Identity Theft: The Oscar Nomination and Snubs as NBA Players

Posted January 17, 2016

With the Oscar nominations coming out earlier this week, the internet has, not surprisingly, been caught up in the ongoing discussion of who got snubbed, who was unfairly rewarded, and whose success is the most surprising. As I read all of the discussions, I can’t help but notice a similarity between the way many people write about these actors, writers, and directors and the way they write about athletes.

In breaking down the rhetoric of the discussion, I started to think about which athletes these actors and directors most closely resembled. Who knows, maybe this will be the start of some beautiful friendships.

Ridley Scott (Director, The Martian)

Comparison: Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas Mavericks)

Let’s start with the most discussed name after the Oscar nominations. Despite winning the Golden Globe for Best Director and being at the helm of a critically acclaimed film that was the 10th highest grossing film of the year, with just under $600 million worldwide, Ridley Scott was not among the directors nominated for Best Director. It’s a confusing omission considering The Martian secured seven nominations, including one for Best Actor (Matt Damon) and another for Best Adapted Screenplay (Drew Goddard). What makes it even stranger is that Ridley Scott is a heavily respected filmmaker with 50 years worth of of successful films in his wake, including Alien, Gladiator, Blade Runner, and many more. His work on The Martian seemed to be worthy of similar praise, yet he was passed over for younger or more “trendy” picks.

Similarly, Dirk Nowitzki seems to get little respect for the continued dominance he displays in his age 37 season. An 18-year NBA veteran, Nowitzki is a 13-time All-Star, a 12-time All-NBA Team member, and a former MVP winner. This year, he’s top 30 in the NBA in real plus/minus, averaging 17.7 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 1.8 threes a game. However, he currently ranks 14th among forwards in the NBA All-Star voting, behind such powerhouse players as Enes Kanter.

Two elite talents who continue to produce into the latter parts of their careers, but can’t seem to get enough respect in a culture that likes to focus on what’s new and shiny. They…wait, who was I talking about? Oh, forget it. Onto the next one.

Jennifer Lawrence (Best Actress, Joy)

Comparison: Anthony Davis (New Orleans Pelicans)

The next one happens to be one of those shiny things that we can’t stop thinking/talking about. Since she burst into many people’s consciousness in 2010 with Winter’s Bone, “J-Law” has been constantly discussed as one of the premiere actresses in Hollywood. Every movie she’s in gets flooded with attention, everything she says in the media gets plastered across numerous sights, and, apparently, everything she touches turns to gold.

Her latest film, Joy, received tepid reviews (a 60% on Rotten Tomatoes) and many critics referred to it as a “mess,” yet Jennifer Lawrence still woke up on Thursday morning to learn of her nomination for Best Actress. She was helped in part by Alicia Vikander (Danish Girl) and Rooney Mara (Carol) arguing that their parts were supporting roles, but the inclusion of “J-Law” seems to be, at least in part, based on the considerable weight that her name carries. Very rarely do actors get nominated in films that are not well received, but despite Joy receiving no other nominations, she finds herself on the list for the third time in the last four years.

That’s not to say that she doesn’t have considerable talent, but when you’ve secured the most nominations in history  by the age of 23, you start to set up unreasonable comparisons and expectations. Part of that is the fault of the media; claiming that she weaves “an entrepreneurial masterclass” doesn’t exactly temper expectations and allow for consistently rational reactions to a performance.

The same can be said of NBA wunderkind Anthony Davis, who was heralded by some as the NBA’s best player despite entering this season only 23 years old. Sure, Davis is a generational talent with two all-star appearances in his three full seasons, but let’s remember that LeBron James, Steph Curry, and Kevin Durant also still play before calling him the best in the league. In order to be the best, you need to have proven it over a long period of time, not simply wowed people in a short stint.

As one might expect when people around you place absurdly high expectations on your performance, Davis hasn’t quite lived up to the hype. Some of this can be attributed to him missing games due to injury (he’s notoriously injury-prone), but his scoring, steals, blocks and percentages are all down from last season.

It’s okay for elite talents to stumble every once in a while, but the key is not to crown somebody before they’re truly ready. We still have Meryl Streep and LeBron, Cate Blanchett and Durant; we don’t need to promote young talent to the forefront and throw praise at every single thing they do. That’s not how you inspire them to reach their full potential, that’s how people become jaded or complacent.

Daisy Ridley (Not nominated, Star Wars)

Comparison: Kristaps Porzingis (New York Knicks)

Of course, sometimes a fresh face can certainly be worthy of (controlled) praise. After her starring role as Rae in the newest Star Wars installment, it felt like Daisy Ridley was set to breakout. Perhaps she was never a real contender to secure an Oscar nomination, but why not? She gave a strong performance as the lead actor in a critically acclaimed movie that also happened to smash box office records. Aren’t those the type of performances that should get nominated?

When a performer is “blowing everyone’s mind” and giving a technically sound and emotional performance that anchors a top movie, we should be a little more willing to give praise. As Christopher Orr said in his piece in The Atlantic, “why not celebrate some new blood, rather than offering further accolades to an actress like Lawrence who hardly needs them?”

It’s with the same fervor that people need to be opening their arms for Knicks rookie Kristaps Porzingis. Not only is he a fun follow on Instagram and the inspiration for ridiculous Latvian hip-hop…

… but he’s put up a heck of a rookie season so far. Despite being labeled as a project coming into the NBA Draft, Porzingis has made an immediate impact and been the anchor behind the revitalizing of a storied franchise (see any connection?). Magic Johnson called him “the steal of the draft” despite him being taken fourth overall, and the aforementioned Nowitzki even said that Porzingis was “way better than I was when I was 20.

It’s time to get on the bandwagon people. Open up your hearts and let a little love in. (As long as we don’t start anointing them as the next saviors).

Idris Elba (Not Nominated, Beasts of No Nation)

Comparison: Tim Duncan (San Antonio Spurs)

Speaking of letting a little love in, HOW DOES IDRIS ELBA not get nominated?

Leave the race part out of the protest (even though that could have a whole other article). This dude has been crushing it for years. He was one of the best parts of The Wire, he burns up Luther, is killing the action genre with parts in Thor and Pacific Rim, and even made No Good Deed and Obsessed box office successes. Now he dominates his turn in a critically acclaimed movie and still can’t get any love? Where’s the justice?

You may call his comparison to Duncan an egregious show of praise for Elba, but I’ll never apologize for my love for the Brit (cast him as Bond!). Like Elba, Duncan has been stellar at every turn. He’s a five-time  champion, two-time MVP, three-time Finals MVP, and 15-time NBA All-Star, yet if you asked people to name the best players in the NBA, you’d hear him listed behind guys like Damian Lillard, DeAndre Jordan, or Kevin Love. Meanwhile, Duncan keeps doing what he does best: perform. He’s currently 9th in the NBA in real plus/minus in his age 39 season.

There may not be much time left in Duncan’s career for people to rightfully place him among the best ever, but there’s time to correct the mistake with Elba. Give the man some credit.

Sylvester Stallone (Best Supporting Actor, Creed)

Comparison: David West (San Antonio Spurs)

The actor who most likely took the sacred nomination from Idris Elba is ol’ Sly Stallone. 40 years after Rocky caught everybody’s eye, Sylvester Stallone is back in the awards conversation and, judging from the standing ovation he got at the Golden Globes, is the favorite to take home the Oscar this year.

Look, I love Sly, am a massive fan of the Rocky movies, and really enjoyed Creed, but I did not come out of that movie thinking about how great he was. In fact, I haven’t spoken to anybody who did. He gave a formidable effort portraying a man trying to find something left to hold onto in life, but I can’t help but think that the nomination is simply a way to recognize his likeability and the overall hustle and grind he’s shown over the years. He’s the sentimental choice, the one people are pulling for, but not necessarily the one who deserves to hold up the award at the end.

Which is very similar to what can be said about David West. A 13 year NBA veteran and two-time All-Star, West has always been a solid but unspectacular player in the NBA. He’s the embodiment of a gritty veteran leader and plays the game with heart and incomparable work ethic. He even turned down millions of dollars this year to sign with the San Antonio Spurs in hopes of winning an elusive championship. He seems like a great guy, and I would never begrudge him a championship, but I can’t help but imagine that, if he won it this year, he wouldn’t be because of his individual effort.

Adam Mackay (Best Director, The Big Short)

Comparison: Draymond Green (Golden State Warriors)

Some people are meant to make you feel good. Laughter is certainly the best medicine, and there’s a person in everybody’s life who he/she can go to when they need a small dose, a pick-me-up. Your personal comedian, who’s quick with a joke or anecdote to make you smile. But that’s usually not the person you go to when you want to help you decide serious life decisions, like whether you should propose or if quitting your job is a good idea.  It feels awkward and uncomfortable when they sit you down to have a serious talk.

Yet, here we are in 2016 and Adam Mackay is nominated for Best Director for his work on The Big Short. Yes, the same Adam Mackay who directed such prestige pictures as Anchorman, Step Brothers, and Other Guys, and cast his daughter as a expletive-spitting landlord in a classic Funny or Die skit in which he credits himself as “Ghost Panther.”

He was the go to guy for making people laugh with childish humor and juvenile likability. Now, apparently, he’s an Academy Award nominated director who helmed a movie about the nation’s crippling financial crisis. Not the funniest of situations, but he found a way to switch skins and make it work. I guess it’s time to take him seriously as an elite director.

Much like it’s time to take Draymond Green seriously as a superstar. At first Draymond was just a high motor glue guy who was always good for a laugh:

Then 2015 started and Draymond started to step up his game. He posted the fourth highest plus/minus in the league and was statistically responsible for more wins than anybody in the league besides Westbrook and Steph Curry.

Some people thought it was simply a good run, until the year turned to 2016 and Draymond posted three straight triple doubles. Turns out, the former funny man is for real, and it’s about time everybody recognize the versatile skill set that’s making him a truly elite talent.