Thursday, February 25, 2016

Ranking the Best Picture nominees

February is the worst month of the year on the sports calendar. After the Super Bowl, there is next to nothing happening. So there was no better time to watch all eight of this year’s Best Picture nominees. Here is how I rank them.

Tom McCarthy's  "Spotlight" deserves the Oscar for Best Picture.
1.     Spotlight: This was such a well-told story. Viewers get an inside look into the Boston Globe’s investigation of the child molestation scandal involving the local Catholic Archdiocese. The cast is very good, the plot is loaded with intrigue and most importantly, there’s an authentic feel to the entire film. Mark Ruffalo plays the role of the bulldog reporter that’s traveling, making phone calls, and conducting interviews to get to the bottom of the scandal. Liev Schreiber is the editor that conducts the editorial discussions. Sometimes it’s easy to see through certain scenes in movies that are based on true stories and notice Hollywood throwing a few dramatic quirks into the film.  This film gives off a very genuine depiction of how things went down. Hats off to everyone involved. 

2.     The Big Short: This one may not win best picture, but looks like a lock for Best Adapted Screenplay. Based on the 2010 non-fiction book by Michael Lewis, this film encapsulates the life of four different businessmen who all predict the collapse of the housing market. I’m certainly not an expert when it comes to Wall Street, but this film did a good job of making the world of high finance interesting to a novice. Christian Bale turns in a good performance and proves to be worthy of his nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

3.     The Revenant: Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu is going for a Best Picture repeat after “Birdman” won last year. “The Revenant” looks like the favorite heading into Sunday night. While I prefer “Spotlight” and “The Big Short”, it’s hard to argue with this one. There were times when there wasn’t much happening and it felt like a slow plot, but that’s to be expected in a survival story about a man left for dead. Ultimately, this only enhanced the suspenseful moments. At the very least, it’s Leonardo DiCaprio’s turn to win for Best Actor.

4.     Room: There’s certainly a drop off after the top three. But, in some ways, “Room” felt like this year’s “Boyhood”. This movie has some of the emotional family hooks that “Boyhood” thrived on last year.  Brie Larson is a heavy favorite for Best Actress. My one complaint would be William H Macy’s character isn’t really developed at all. Macy plays Larson’s father and cannot accept her son and leaves without an explanation. But in all, I was curious to see where the movie would go after reading a synopsis and ended up thoroughly enjoying it.

5.     Bridge of Spies: It’s the fourth film Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks have collaborated on as director and actor. I didn’t have a ton of prior knowledge about the actual events before watching the movie. But an American lawyer defending a soviet spy during the Cold War made for a story I wanted to see unfold. Tom Hanks always does a good job, but Mark Rylance was outstanding as the soviet spy and would be my pick for Best Supporting Actor.

6.     The Martian: Matt Damon’s films are almost always worth watching. But this one just didn’t seem as captivating. Damon is an astronaut left stranded on Mars and is presumed dead. Satellite photos prove that he is still alive and the rest of the movie entails NASA’s plan to bring him home. As the plan drags on, it becomes increasingly obvious that Damon’s character is going to be saved. It certainly isn’t a bad movie, but “The Martian” wouldn’t be my pick.

7.     Mad Max: Fury Road: This film should do well with a lot of the technical awards, but in general I’m not drawn to the action movies with countless scenes of violence.  So others would probably rank this one higher. The film’s 150 million dollar budget made for some cool visual effects, but I don’t usually fall for the genre.

8.     Brooklyn: Nothing really stood out about this one. It’s a love story about a girl who has to choose between two different lives in two different countries.  There wasn’t really another of an attention-grabbing subplot and therefore it didn’t do much for me.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

10 sporting events worth watching over and over again

In honor of Groundhog Day, I decided to blog a list of the 10 sporting events I could watch over and over again. It was hard enough to cut the list to 10 and ranking them would have been even harder. So in chronological order, with no specific rank, here they are.

2006 Rose Bowl- Texas vs. USC: This game had it all. Reggie Bush was the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and Vince Young was the runner-up. Matt Leinart won the Heisman the year before. The Trojans were a perennial powerhouse in college football having entered on a 34-game winning streak. USC held a 38-26 with less than seven minutes remaining in the game. Texas climbed all the way back on the heels of two rushing touchdowns from Young and a stop from its defense on a critical fourth down for the USC. The final score was 41-38. Young finished with 467 total yards and the Longhorns were national champions. The Trojans’ reign at the top was over.

                                                       Steve Grayson/WireImage
Johnson crosses the goal line on the winning two-point conversion.
Johnson's girlfriend was a cheerleader at Boise State. He proposed
to her on the field following the game.

2007 Fiesta Bowl- Boise State vs. Oklahoma: There’s no doubt Texas defeating Southern California was one of college football’s greatest upsets. But this was truly David vs. Goliath. The same lines were uttered over and over again about Boise State. They had an undefeated season, but this was where the road would end. They couldn’t compete with the big boys of the major power conferences.  But Boise State played with the lead for almost the entire game. The finish was nothing short of chaotic. Oklahoma tied the score at 28 with 1:26 remaining, and on the next play from scrimmage the Sooners took the lead for the first time on an interception returned for a touchdown by Marcus Walker. Facing a fourth and 18 with 18 seconds remaining, Boise State first-year head coach Chris Petersen called for a hook and lateral that went for a touchdown and sent the game to overtime.  The first play in overtime was a 25-yard rushing touchdown by Adrian Peterson that put Oklahoma back in front 42-35. Boise State had some more trickery in store for its possession in overtime. The game came down to a fourth and two on the Oklahoma five. Wide receiver Vinny Perretta took a direct snap and tossed a touchdown pass to tight end Derek Schouman. Petersen opted for a two-point conversion for the win. Sure enough, it was another trick play. Running back Ian Johnson took the handoff on the infamous statue of liberty play and the conversion was successful. Boise State won 43-42. Does it get any crazier?

2008 US Open Final Round- Tiger Woods’ putt: It’s the last time Tiger Woods won a major. To do so he needed to make a birdie putt on the 18th green to force a playoff with Rocco Mediate. Woods drained it and the crowd at Torrey Pines erupted. Dan Hicks put it best on NBC when he simply said, “Expect anything different?” The US Open is the one major that requires a full round playoff.  Woods came back the next day and shot an even par round of 74, defeating Mediate by one stroke to win the US Open championship. There are many vintage Tiger Woods moments that stand out, and this was certainly one of them.

2008 Wimbledon Final- Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal: Some say this is the greatest tennis match of all time. It was the third year in a row that Federer and Nadal met in the Wimbledon Final. Nadal was looking to break through and win for the first time on the lawns of the All England Club while Federer was going for his sixth consecutive Wimbledon title. Nadal outplayed Federer for the better part of the first two sets, winning each set 6-4 and moving within a set of the title. It appeared as if a changing of the guard was taking place. After Nadal embarrassed Federer 6-1, 6-3, 6-0 in the French Open Final one month earlier, the Spaniard was transferring his dominance to the grass. But then came the first rain delay of the match with Federer leading 5-4 in the third set. This was the final year without a roof on Centre Court. The delay seemed to help Federer, who won the third set in a tiebreak. The fourth set also went to a tiebreak where Nadal tightened up and lost two championship points as Federer stole the set to level the match and force a final set. With the score tied at two games a piece in the fifth, the rains came again. There wasn’t much daylight left in London and there is no final set tiebreak at Wimbledon. But the players were able to return to the court and finish the match. Nadal managed not to crack after blowing the fourth set tiebreak and won the set 9-7 to win the title. He did not lose his serve the entire match.

Game 5 2008 World Series- Tampa Bay Rays vs. Philadelphia Phillies: I had to include a Philadelphia sports moment on here and it had to be this one. Rain added to the drama of this sporting event too. The Phillies held a 2-1 lead in the top of the sixth and Tampa Bay had no one on base with two outs. It looked like a pretty routine inning for Cole Hamels. The rain was intensifying and with five innings in the books, the game was technically considered official. But a single by B.J. Upton kept the inning alive. Upton then stole second base and came around to score on a single by Carlos Pena. The top of the sixth would end with the score tied 2-2. The game was immediately stopped and did not resume until two nights later. There were some unsung heroes for the Phillies once it did. Geoff Jenkins led off with a pinch-hit double in the bottom of the sixth and was later knocked in on a Jayson Werth single. Rocco Baldeli would even things up in the top of the seventh with a solo home run. Later in the inning Chase Utley made a huge play in the field to gun down Jason Bartlett at home trying to score the go-ahead run. Pat Burrell then picked a perfect time for his only hit of the World Series with a double to open the bottom of the seventh. Eric Bruntlett came in to run for Burrell and Pedro Feliz came up with the big single to put the Phillies back ahead 4-3. This one-run lead would hold up as Brad Lidge completed his perfect season striking out Eric Hinske to give Philadelphia its first major sports championship in 25 years. To this day, I still wonder what would have happened if Hamels got out of that sixth inning in the pouring rain and the Phillies held the lead.

Super Bowl XLIII- Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Arizona Cardinals: There were so many exciting plays in this Super Bowl. James Harrison’s 100-yard interception return for a touchdown as the first half concluded was an incredible individual effort. Just when it looked like Pittsburgh was going to win its sixth super bowl with ease, Arizona stormed back with 16 unanswered points. The Cardinals would take the lead thanks to a 64-yard catch and run by Larry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald finished the game with seven catches for 127 yards and two touchdowns. His second touchdown set up for a memorable final drive by the Steelers. Santonio Holmes had four of his nine catches on the drive including the game-winning catch in the right corner of the end zone where he managed to keep both feet in bounds. The Steelers won the game 27-23. I’m still not sure I’ve seen a better catch given the circumstances.

2009 Big East Tournament Quarterfinal- Syracuse vs. UConn 6OT game: It was more than just another late night at Madison Square Garden at the Big East Tournament. It looked like Eric Devendorf had it won at the end of regulation. He certainly thought he won it, jumping up on the scorer’s table after his three pointer dropped. Who knew when that shot was being reviewed that the game was going to go on for another two hours? Of course replay showed Devendorf just barely did not get the shot off. As the overtimes began to pile up, players began to foul out and the benches for both teams were getting thin. Andy Rautins kept firing away from beyond the arc. UConn had many chances at the end of several of the overtimes to win it. Jonny Flynn played 67 out of a possible 70 minutes. Syracuse did not lead in any of the first five overtimes. But the Orange pulled away in the sixth overtime to win 127-117. Everyone knew both these teams were going to make the NCAA Tournament. But that didn’t stop the two teams from laying it all on the line. The Big East Tournament was the perfect precursor to the big dance. This game embodied everything the old Big East was all about. It’s not the same anymore.

                                                Jeff Roberson/Associated Press
Freese rounds first as the Cardinals pour out of
the dugout following his walk-off home run.
Game 6 2011 World Series- Texas Rangers vs. St. Louis Cardinals: You never know who’s going to make the big play, get the big hit, drain the big shot, or score the big goal. That’s why we love sports. In this game, David Freese was that guy. Leading 7-5 in the bottom of the ninth, the Rangers were one strike away from their first World Series championship. Facing Neftali Feliz, Freese came up with a two-run triple over the head of right fielder Nelson Cruz to even the score at seven and send the game into extra innings. In the top of the 10th, Josh Hamilton put Texas back in front with a two-run home run. The Cardinals were able to cut the lead to 9-8 but again the Rangers were within a strike. Lance Berkman lined a single into center field off Scott Feldman and the game continued. Freese led off the bottom of the 11th with a walk-off home run and St. Louis won 10-9 to force a game seven it would go on to win. This was the first time in World Series history a team rallied from
two different two-run deficits in the ninth inning or later.

Game 6 2013 NBA Finals- San Antonio Spurs vs. Miami Heat: San Antonio held a five-point lead with 28 seconds left and had a 3-2 series lead. The Larry O’Brien Trophy was about to be hoisted in Miami by a visiting team for the second time in three years. But, a three from LeBron James cut the deficit to two. Kawhi Leonard was fouled instantly. After making the first free throw the lead was 95-92. But Leonard left the door open when he missed the second foul shot. James had a good look at another three to tie the game but could not connect. Gregg Popovich had a small lineup on the floor to defend the perimeter and Tim Duncan was on the bench. This made it easier for Chris Bosh to get the rebound after the miss from James. Bosh found Ray Allen in the corner, who backtracked enough to catch the pass while standing behind the three-point line and tie the game with five seconds remaining. Miami rode the momentum to a 103-100 overtime victory and went on to repeat as NBA champions.

Super Bowl XLIX- Seattle Seahawks vs. New England Patriots: Say what you want about the two teams, this was one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time facing a dominant defense. In the end, the quarterback won. Seattle led 24-14 entering the fourth quarter. No team in Super Bowl history had ever overcome a fourth-quarter deficit of more than seven points. New England got a touchdown catch from Danny Amendola early in the fourth to get within three. The Patriots would get the ball back with 6:52 left. Brady found a way yet again. He marched the troops down the field against the Seattle defense and hit Julian Edelman for a three-yard touchdown with two minutes remaining to give New England a 28-24 lead. But then, after David Tyree and Mario Manningham had memorable catches against the Patriots in previous Super Bowls, it looked like Jermaine Kearse was next. Kearse caught a tipped ball while lying on his back and Seattle was in business deep in New England territory. That was until, the Seahawks decided to throw the ball when they were just one yard away from repeating as Super Bowl champions. Malcolm Butler made a perfect read on the slant from Russell Wilson to Ricardo Lockette and stepped in front for the interception to seal the deal.

Now go watch the Bill Murray movie.