It’s that time of year again in Hollywood as America’s movie-making industry tonight rolls out the red carpet for the Academy Awards, its annual celebration of excellence in film. In parallel, BallinEurope likewise awards (and by “awards,” BiE here means to say “writes up a column and pretends to gift an utterly imaginary trophy to the likes of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar”) the Oscar (Robertson) every year for the best in basketball movies. Previous winners include:
Assessing year 2012 in basketball movies in short: Wow. In terms of sheer numbers, the past year blew away recent crops in a real boon the cinema junkies among basketball fans. Not only did ESPN’s “30 for 30” series debut a half-dozen quality roundball-focused documentaries, 20th anniversary celebrations of the Barcelona Olympic Games spawned a pair of films charting two of the most memorable teams in us older guys’ lifetime while Hollywood attempted to launch the acting career of Kevin Durant. And the year of Ben Affleck’s Argo also saw release of an ambitious independent film about an American playing ball in Iran…
As a result, BiE’s widening the playing field a bit for 2013 — you know, kinda like how the Academy did four years ago so that a bit more mediocrity could creep into the “Best Picture” category and snubs of Quentin Tarantino would be made all the more obvious. With so much to celebrate in 2012 basketball movies, BiE awards four virtual trophies this time ’round. So without further ado, the first envelope, please!
Best Full-Length Feature: Thunderstruck. The best review BiE read on KD’s star movie turn read, “I have to say this is the best kids’ movie starring the greatest basketball player of his time since Space Jam. The only problem is that this is the only kids’ movie starring the greatest basketball player of his time since Space Jam.”
Indeed, with Space Jam 2 Starring Lebron James (or even Kobe Bryant) seemingly doomed never to supersede the level of fanboy fantasy, Thunderstruck is the closest we’ll be getting to a sequel of MJ’s classic any time soon. In fact, Thunderstruck’s main plot line is essentially a riff on that of Space Jam, though sadly without the aliens: The unsuspecting Kevin Durant (played by Kevin Durant) mystically loses his talent via magic basketball. Said talent is passed onto the equally unsuspecting Brian Newell (Taylor Gray), a 16-year-old schlub of an Oklahoma City Thunder fan who plays towel boy on his high-school team.
Thankfully, Brian does not go full-on “Like Mike” and inexplicably get inserted into an NBA lineup mid-season as such movies typically require, but instead uses his newfound superpowers to lead his team, become ultra-popular, alienate his old geeky friends and turn off the super hottie who liked him when he was humble. (Ah, come on, are these really spoilers?)
Meanwhile, as was the case with Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing and the second bananas of Space Jam, Durant has lost his courtside skills, thereby allowing the usual suspects — Marv Albert, Reggie Miller, Steve Kerr, Ernie Johnson, Kenny “The Jet” Smith, Shaquille O’Neal and Sir Charles himself, who apparently forgot his own turrible screenside experince with talent-loss — to turn on him faster than Ibby Jabber did Zalgiris.
(A note: All screenside jokes about Shaq’s free-throw shooting have been officially denoted as lame since the below high awesomeness from 2006.)
Meanwhile, in an undeveloped subplot, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka have also apparently disappeared somewhere in the reels of Thunderstruck (alien abduction, perhaps?) as Oklahoma City struggles to make the playoffs.
Right. You get the point. The protagonist may be named Brian, but this ain’t exactly Brian’s Song. On the other hand, as a purely zeitgeist film showing where the NBA is at, public relations-wise, Thunderstruck is just as genius as Space Jam.
Though the requisite voice and star cameos were certainly cheerfully provided by the NBA, Jordan’s movie displayed a slick edginess from the 1990s, a time when all this self-promoting stuff was relatively new. Armed with ever-dangerous Bill Murray and the trash-talking Warner Bros. animated lot — always leagues more subversive than their Disney counterparts — Space Jam was released without a single mention of either “NBA” or “Nike” as certain elements in The Mythology of Jordan were solidified in the public consciousness.
After nearly two more decades of David Stern and social media, however, the image of the NBA seeks to be kinder, gentler and definitely more controlled. In direct contrast to a single dominant force saving the universe is Thunderstruck’s Brian being called upon to make a sacrifice for the good of … the people of Oklahoma City. While Space Jam had Larry Bird riffing ironically with Murray on the golf course, Thunderstruck pigeonholes an earnest Candace Parker into a scene so as to argue that the WNBA is actually badass.
And, most incredibly, Thunderstruck closes with a full-on, honest-to-Chuck-Taylor commercial spot — no, three — for KD’s new line of sneakers. My, we’ve come a long way since 1996. Right? Right???