Welcome to the 2019 CIRCUIT CONSIDERATIONS series. Highlighting the very best in film, acting, and technical achievements for the past 12 months that awards voters may need help remembering. Each day a different writer will make their plea for a specific film in a respective category. If you miss one, click the tag “Circuit Considerations 2019,” and if you have some suggestions, include them in the comments below!
Tarell Alvin McCraney is no stranger to the Oscars. In 2016, his story was adapted into the screenplay Barry Jenkins used for “Moonlight.” Winning the Best Adapted Screenplay alongside Jenkins, McCraney was able to find a voice with Jenkins and create one of the best films of the decade. So, it’s no surprise his follow-up script would be highly anticipated and “High Flying Bird” lived up to all expectations. Not since 2011’s “Moneyball” has a script been able to give us such an entertaining, thought-provoking sports drama.
“High Flying Bird” centers around a sports agent trying to survive while the NBA is under a lockout. By mixing both racial politics and the sports industry, McCraney turns this into a critique of the constant issues the modern African American athlete faces. He examines how hard it is for players, agents, and others to gain power and seek what they’ve earned against the owners and the lawyers who control everything. Director Steven Soderbergh uses interviews of current and past NBA players. By doing this, it keeps McCraney’s arguments above water and thus puts thematic weight behind it.
Even though McCraney is a previous Oscar winner, the traction for “High Flying Bird” has gone cold since its release. He landed a nomination at the Gotham Awards for Best Screenplay, but critics groups have chosen many of his other colleagues’ work over his. But in a year where original storytelling dominated, this screenplay needs just as much attention. McCraney deserves another nomination for this deeply honest look at the sport and athletes we love.