Lists. Everyone seems to have a list – professional critics, amateur critics, news sites, blogs…the list goes on and on. Top Ten lists are especially popular. I guess there is something magical about the number ten. It’s more than nine. It’s less than eleven. Need I say more?
As long as there are people interested in reading them, Top Ten lists will continue to be produced.
Who am I to argue with the laws of nature or the principles of supply and demand? So, I’m jumping on the band wagon.
For my first foray into the world of Top Ten lists, I have chosen to concentrate on one of my favorite film genres: Sports Movies.
From director John Huston, and based on the Hungarian film Two Half Times in Hell, Victory tells the story of a ragtag team of soccer players made up of World War II prisoners of war that take on the Nazi national team as they plot their escape. The film stars Sylvester Stallone and Michael Caine and features Brazilian soccer star Pele. The soccer scenes are great, the drama of the story is even better. I saw this film as a child and it stands as one of my favorites to this day.
9) The Wrestler
I simply love the movie The Wrestler. I’ve been a pro-wrestling fan since I was a kid. And, no, I know it’s not “real” in the sense that the winner is scripted, but as The Wrestler shows, the brutality of the sport and the toll it takes on the body are very real. Mickey Rourke plays Randy “The Ram” Robinson – a has-been pro-wrestler barely squeaking by with autograph sessions and small time matches in school gyms and VFW halls. He longs for one last chance at the brass ring – even if it kills him. While the action is good, it is the story of Randy’s struggles to survive and reconcile with his daughter that make up the heart of this wonderful film from director Darren Aronofsky. Marissa Tomei also turns in a brilliant supporting performance.
8) Chariots of Fire
This Oscar-winning sports drama depicts the true story of two British track athletes competing in the 1924 Olympics. One runner, a devout Christian who wouldn’t run on Sundays, was gifted with unparalleled natural ability. The other, a Jewish man, lacked that same level of natural talent, but had the will to train and push himself until he was one of the best. The story focuses more on the men then the races, and is filled with beautiful footage and an inspirational score.
7) The Natural
Loosely based on the Bernard Malamud novel of the same name, The Natural is a majestic baseball film that tells the story of a young phenom pitcher named Roy Hobbs. After a scandalous tragedy cuts his pitching career short, Hobbs disappears from the public eye (and from baseball) for over a decade. He returns to the game as an aged rookie outfielder with a batting ability never seen before. Again, it is a film I saw as a child that has stuck with me all these years later. The finale literally sends chills up my spine every time I watch this feel-good classic.
6) White Men Can’t Jump
Films about professional basketball are hard to do because it’s hard to find 7-foot athletes with actual acting ability White Men Can’t Jump takes a different approach. Starring Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes, White Men Can’t Jump is a story about gifted streetballers hustling money on the courts of Venice Beach. The basketball is realistic and inspiring. The character development is even better. Add in a hilarious performance by Rosie Perez as Harrelson’s Jeopardy-obsessed girlfriend and you have yourselves a delectable film guaranteed to entertain.
5) Raging Bull
Shot in black and white to match the grittiness of the sport of boxing, Raging Bull is a difficult film to watch because of the sheer brutality of the pugilist scenes in the ring. Robert De Niro plays Jake LaMotta in this biopic from Martin Scorsese, and it’s an Oscar-worthy performance. But don’t expect a happy ending. Outside the ring LaMotta was just as much a brute as he was in the ring and the film depicts his angry disposition well.
4) Bull Durham
Kevin Costner has been in many of my favorite sports-related films including For the Love of the Game, Tin Cup, and Draft Day, but Bull Durham tops my list of Costner films. Bull Durham focuses on the athletes on a minor league baseball team trying to make it to the pros. Costner is a seasoned catcher still struggling in the minors after having once made it to the pros for a little more than a cup of coffee. Costner’s Crash Davis is brought to the Durham Bulls to mentor young, brash pitcher Nuke Laloosh (played wonderfully by Tim Robbins), who has a shot of going pro. Underscoring the baseball scenes is a love triangle as Laloosh and Davis compete for the interest of a super groupie played by the sensual Susan Sarandon. There’s a little bit for everyone in this fun film: sports action, comedy, and a love story.
3) The Program
The Program is a little know 1993 film about the corruption that goes on in college athletics – specifically college football. James Caan plays a college football coach determined to win at all costs. Accompanying him on this heartbreaking account of college sports are Craig Sheffer, Omar Epps, Halle Berry, and one of my underated favorites – Andrew Bryniarski. The film gets down and dirty talking issues like steroid abuse and illiterate athletes getting by in school thanks to college-supplied tutors. Take my word for it, it’s a must see.
Written by Sylvester Stallone as a vehicle for himself to star in, Rocky was made on a budget of just over $1 Million and went on to gross $225 Million and win three Academy Awards including Best Picture. It’s the story of an underdog club fighter who gets his chance to battle for the heavy weight championship of the world. Stallone was nominated for an Oscar for his performance and the supporting cast is full of great performances from Carl Weathers, Burgess Meredith, and Talia Shire. It also features one of the best sports anthem theme songs ever written for the screen. In my opinion, Rocky II and Rocky III are also up there in terms of sports film favorites.
Basketball films about professional athletes may be tough, but when you set your story in the high school basketball world it opens up a lot of possibilities. In this 1986 gem, Gene Hackman plays a former college basketball coach who has become almost unemployable. His only chance to coach is for a small Indiana farm town’s high school team. He instills in the farm boys who play for him an understanding of the fundamentals of basketball and a will to win despite the odds. It co-stars Barbara Hershey as Hackman’s love interest and Dennis Hopper as the town drunk. Hopper earned an Oscar nomination for his role. How can you tell Hoosiers is the best sports film of all time? I don’t much care for Gene Hackman. In fact, I pretty much dislike most of his acting roles. Yet here is a film he stars in that I rank as my favorite sports film. That says a lot.