With Luke still raving about ‘Moneyball‘ in theaters, now seems like a good time to discuss our favorite sports movies for this week’s Roundtable topic. Play ball!
Most sports movies are so formulaic (underdog must put everything on the line for One Big Game, etc.) that I cherish unconventional sports pictures. The genre doesn’t get much more unconventional than ‘The Damned United‘, which (like the new ‘Moneyball’) isn’t about an athlete or team, but rather about the team manager. The entire story is told from his perspective, even so far as to completely avoid showing us the most important game in his soccer team’s career as we wait it out in his office, watching him nervously pace until someone tells him the outcome. And yet, the film is absolutely riveting. This is a character piece about a man undone by the flaws in his own personality. You don’t need to know anything about soccer to get completely absorbed in the story. The film was written by Peter Morgan (‘The Queen’, ‘Frost/Nixon’), directed by Tom Hooper (‘The King’s Speech’), and stars the extraordinary Michael Sheen in one of his best performances to date.
Typically, I hate the sports genre. From ‘Rudy’ and ‘Varsity Blues’ to ‘Any Given Sunday’ and ‘Remember the Titans’, I find sports movies horribly boring and predictable. I’d go with new release ‘Moneyball’ on this one, but I’ve got a huge soft spot for Cameron Crowe’s ‘Jerry Maguire‘. While it’s more of a romantic comedy than a sports drama, there’s plenty of football in it to earn it that classification. Crowe is one of my very favorite writer/directors out there. His dialogue, story and tone speak to me. His films (including ‘Vanilla Sky’ and ‘Elizabethtown’) are some of my very favorites. ‘Jerry Maguire’ features some extremely iconic moments from both the romance and sports genres. You’ve got the ever-quoted “Show me the money” lines as well as the “You complete me” business. Considering how hard a time I have getting through sports movies, the genuine love story of ‘Jerry Maguire’ is more than enough to balance the scales and make it well-rounded film. Tom Cruise gives a great performance, Renee Zellwegger isn’t pouty-face annoying yet, “The Boss” Bruce Springsteen contributes a fantastic song, and Cameron Crowe is at the top of his game.
Chris Boylan (Big Picture Big Sound)
I am not a sports fan. “Sports” for me comes every two years in the form of the Winter and Summer Olympics. That said, I do appreciate a fine sports movie as much as the next guy, particularly about our all-American pastime. ‘Field of Dreams’, ‘The Rookie’, ‘The Bad News Bears’… I enjoy watching all of these. A real baseball fan would probably pick ‘Bull Durham’, but for me, there’s nothing quite like ‘The Natural‘. Inspired by true events, the film depicts the classic Jungian hero archetype: brave deeds, hubris, injury, descent into darkness and ultimately redemption. Certain scenes in that movie just give me the chills, such as when washed-out old Roy Riggs steps up to bat at batting practice and just keeps knocking them out of the park, and even more so when the catcher asks him to toss one in and he throws it so hard that it sticks in the mesh net behind the batter. The epic finale between the forces of light (good) and dark (evil) remains one of my favorite movie moments of all time.
As a lifelong Red Sox fan, I am tempted to pick ‘Fever Pitch’, as I think we can all agree it has the best ending EVAH! But in my heart, I have to go with the 1996 documentary about the famed Rumble in the Jungle, ‘When We Were Kings‘. Even if you don’t think you like boxing, you cannot help but be swept up in this film. Muhammad Ali is unquestionably one of the most charasmatic people ever caught on film. And if you only know George Foreman as the smiling griddle salesman, you’ll be shocked to see how far his current image is from the one he presented in 1974.
The film explores the classic underdog story. It shows how the aging Ali is able to read his young opponent, and the genius of his famed “rope-a-dope” strategy. It also contains footage of the Zaire 74 Soul Festival held in conjunction with the fight, including performances by James Brown and BB King. Filmmaker Leon Gast puts these events in context and explores some of the questionable ethics of setting the fight and an accompanying music festival in Zaire, which was under the rule of brutal dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. It’s a powerful film, and while I don’t claim to be a boxing fan, after watching this film I definitely have more of an appreciation for the sport.
Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)
After being lavished with numerous Emmys as part of CBS’ critically acclaimed ‘Playhouse 90’ series, ‘Requiem for a Heavyweight‘ was adapted into a feature film, and the end result is flawless. The screenplay, penned by ‘Twilight Zone’ creator Rod Serling, tells the tale of “Mountain” Rivera (Anthony Quinn). After seventeen years in the ring, Rivera is hopelessly washed-up and could just be a single punch away from blindness. Opportunities are depressingly limited for an over-the-hill boxer, and his money-grubbing manager (Jackie Gleason) keeps trying to convince his meal ticket to give wrestling a shot. Rivera is doggedly loyal, but the thought of deliberately taking a fall in these staged bouts is more than the proud boxer can stomach. ‘Requiem for a Heavyweight’ shies away from the familiar sports film clichés, and the screenplay by Serling, which builds off the writer’s own experiences in the ring, paints Quinn and Gleason’s characters with a remarkable amount of nuance and dimension. It’s such an incredible film and one that’s well-worth discovering on DVD.
One of my favorite sports movies out there (besides ‘Hoop Dreams’, which I picked for best school-themed movie a couple of Roundtables back) has got to be ‘The Sandlot‘. I’m not even a baseball fan, but there’s something special about the sport and the way it can bring groups of kids together. I like how the sport actually takes a back seat to the characterization of the children in the movie. It’s a baseball film, but it isn’t all about baseball. ‘Sandlot’ is one of the most iconic coming-of-age movies out there, much like ‘The Goonies’ or ‘Stand by Me’. There’s something about ‘The Sandlot’ that never gets old. Maybe it’s the childlike innocence, its colorful cast of characters, its easy-going attitude, or maybe all of the above. All I know is that I love the movie, and that will never change.
M. Enois Duarte
Next to ‘Raging Bull’, Robert Rossen’s ‘The Hustler‘ is my favorite sports movie. I generally gear towards films that could be considered edgy and unconventional, those which break from genre expectation and try to push the limits of convention. More than any other genre, the sports movie is definitely one that needs to be different in its portrayal of the underdog formula. For me, ‘The Hustler’ is a bold and challenging telling of what it takes to win and lose a game. It explores the sensation of crushing defeat and the maddening obsession with victory. Rossen’s script and his film-noir style deliver a marvelously engaging tale of the underground world of pool hustling. Both Paul Newman and George C. Scott are fantastic, but Jackie Gleason is the true highlight in his most memorable performance as Minnesota Fats. ‘The Hustler’ is one of the coolest sports movies ever made.
The first thought that came into my mind was: “I don’t really like sports movies.” Then I thought: “Oh! Does ‘The Big Lebowski’ count? Bowling’s a sport, right?” Of course. Then I looked at a list of flicks of the athletic variety, and there’s lots of them I dig. But that doesn’t mean I’m not gonna pick ‘Bring It On‘ as my favorite “sports” movie.
We know that you’ve got some favorite sports movies too. Tell us about them in the Comments. Batter up!