Saturday, January 21, 2012

Sports and movies make memorable magic

Field of Dreams
Sports movies spark a lot of debate.

Everyone has their favorite movie and moment.

For example, some people love the movie ‘Hoosiers’ and think it’s the best sports movie ever made. Me? I think that movie bores me to tears. That’s sacrilegious to some people, I know. I just can’t sit through it – and I’m a huge fan of Gene Hackman.

Remember the Titans
The interesting thing about sports movies is that only half of them are actually about the sport. Take ‘Remember the Titans’ for example. Yes, it’s a story about a football team, but the overall message behind the story is one of tolerance and friendship.

Then there are those movies that are actually romantic stories set in a sports world. ‘For Love of the Game,’ ‘Wimbledon’ and ‘The Cutting Edge’ would be examples of this. Are these still sports movies? Technically, I guess, but they could also easily slide into other genres.

Raging Bull
One thing is for sure, however. When you ask someone what their favorite sports movie is, they have an answer ready.

With that in mind, I thought I’d compile some of the more memorable sports movies ever made. In no particular order:

Remember the Titans: This movie carries so much emotional weight, so much history and so much vitriol in 2.5 hours that, as a viewer, you almost feel as exhausted as the team must have after those three-a-day practices. Denzel Washington is always good, Will Patton is usually solid and the cast of young football players were all spot-on. Ironically, it’s a young Hayden Panettiere who carries the bulk of the emotional heft on her diminutive shoulders. It makes you wonder why she couldn’t do that on ‘Heroes.’

The Big Lebowski: I know it can be argued that bowling isn’t really a sport. Actually, I think in Michigan that most people would come down on the side that it is definitely a sport, but either way ‘The Big Lebowski’ is not only one of the funniest movies ever put to film but it’s also one of the most enduring. Who doesn’t love the Dude and his entourage?

Rudy: I get a lot of flak from people who say this is a chick movie. Maybe it is. All I know is that every time I watch the movie and see that clock ticking down I start to tear up. I don’t understand why they can’t just let him into the game, for crying out loud. When they finally do, I’m not sure if it’s Sean Astin’s enthusiasm, the score or just the deafening cheer from the crowd that excites me the most. Either way, when Rudy is carried off that field I think just about everyone feels a sense of accomplishment right along with him.
Major League

Field of Dreams: A lot of sports movies are about bigger themes, and ‘Field of Dreams’ is no different. One can argue that this is Kevin Costner’s best performance (I actually prefer ‘The Upside of Anger’), but the movie’s theme of perseverance, loyalty and love can’t be denied. The ending is emotional and satisfying. That’s a hard balance to achieve, but ‘Field of Dreams’ manages it with aplomb.

Bend it Like Beckham
Major League: I don’t know anyone that doesn’t laugh at this movie. Whether it be a pre-winning Charlie Sheen actually showing he’s got comedic acting chops or a pre-federal prison Wesley Snipes showing off his personable side, ‘Major League’ assembles a ragtag group of actors as unpolished as the team they portray. Yet, in the end, everyone who watches feels like “winning.”

Bend it Like Beckham: This was a bigger hit in England, but as far as girl’s sports movies go this is my all-time favorite. While Jess’ struggle with her Indian family’s disapproval is the central story, I actually identify with Juliet’s character who must deal with a crazy mother who thinks that girls who like sports are all lesbians and “there’s a reason why Sporty Spice is the only one without a fella.”

Miracle: This is definitely a Disney-fied movie, but there’s still something endearing about the true story of an underdog hockey team winning a gold medal most people thought they couldn’t even compete for.

Brian’s Song: Yes, it’s hokey. Yes, it’s sad. Yes, it’s a little corny. It’s still one of the most endearing sports stories of last century. The fact that it stars a pre-Lando Billy Dee Williams doesn’t hurt. Neither does the fact that it's two men sharing a special bond that manages to transcend both time and death.

Rocky: This is one of the few franchises that can have entries on the best and worst sports movie lists. The first two Rocky movies are clearly classics. The next two are products of the 1980s, but still entertaining. I mean, who doesn’t love it when Rocky single handedly ends communism in Russia? The fifth one is pure trash, though. From Rocky’s brain damage, to moving back to the ghetto, to casting his own talentless son. That being said, the first two movies are pretty much flawless. What makes the first one the true classic, though, is that Rocky didn’t win the fight despite all the build-up. The easy ending would have been to let him win. For once they didn’t go with the easy ending, though.
Bad News Bears

Raging Bull: Another boxing movie. This one has Robert DeNiro in his prime (before he made the mistake of ‘Rocky and Bullwinkle’ and ‘Showtime’). The physical transformation he makes in the movie is gut-wrenching and spectacular at the same time. The chemistry he shows with Joe Pesci is also phenomenal – something they repeated in the wonderful ‘Goodfellas’ a full decade later.

Bad News Bears: We’re talking the Walter Matthau version here, not the Billy Bob Thornton one. Although, that being said, as far as remakes go that was one of the few that wasn’t terrible. What’s great about the ‘Bad News Bears’ is that they don’t win in the end either, and yet they’re all still winners. Foul-mouthed and bad behaving winners, but winners all the same.

A League of Their Own
A League of Their Own: This is another chick sports movie – and they’re few and far between. However, the casting really couldn’t have been better in this movie (for once Madonna didn’t suck), the story was timeless (and true) and Tom Hanks somehow balanced the drama and humor in a way that makes ‘A League of Their Own’ a classic still today.

Caddyshack: The cast is great. The comedy is great. The shark in the pool is great. This may be a comedy, but it’s a comedy that stands the test of time. Plus, the movie manages to do something that just about nothing else in the world can do – make golf interesting.

We Are Marshall: There’s raw emotion in this movie that wouldn’t have been served if the casting director had went with big name younger stars to play the roles. While Matthew McConaughey is practically unrecognizable, and surprisingly poignant in the lead role, it’s is Matthew Fox’s conflicted assistant coach who actually carries the film.

The Blind Side: This movie has lovers and haters. The lovers like the simple story of a rich family taking in an itinerant youth and giving him a place to stay and a purpose for being. The haters think it’s just another case of white people “coming to the rescue” of the black population. Me? I like Sandra Bullock and I liked the movie. I don’t see the need to politicize it. There’s true racism in the world – this movie isn’t an example of it.

Talladega Nights
And, as usual, honorable mentions go to ‘The Natural,’ ‘The Karate Kid,’ ‘Love & Basketball,’ ‘Mystery, Alaska,’ ‘Above the Rim,’ ‘Seabiscuit,’ ‘Jerry Maguire,’ and ‘Talladega Nights.’ Come on, I dare someone not to laugh at ‘Talladega Nights.’
What do you think? What are the best sports movies ever made? Do you think ‘Hoosiers’ should have made the list?


Blogger Terrance said...

How come nobody every mentions "That Championship Season" when it comes to greatest sport movies ever. This movie, which was also a play, is very underrated and for my money is right up there with the usual other movies mentioned,

January 22, 2012 at 6:45 AM 
Blogger OLD HARLEY MAN said...


January 22, 2012 at 7:45 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's a tie for me. A League Of Their Own, Hoosiers, & Remember The Titans. I will watch any of them whenever they are on. As far as comedy sports movies - it doesn't get any better than Major League. Bob Uker is the highlight!!

January 22, 2012 at 12:54 PM 
Blogger Joe said...

How can you not include "The Pride of the Yankees," "Rhubarb," "Knute Rockne, All American," "Fear Strikes Out," the original "Angels in the Outfield," the original "The Longest Yard," or "Alibi Ike?"

Or do you have a youthful prejudice against pre-1980 films???

March 3, 2013 at 1:35 PM 

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