It may sound odd to be hyping a film for Best Picture in April, but let’s not forget that the most recent winner in that category, Everything Everywhere All at Once, came out in March last year. Air comes with Ben Affleck in the director’s chair and his latest venture ranks right up alongside Gone Baby Gone and Argo. Not to slight The Town or Live by Night, but Air is 100% award worthy and deserves everything coming to it at the end of the year.
You’d also never guess that it’s also the year’s funniest film so far, but that’s because Amazon Studios doesn’t seem to know what kind of film it is. Hilarious and full of so much heart, Air is the crowd pleaser we need right now and that’s coming from someone who bracket busted his March Madness right out of the gate. I freely admit, I know nothing about sportsball, but walking out of this film, there was definitely something in the… air.
For those who don’t know the story — as I did not — Air is the tale of Nike on the verge of bankruptcy. To keep the company above water, Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) is tasked with developing a new pitch for the basketball division. So he sets his sights on the one person they could possibly sign to save everything: Michael Jordan (Damian Delano Young).
But it takes a strong man to deal with the likes of Jordan’s agent, David Falk (Chris Messina), and Jordan’s parents — particularly his mother, Deloris (Viola Davis) — but Sonny decides to achieve the impossible, much to the chagrin of Nike co-founder Phil Knight (Affleck) and his Marketing VP, Rob Strasser (Jason Bateman). After a meeting with Jordan’s Olympic tournament coach George Raveling (Marlon Wayans) spurs his confidence, Sonny heads to North Carolina on a mission to glory.
If there’s one thing you could count against Air from complete success, it’s the soundtrack. Taking place in 1984, it’s filled to the brim with all the greatest hits of the era. For some, it may be grating, for me, it was like reliving my childhood. Something Affleck manages to pull off far better than another nostalgia-driven film opening this week. Aside from that, Air fires on all cylinders from start to finish. Even for those who know all of the story — as my two guests did — Affleck, and screenwriter Alex Convery, turn it into something that feels fresh and new, packing in more heart and laughs than you’d ever expect from this type of film. It isn’t stuffy like many biopics. Air is a breath of fresh, well, air.
But just because you’re sitting through the film with a smile on your face doesn’t mean Affleck doesn’t know how to make you feel what’s at stake. A fantastic scene between Damon and Bateman allows Bateman a monologue letting us know that Sonny’s quest is just as important to Strasser as it is to Sonny. And a big moment at the end gives Damon a chance to shine like he hasn’t had the opportunity to in years. This is the stuff Best Pictures are made of and it’s already on my shortlist for the year.