Five For Friday: Sports Movies, And Why FR Love Them

The magnificence of Moneyball got FR thinking.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

Nathan: Rudy

If you don’t shed at least one little tear by the end of Rudy, you are probably an advanced android from the future with no soul.

Travis: The Bad News Bears 

The original version of this grizzled ex-baseballer coaches team of Little League misfits story with Walter Matthau, Jackie Earle Haley and Tatum O’Neal is great because it allowed the kids in the movie to be as foul-mouthed as kids on a Little League baseball diamond actually are. It is also great in that it (SPOILER) lets the kids lose at the end. The newer version with Billy Bob Thornton isn’t quite as good, but Billy Bob yelling profanities at kids for ninety minutes is enough entertainment for me.

Tyler: Field Of Dreams

FOD is rather one of the cheesiest sports flicks ever made.  But it speaks to more than a few universal truths, all complicated, as they are in actual reality.  Fathers and sons.  Wives and husbands.  Parents and children.  Men and sports.  Sports and history.  History and filmic liberties.  (Shoeless Joe was not Henry Hill.  He was a damn near imbecile with an otherworldly ability to play a game.)  James Earl Jones and J.D. Salinger.  Love and love, and love and love.  For all Dreams‘s faults, it is an irresistible valentine to Americana.  Plus, y’know, this.

Nathan: Eight Men Out

John Sayles is a great director and Eight Men Out is a fantastic and highly entertaining look at the process of compromise and mixed motivations in professional sports. There is greed, business, pride, and (poor) sportsmanship on display here. As a dedicated Tigers fan, this movie only made my hatred for the White Sox even deeper.

Travis: The Sandlot

This one’s a nostalgic favorite, a heartwarming baseball movie for kids that came out when I was a kid who loved baseball. It still holds up as well-made rewatching as an adult, but I’ll probably never enjoy it as much as when I first saw it, taken with a friend to the theater just off the food court of the St. Louis Galleria when I was in fifth grade or so.

Tyler: Million Dollar Baby

Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby, adapted and reshaped from the immaculate short stories of boxing scribe F.X. Toole, is perhaps most famous for its Oscars, and its devastating “twist” at the end of the second act.  (“Oh!” railed so many “conservatives,” “It endorses something something something!”  I’m glaring at you, Medved.)   There is a flaw, the heavy-handed portrayal of Hilary Swank’s family, depicted with all the subtlety of the “racial conflict” present in Clint’s overrated (yet still amusing) Gran Torino.  But it is a riveting piece of entertainment.  It is the flipside of Unforgiven, chock-a-block with fabulous moments between characters, but far more devastating than even that Earth-scorching Western had the balls to be.  It is one hell of a motion picture.  And it deserved every accolade it received.  It is a film that evinces all anybody needs to follow their dreams: hope, devotion, and perseverance.

Nathan: The Set-Up

Technically, Robert Wise’s The Set-Up (1949) is a noir before it’s a sports movie. There’s one punishing boxing sequence at the beginning of the film, and the rest of it is about how one of those boxers was supposed to take a fall without knowing it. The Set-Up is a grim and fatalistic tale told in near real time (72 lean minutes) that is as fierce as the sport it briefly portrays.

Travis: Hoop Dreams 

I actually only saw this stellar documentary this year, when it was playing almost daily on Al Gore’s OlbermannTV network, Current. The story of two talented basketball playing kids from the inner city of Chicago and their diverging paths throughout high school and beyond, it is an amazing achievement.

Tyler: Raging Bull

Like all great sports films, Raging Bull is about neither the sport nor the environment of the sport it portrays.  It is about the nature of those who play the game, and the attendant obsession that drives those athletes.  It is also a magnificent film, brutal and unforgiving, unwilling to compromise in its depiction of a man torn apart by the demons that make him so great at his trade.  In my opinion, it ain’t Marty’s best.  But it’s up there.  If you disagree, I will stab you with this Goddam knife.

Nathan: Hoop Dreams

In the last 150 years, sports have moved from a way to pass the day and get some exercise into a place of total fantasy and ambitions. They have become a dangerous and often elusive career path. Hoop Dreams is an unflinching look at how those dreams can shape our communities and their children; it also illustrates how quickly those dreams can be throttled by simple realities.

Hoop Dreams isn’t just a great sports movie, it’s also one of the greatest documentaries ever made. Without any didactic pretensions, this is a film that every documentarian should aspire to, but few documentarians will ever come close to making.

Travis: When We Were Kings

This documentary about the Rumble in the Jungle between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman captures Ali in one of his most magical eras, when his athleticism was beginning to fail him but his ability to psych out and outstrategize his opponents still allowed him to beat the fearsome Foreman. The documentary focuses on Ali, and this documentary is the perfect illustration of why there will likely never be another athlete, even another man, like him.

Tyler: Magic & Bird: A Courtship Of Rivals

Little-known, recent, and produced by, of all entities, the thick-sugared prod-co that is HBO Sports, Magic & Bird is nonetheless one of the finest examinations of competition and friendship ever put to celluloid.  (Or video, or whatever.)  Jordan didn’t change the game; he changed its perception.  Earvin & Larry, on the other hand, made the game what it is today.  Through intensity, ability, and, yes, magic.  High-flying.  And narrated by man to end all men, Liev Schreiber.  Yeah, Arsenio’s a self-aggrandizing drag.  It doesn’t matter.  This is a fine, fine, fine motion picture.

Nathan: Searching for Bobby Fischer 

So, yeah…chess is not really a sport. It’s a board game; one that requires high intelligence and detailed strategy, but a board game regardless. If you should discredit my #1 choice on this technicality, I understand.

By forcing us to watch the throes of competition through the eyes of a child, Searching for Bobby Fischer sets itself up as one of the most eloquent and moving meditations on the heart of all sports – human beings interacting with each other.

When Armando Galarraga gracefully shrugged off his truncated perfect game last year, my mind immediately leapt back to the climactic scene in Bobby Fischer: (SPOILER) Josh Waitzkin, seeing that his opponent no longer has any hope of winning the match, offers his adversary the chance to forfeit. The gesture, though naive, is everything that we should aspire to in our own competitive selves and everything that we should hope to see in the athletes we watch week after week.

Travis: Slap Shot 

Not only one of my favorite sports movies, it is one of my favorite comedies ever, and probably one of the favorite comedies of any kid who ever played hockey, wanted to play hockey, or loved hockey in any way. It’s full of swear words, gratuitous nudity, and huge laughs that appeal to the twelve-year-old boy in each and every one of us. Also, Paul Newman is a bad man.

Tyler: Bull Durham

“I believe in the church of baseball.”


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8 thoughts on “Five For Friday: Sports Movies, And Why FR Love Them

  1. My List:

    5: Necessary Roughness

    The cast list alone makes this a must see. I think Jason Bateman was five when he was in this movie.

    4: Rudy

    Come on, we all knew this list was going to be like this. I’m a football guy.

    3: Cinderella Man

    I know there are a lot of Crowe haters out there, and deservedly so. But if you love boxing, and grew up hearing stories from my Dad about people like Baer, Ezzard Charles and Joe Lewis there is no other movie for me. The final bout lasts about a half hour of movie time. Every second of it makes me happy. Every person in this movie makes it better.

    2: Major League

    The classic underdog story. I’ll even let it go that it’s about Cleveland. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Randy Quaid is the second best part of this movie behind Bob Eucher.

    1: Raging Bull

    Like Tyler said, not Marty’s best. On the other hand, it may be my favorite movie for both Deniro and Pesci. Incredible. I could watch him talk to that mirror at the end of the movie over and over. Such an incredible scene.

  2. @Josh: I like Moneyball a lot, but it needs to stand the test of time before it gets put on a list like this. Incidentally, there were a few small things about the movie that bugged me. I’ll go into those when Tyler and I chat about it.

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