriller.

The same goes for the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s. This was basketball at its classically highest form, back when isolation offense ruled the NBA. As the greatest player of all time, Michael Jordan physically imposed his will until he forcefully broke down opponents.

The analogy extends further all the way to the Michael Jordan-Leo DiCaprio comparison. The entire runtime of “The Revenant” is essentially Jordan’s iconic “flu game” in cinematic form.

DiCaprio went to extreme lengths to show the physical sacrifices he made during filming, all in an effort to win his first Oscar. This is such a Jordan-type move.

Call it manipulative or call it gaming the system, but at the end of the day he will win the award.

“The Revenant” director Alejandro González Iñárritu and DiCaprio have won almost every conceivable award this year, just like the Bulls, head coach Phil Jackson and Jordan during the ’90s.

If “The Revenant” takes home Best Picture, it will be the second straight victory for Iñárritu after his “Birdman” won in 2015. This would be eerily similar to Phil Jackson and those Bulls teams, who not only went back-to-back, but also won two three-peats within an eight-year period.

 

“The Big Short” as the modern day Golden State Warriors

This is slightly blasphemous. “The Big Short” is nowhere near the same level of spectacle as the present-day Golden State Warriors, but few films are.

“The Big Short” takes the housing crisis and economic crash of the mid-2000s and turns it into this anarchic, lively almost-mockumentary that is at once hysterical and haunting.  Above all, it’s invigorating.

This movie should have been a mess, but Adam McKay turns in arguably the best directing job of the year. A few guys could’ve directed “The Revenant” and turned out the same film as Iñárritu, but no director could’ve perfected “The Big Short” in the vein of McKay’s vision.

According to basketball history, the Golden State Warriors should’ve been a mess, too. They’re built around a skinny point guard in Steph Curry and do not have any traditional dominant big men.

A lack of a consistent post game was seen as an Achilles heel for any great team.

Instead, the Warriors revolutionized the game by playing an anarchic brand of basketball that consisted of shooting more three-pointers than humanly possible and pushing the pace of play to new limits.

Steve Carell carries “The Big Short” and has moments of brilliance that were inconceivable when watching him years ago on TV’s “The Office.”

If Carell is the Steph Curry of “The Big Short,” then Ryan Gosling is the Draymond Green, the driving force and cockiness that serves as the backbone of the film.

It was said for years that a “jump-shooting” team couldn’t win a championship. The Warriors proved that theory wrong last year and are on pace to debunk it again this year.

In recent years, comedies by comedy directors have been unable to win the Oscar for Best Picture. Adam McKay, having directed such slapstick movies as “Step Brothers” and “Anchorman,” is precisely the type of filmmaker that the Academy tends to avoid.

McKay and “The Big Short” should have zero shot at winning Best Picture. “The Revenant” has won virtually every significant award leading up to Sunday night, while “The Big Short” has only won one.

This one award, however, was from the Producers Guild of America for Best Theatrical Motion Picture. The past eight films that have won that award went on to win the Oscar.

This leaves “The Big Short” in an unusual situation as an underdog, but with a major indicator on its side.

 

PREDICTION:

This should be “The Revenant.” Everything, from the narrative of Leo to the probable victory of Iñárritu, points in the direction for the film’s overall success. On top of that, “The Revenant” is one hell of a film.

It makes so much sense.

And the Oscars always make sense…

But I’m always itching to call an upset, and that PGA award is enough bait for me.

“The Big Short” over “The Revenant” over “Spotlight.”

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