Behind The Scenes

Here’s SportsCenter anchor, film buff
Adnan Virk’s Top 11 Oscars snubs

Mike and Mike in the Morning with Adnan Virk. (Joe Faraoni/ ESPN Images)
Versatile Adnan Virk, seen here hosting Mike and Mike in the Morning, has lots of opinions on films.
(Joe Faraoni/ESPN Images)

“The biggest snub was Ben Affleck not being nominated for Best Director. Argo received seven nods, yet somehow the director, the orchestrator, was not deemed worthy! Normally actors directing are favored by the Academy: Robert Redford for “Ordinary People” over Martin Scorsese’s “Raging Bull” and Kevin Costner’s “Dances with Wolves” over Scorsese’s “Goodfellas” — two grievous decisions.

Outside a showing of Glengarry Glen Ross. (Photo courtesy of Adnan Virk)
Outside a showing of Glengarry Glen Ross. (Adnan Virk)

This biting critique did not originate from a Hollywood office or an esteemed international movie critic.

No, it’s the opinion of admitted “film geek” and SportsCenter anchor Adnan Virk, better known for opining on players and coaches than actors and directors.

“I’ve always felt most comfortable in a darkened theater with absolutely no one speaking to me. It’s here that I achieve my moment of Zen,” Virk said of his life-long affinity for movies.

Virk looks forward to this past week’s annual Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences nominations leading up to the Academy Awards (ABC, Feb. 24, 8 p.m. ET).

“I can’t pinpoint the specific reason for my love affair with motion pictures,” said Virk, who joined ESPN in May 2010 as an anchor for ESPNEWS and is a frequent fill-in host on ESPN Radio.

“Maybe it’s because I grew up in a small wintry town in eastern Ontario, or because being the shortest kid in the class meant that you sought a means of escape when you were picked last for dodge ball,” Virsk said. “Or, maybe because my mom and I had a natural kinship towards bonding through popcorn and watching old movies devoid of foul language or any sort of objectionable material that would easily offend her.”

That criteria comes from a guy whose “favorite movies of all time list” includes Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, Glengarry Glen Ross, The Godfather I and II and Dog Day Afternoon.

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Adnan and The Oscars

For this special Sunday longform piece, Front Row tapped into Adnan Virk’s movie mojo after the Academy’s nominees were announced Thursday, asking for his Top 10 snubs, which are included in the accompanying post.

Prior to ABC’s airing of The Oscars from Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre on Feb. 24, Front Row will again seek out its cinematic sage and we’ll present Adnan’s picks for who will bring home the gold.[/box]

“I watched not just the classics, but everything made by my hero Martin Scorsese, and cherished actors like Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro,” Virk said. “And I soaked up the film criticism of esteemed writers like Roger Ebert, Geoff Pevere and Pauline Kael.”

Virk took his passion to Ryerson University in Toronto, planning to major in Film, but his initial experience on that side of the camera led him to a career on the other side.

“After I directed my first short film in my second year of university, I realized I was totally devoid of having any visual sense and could barely stand to see my atrocious work seen by my peers,” he said.

“I tried writing a screenplay but was terrible at writing realistic dialogue. And as for acting . . . ” Enough said.

Despite that disappointment, many would agree that being a television and radio on-air personality at ESPN provides a Disney-like happy ending to the “Life of Ad” (apologies to Richard Parker).

“Movies were always my first love,” Virk said, “and I tried for years to be a film critic. But then this sportscaster thing took off.”


1. Ben Affleck, Best Director, Argo
Normally, the Academy loves actors as directors. Golden boy Robert Redford won the Best Director Oscar over Martin Scorsese for Ordinary People and Kevin Costner won for Dances with Wolves (hold your laughter) over Martin Scorsese for GoodFellas, which still bothers me. Affleck seamlessly tells a story which is part history, part suspense thriller and part Hollywood farce and succeeds wonderfully. The movie was rewarded with seven nominations, but evidently was directed by no one. The only thought is Affleck previously won an Oscar for best original screenplay for Good Will Hunting with Matt Damon, so maybe the Academy feels he’s already been given his due. But no nomination? Lunacy.

2. Rian Johnson, Best Screenplay, Looper
Inventive, clever and highly entertaining, Looper should’ve scored a nod here. Rian Johnson is one of the bright young talents in Hollywood. His screenplay balances high concept thrills of time travel with a genuinely human story and incorporates themes like fate and self-sacrifice expertly.

3. Leonardo Dicaprio, Best Supporting Actor, Django Unchained
He’s always shown a desire to break free of the pretty boy typecasting after Titanic, whether it’s his remarkably fruitful collaboration with Martin Scorsese or art house fare like Revolutionary Road. This seemed to be a perfect marriages: He’s playing a gleeful villain infused with the particular originality of Quentin Tarantino’s dialogue. And yet, no dice.

4 and 5. Paul Thomas Anderson, Best Screenplay/Best Director, The Master
He’s the enfant terrible of Hollywood. An outrageously talented auteur whose films might not mean box office gold but are revered in the film community. His scripts and direction always bring out the best in his actors — note that Joaquin Phoenix, the marvelous Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams are all nominated for their work in The Master. Yet this challenging, enigmatic work — it’s flawed, but it never stops challenging you long after you’ve left the theatre — was sadly ignored.

6. Richard Gere, Best Actor, Arbitrage
I’ve never been a fan of Gere. I always found him to be mannered and soft, and his star power was inexplicable to me. But he’s never been better than in the timely financial crisis thriller Arbitrage. Gere is cunning and desperate, a man on the verge of despair yet working feverishly to keep a veneer of calm amidst the chaos.

7. Tom Hooper, Best Director, Les Miserables
Hooper won an Academy Award for directing the crowd-pleasing The King’s Speech and shows no fear in adapting a beloved musical to the big screen. His dazzling camera movements go a long way to keeping up this musical’s infectious energy.

8. The Dark Knight Rises, Best Picture
I had hoped that director Christopher Nolan’s landmark trilogy, only one of the best of its era, would get the Lord of the Rings treatment and finally receive adulation for the final installment. But this is not the case of the return of the king. Yes, the The Dark Knight is the greater achievement but I was hoping the The Dark Knight Rises would make up for the previous film’s glaring omission in the Best Picture category.

9. Kathryn Bigelow, Best Director, Zero Dark Thirty
I was not as taken as most critics with Zero Dark Thirty. I think it’s a competent thriller over a hot topic that was totally devoid of any sort of character development, unlike her previous Oscar winner the hurt locker. But 5 nominations for the film and nothing for the director seems silly. Whatever merit this film has is owed to the writer, Mark Boal and the director, Kathryn Bigelow. Only one of the two was lauded here.

10. John Hawkes, Best Actor, The Sessions
Hawkes was previously recognized for Winter’s Bone in the supporting actor category and seemed like a lock as a disabled man seeking feminine companionship in the form of the luminous Helen Hunt. But sometimes the members can be fickle and can sniff out academy awards bait. Unfortunate for Hawkes who’s an underrated character actor.

11. Christopher Walken, Best Supporting Actor, Late Quartet
This charming indie film received zero publicity and although its hampered by an operatic storyline, the cast including a convincing Phillip Seymour Hoffman as a violinist and Christopher Walken as the dying leader of the musical quarter should have been honored. Walken too often is asked to play a caricature of himself but here, given a genuine character to play he gives pathos, warmth and gravitas to a leader bowing out with grace and dignity.

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