Film Critic Ben Lyons: 'The Fighter' Holds Its Own Among the Great Sports Stories Ever Told
So, naturally, you're wondering why I wanted to speak to Lyons, seeing as this is a sports website. Funny you should ask. Well, with "The Fighter," a sports biopic which tells the story of professional boxer Micky Ward, picking up seven Oscar nominations -- including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, and two nominees for the Best Supporting Actress -- I wanted to ask Lyons about the film's staying power among the great sports stories ever told.
He was more than happy to oblige, talking about the performance of Christian Bale, in particular, and how his performance helped to carry the film.
He's also a huge Knicks fan, so of course the topic of Carmelo Anthony's arrival in New York came up.
See, I found a sports angle! Here's a transcript of our phone conversation from this past week.
Tom Lorenzo: Hey, Ben, it's Tom Lorenzo from AOL.
Ben Lyons: Hey Tom, thanks for hanging out. What's going on?
Nothing much... So, we've got The Oscars coming up and naturally wanted to get your take on a few things. I saw you mentioned in another interview that 2010 was a "forgettable year at the box office." Was that more because of the product or were people just not going to the movies this past year?
I think there's a lot of reasons. I think, one, you had the writer's strike a few years back and now as a result, for whatever reason, in 2010 we saw a lesser quality of films. You know, with "Avatar" being such a big deal in 3D we saw a lot of movies in 2010 that were rushed to be in 3D and really shouldn't have been. And I think a lot of the big blockbusters underperformed. A film like "Twilight" dominated the summer, and if you're not a "Twilight" fan there's not much there for you. A lot of the big studio comedies like "Get Him To The Greek," Dinner For Schmucks" and "The Other Guys" didn't really hit with audiences.
But if you look at all the movies that are getting the attention this weekend, both at the Independent Spirit Awards and at The Oscars there are some great movies that were made. I mean, 2010, while the whole year was forgettable, the movies that are being honored at The Oscars are all worthy of praise. With the 10 films not being honored at The Academy Awards, you have a really interesting and diverse slate from studio films to indies to animated movies to biopics... all types of stuff.
I think some will go down as memorable movies. I think "The Social Network" is a benchmark film in a lot of ways that will continue to find audiences for generations to come, but I think you're right that the year itself was kind of lame.
We're hearing a lot about how there aren't going to be many surprises at the Oscars. Is it because it's top-heavy among the films and the actors?
I think it's because, you know, when we were kids growing up, The Oscars was the one big award show you watched when it comes to movies, and it was the one time you saw your favorite stars on the red carpet. Now, with The [Golden] Globes and The Critics' [Choice Awards] and The SAG (Screen Actor's Guild) Awards and The Spirits ... can I go on? There are so many award shows that are all now very-well documented. They were still happening back then but they didn't have the audience that they do now. I think now by time The Oscars come around people are just award-showed out. If you see the same performers get nominated and win because they are the best performers, Natalie Portman should not be a surprise to win The Oscars she deserves to win The Oscars. Same with Colin Firth.
I think that ultimately you might see in a few years The Oscars move when it shows up on the calendar. It might position itself on the first of January, which would change things up a bit. The Academy always throws in a few surprises and think this year the biggest surprise would be if the award show was under three and a half hours.
(Laughs) Yeah, that would be pretty impressive.
With two hosts like this, I don't think so.
Well, that's what I was going to ask you... What do you think about Anne Hathaway and James Franco hosting this year? What do you expect from them?
It's cool, man, you know Franco is Hollywood's renaissance man now. I bought my mother for Christmas his book of short fiction. I visited him on the set in Ireland last year for his movie "Your Highness" -- a stoner comedy with Danny McBride. Then he can do "Milk," get a degree at Yale University, and have an art installation at Sundance -- he can do anything. So I'm happy for him that he's doing it.
Anne Hathaway opened The Oscars a few years back singing and dancing with Hugh Jackman. So, it makes sense for her in this role. And it's emblematic of the night, in that, I think the one thing that everyone's going to take away from the list of films this year is that it's young Hollywood's time. You have Jesse Eisenberg, who's gone under the radar for most of his career until now. You have Hailee Steinfeld getting nominated and having a really good chance of winning. With Jennifer Lawrence getting nominated and Michelle Williams and Natalie Portman and Franco also being nominated... it's just a great time for young Hollywood.
There's just a lot of really cool talent that are coming into their own, and so much of the documentation of young Hollywood is Lindsay Lohan getting arrested, and "The Jersey Shore" nonsense, and all this bad stuff. There are come incredible artists in young Hollywood, and some really passionate actors... people you only identify with their work. You don't see Jesse Eisenberg in the tabloids for DWI, or anything like that.
I think it's cool that young stars are hosting the show and that they're being recognized throughout the show.
So, I take it you don't think we'll see The Situation nominated for an award anytime soon?
(Laughs) Let's hope not! But you never know... No, The Oscars has made itself as a classy awards show, but also an award show that acknowledges the entire year in movies. The fact that Taylor Lautner and Kristen Stewart can come on stage and present, I think that's fine.
"The Fighter" picked up seven nominations. As a sports-related film, where do you think this fits among the other great sports films? Will we be talking about "The Fighter" for a long time to come, or is it more of a "here and now" film?
It's definitely a film that holds its own opposite some of the great sports stories ever told. It's about overcoming adversity... It's a true story. It's got what every great sports movie has to get right -- the boxing looks real! Mark Wahlberg stayed in shape for over three years. Those fight sequences look like a big Vegas boxing match. Often times sports movies can take you out of the moment when the football and baseball looks fake.
"The Fighter" has authentic fight scenes, it's got just a mesmerizing performance by Christian Bale. When he comes on that screen on that couch... you can't take your eyes off him.
I love sports stories about forgotten figures. A guy like Micky Ward, I think boxing fans knew him, but he wasn't a pop culture figure in the way that Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao is. I think a film lie this exposes you also to what it takes to be an athlete. That's what people loved about Rocky. All the hard work and determination away from the ring. Not just him physically training but also dealing with family and real life stuff. That's what "The Fighter" is all about. It's about everything you have to go through to get to that moment before you can then be great. And I think the best sports movies showcase that.
You talked about Christian Bale. He's not one to really lobby for himself during the award season, he remains low-key. Do you think that helps or hurts his case for winning an award?
I think it works for him. Everybody has their own strategy on how they approach this award season. Last year Sandra Bullock talked to everybody. At every even she talked to every press outlet. She enjoys doing that. It's part of what makes her "America's sweetheart" in a lot of ways.
It works for him. I don't think the campaigning, or the lack there of will hurt Bale's chances this year.
You'll be at The Oscars for the... is this your fifth straight year you'll be working with E! at The Oscars?
My sixth Oscars with E! I think I freelanced the first year, so we'll count that, right?
I'll also be at The Independent Spirit Awards on Saturday. And leading up to The Oscars I've been working Yellow Tail and ReserveYourNight.com to take the Oscar-nominated films and pair them with wine, which is a really fun thing to do. It's really a celebration of movies and it's been a lot of fun to take my favorite Yellow Tail wines and pair them with the movies.
What do you pair with "Inception"?
Well, "Inception" is a huge studio film. It's complex, it has a lot of ins and outs, and that's how a Cabernet is... a complex wine. We looked at how wines are made and the different ingredients put into them, and kind of approached the movies that way -- the flavors and ingredients that make up a great movie. "Inception" is high-concept, ambitious, and that's paired well with a Yellow Tail Cabernet.
Before I let you go, I know you're a big Knicks fan. Any thoughts on the Carmelo Anthony trade?
First of all, I'm excited Renaldo Balkman is back in the Garden!
There you go! Break out the Balkman jersey!
Look, they had to do this. It's exciting. I'm here in New York and the city's on fire. I can't wait to see what's to come with him and Amar'e [Stoudemire] going against anybody in the Eastern Conference. I know these teams sitting at the top right now don't want to go to see the Knicks in the playoffs because it's unknown what's going to happen. And I'm not expecting a championship, but the fact that we're talking about the Knicks being relevant in the NBA again means so much. The days of Howard Eisley, Michael Doleac, Shandon Anderson, Othella Harrington, Clarence Weatherspoon... those are long gone. They've done a great job of cleaning house and bringing basketball back to New York... And whatever it took to get Eddy Curry off the bench, they had to get it done.
And of course they go LaLa Vazquez!
I would have traded Eddy Curry for LaLa Vazquez, straight up without Carmelo!
Well, Ben, I want to thank you for taking the time. Enjoy The Oscars.
Thanks a lot, man. Enjoy the show and enjoy the Knicks in the playoffs.