By Jason Pribila: Hollywood’s biggest and brightest stars are again ready to walk the Red Carpet at the Academy Awards on Sunday February 27. Once again the sport of boxing was well represented when the nominees were announced. Christian Bale is the favorite to walk away with an Oscar for his brilliant performance playing Micky Ward’s brother/trainer Dicky Eklund in “The Fighter”.
For several years I was happy to play host to my own Oscar Party. To me it was as good of an excuse as any to throw a party, and it served as a nice bridge between the Super Bowl and the NCAA basketball’s Final Four. At the time I had my heart set on penning the next romantic comedy that would do for Bethlehem, PA what Kevin Smith did for Red Bank, NJ. Several Friday nights were spent going to movie theaters to see all the nominees. A guy in his mid-20’s spending weekends alone in a movie theater led friends and family to wonder where meeting my soul mate ranked on my priority list.
These days I don’t spend nearly as much time or money at the multiplex. Instead I spend a majority of my weekends watching half-naked, mostly Asian or Latino men trying to knock each other unconscious. My friends and family no longer ask me about finding Mrs. Pribs. Besides, after seeing “Blue Valentine” I scratched marriage off my “bucket list”
In recent years the Academy Awards have felt a lot like an HBO PPV. The main event comes on too late at night. Only hardcore fans know who is nominated for technical awards aka undercard. And there are very few surprises of who is going to end the night victorious.
So for those who are going to tune in to cheer on “The Fighter” or to serve penance by sitting with your spouse as stars get grilled by fashion police; the following is a guide through the Best Picture nominees that will enhance your viewing pleasure.
Please Note: The Academy doubled the total of Best Picture nominees last year from 5 to 10 (without my consent). Although this was a strong year, I will only recognize the five films that also snagged a nod for Best Director.
Pribs’ Take: Never thought a film about ballet would have the year’s most thrilling ending. Yes, that includes a Micky Ward fight. The film was directed by Darren Aronofsky, who also directed “The Wrestler”. Natalie Portman will now have an Oscar to go along with the admiration of an ever growing legion of male (and female) fans.
Portman’s character gains the lead role in “Swan Lake”. Playing the innocent white swan comes naturally, but she struggles to capture and embrace the dark side of the black swan.
For the Boxing fan: One does not need to look far down the “pound for pound” list to find a fighter that seamlessly transforms when he hears the opening bell. Manny Pacquiao’s ring walks ooze the innocence of the white swan. He is smiling ear to ear, and still seems genuinely surprised that so many people came to the arena to see him perform. Some fans actually fear that he is about to get hurt. Recently, however, it takes Pacquiao twenty minutes or less to be fully engulfed in playing the role of bully; a role that he also plays with grace.
“The King’s Speech”
Pribs Take: The story of the future King George VI of England’s struggle with overcoming his lifelong stammer is going to be tough to beat. It has everything Academy voters love: an excellent ensemble of gifted actors, Shakespeare, it is a period piece, and a protagonist that overcomes an obstacle. Throw in a clip of Hitler’s Nazi Germany as the enemy, and you got an Oscar favorite.
For the Boxing Fan: Former undisputed heavyweight champion, Mike Tyson stole my thunder on this nominee. He filmed a skit on funnyordie.com with film critic Leonard Maltin, who asked Tyson what he thought of “King’s Speech”. Tyson did not see the film, but was relieved that it was not Don King’s speech, “I thought it was some more of that ‘Only in America’ bullshit. I had enough of that for one lifetime.”
“The Social Network”
Pribs’ Take: I went to see “The Facebook Movie” on opening night. It was a well written, well-acted, and poignant story that is experienced daily by many people I know. However, when the film ended, I did not have the desire to see it again.
For the Boxing Fan: Much has been written about the cozy relationship that HBO has with certain promoters and managers. They started 2011 by overpaying for a fight between Timothy Bradley and Devon Alexander, which took place in an arena that I thought, was converted to a parking lot years ago. Like most Bradley fights, he was well conditioned, fought aggressively, and he emerged victorious. However, when the bout ended I had no desire to see him again.
Unfortunately, the HBO social network guaranteed each guy a seven figure pay day for their return bouts.
Pribs’ Take: The Coen brothers’ latest features “The Dude” Jeff Bridges playing the role made famous by “The Duke” John Wayne. Overall this was a good movie that met expectations. There is a scene near the end of the movie where Bridges is walking in a moonlit snowfall that is one of the prettiest shots captured on film this year.
For the Boxing Fan: All fans respect fighters’ skills, and some are even impressed with glossy records. However, those who fight with heart, show backbone, courage, and find a way to shoot down an opponent while being out-gunned, are the ones that often earn the most passionate and loyal fans. Not everyone needs to step into a boxing ring to take a pounding. For many, they take a beating from 8am – 5pm, Monday through Friday. That is why when they tune into a fight they want to root for someone that they could connect with. Win or lose they are all taking the punches together.
This is why Jesus Soto-Karass got as much ink after being out-classed last Saturday by Mike Jones. This is why everyone that wrote about the star-making performance by Nonito Donaire, also mentioned the fact that Fernando Montiel somehow finished the fight on his feet.
These are the fighters that people make movies about.
Pribs’ Take: The story of the “pre-Gatti Trilogy” boxing career of “Irish” Micky Ward has the proverbial puncher’s chance on Oscar Night. Kudos for Mark Wahlberg for fighting so hard to bring this story to the big screen, even if the script gave the rest of the cast a much flashier roles.
Some criticisms from the boxing community included the fact that the Shea Neary fight was depicted as being contested for a major world championship. Fair enough, but 90% of the audience would not know the difference between the WBU, IBF, or WWE Belts. We could let this one slide.
Others questioned how someone could make a Micky Ward movie without mentioning the trilogy with Arturo Gatti. Obviously this was a question that was asked prior to thinking. How could a filmmaker spend 90 minutes asking his audience to fall in love with Micky Ward, and then introduce Arturo Gatti as a villain? It was a nice touch by lifting Jim Lampley’s call of Round 9 to describe the action in the film. Besides, the filmmakers needed to save something for the sequel.
For the Boxing Fan: It’s Micky Ward on the Red Carpet, what else could a fight fan ask for?
Jason Pribila is a member of the Boxiing Writers Association of America. He could be reached for questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org, or followed on Twitter.com/PribsBoxing.
February 25, 2011