The Oscar Project
When I first heard of this film, I was researching potential short listed nominees for a few categories in late 2017, around Christmas. I was instantly impressed and hoped it would receive a nomination.
You might think there wouldn't be much to say about a film that's less than five minutes long, but there are definitely some layers to pull back in this one. As I mentioned in the first post, I'm doing write-ups for each of the films nominated this year and "Dear Basketball" is the first one I completed, so please enjoy.
OK, there aren't much in the way of spoilers in this film. If you know who Kobe Bryant is, you probably know something about his legendary career. You may know about his 5 NBA titles with the L.A. Lakers, two gold medals with the USA Olympic Basketball Team, or even his 81-point game which still stands as the second highest single game scoring total in NBA history. You probably also know that he retired at the end of the 2015-2016 season after 20 years in professional basketball.
You might now know that Kobe was the son of an NBA player (Joe Bryant) and that he spent about ten years living in Italy when he was young while his father played professional basketball there.
The film itself doesn't cover most of what I mentioned above, in fact it cover very little in terms of specifics from his career. Kobe himself narrates the film which was adapted from a letter he wrote upon his retirement in 2016. Starting with a clock counting down the final seconds of a basketball game in which the Lakers are trailing by one point, Kobe makes the last shot to give them the win. He talks about rolling his father's tube socks and using them to shoot game winning shots in his bedroom, and how he "fell in love with [basketball], giving it his "mind and body...spirit and soul."
We get images of Kobe running out of the tunnel into the Staples Center in Los Angeles before a game followed by images of him in the #8 jersey he wore early in his professional career. There is a brief shot of him in a #10 USA jersey from the Olympics.
Through the narration, he tells basketball that it "called him" and that he "did everything for you." Basketball gave a six-year-old boy his Laker dream. But in the end, he admits that he can't go on much longer. As much as his mind and heart want to go on, he understands that his body doesn't have anything left to give. In the final few sequences, the Kobe is shown as both child and adult, mirroring each other's moves, saying that he will "always be that kid." Young Kobe makes one last shot with a rolled up tube sock as adult Kobe narrates "5, 4, 3, 2, 1" over the image of the sock going through the net.
The film ends with Kobe walking back down the tunnel he emerged from at the beginning, high-fiving fans along the way with his voice over stating "Love you always, Kobe."
I am incredibly impressed with the Academy for selecting "Dear Basketball" as the winner for the Animated Short Film category in 2017. The fact that it was a departure from the style of storytelling usually seen in most of the nominated short films, and the animation itself was hand drawn in a rough pencil style with little color except for the Laker purple and gold didn't seem to slow down the momentum this film had to win.
The film itself gets me a little chocked up, every time I watch it. It rare these days to hear someone speak about how completely they have given themselves to something, be it music, sports, or even other people. Many people I know jump from one job to the next, hardly taking much time to settle in before looking for the next opportunity. For Kobe to devote his life to the pursuit of basketball for the last 35 years speaks to tremendous dedication.
I personally love this film for the symmetry it creates between child Kobe and adult Kobe. The film opens with Kobe scoring a game winning shot as a Laker as the buzzer sounds and we hear a professional announcer call the game. The ending is similar, but shows child Kobe shooting one of those tube sock rolls in his bedroom, with Kobe the Narrator counting down the clock from five to one. The image of the net swooshing up through the hoop is the same in both shots and both sequences neatly bracket the film as a whole.
We also get symmetry of Kobe walking out of the tunnel at the Staples Center near the beginning of the film and walking back into the tunnel at the end. Both scenes only show Kobe from the back, wearing his number 24 jersey. The difference is that the image of him coming out of the tunnel, has him running and excitedly slapping hands with the fans alongside the tunnel. When he leaves the court at the end, the movement is slower and even from the back, looks sad that it's all over.
As I noted above, the style of the film is all in grey pencil drawings on a neutral colored background. The one departure from this is the scene where Kobe admits that his body cannot go on any longer. In this scene, it is drawn with white pencil on a black background and Kobe's body is shown as if in an x-ray image, exposing his internal organs for us all to see. Kobe is in the middle of a dunk during this scene and there are flashes at his shoulder, knee, and ankle, all locations of injuries he sustained in the latter part of his career.
I notice something new every time I watch this film and I've taken it in at least a half dozen times since I first watched it. I haven't yet seen all of the animated short films nominated this year, but believe it is the best out of the ones I have seen to date.
I'm just a film buff who wants to watch great movies. Where else to find the best, than the list of those nominated by the Academy each year?