Monday, August 01, 2011

august MOVIE MEME, day 1: my favorite sports movie(s)

It starts!  My re-devotion to the blogging world is coming in the form of a 31-day, self-imposed meme.  If you'd like to join in on the "fun," there's still time!  Head over to this post to get the lowdown on the eclectic assignments day-to-day.  This first day's self-assignment is "your favorite sports movie."  So, I've narrowed it down to one ultimate and five runners-up:


The Rookie (2002, dir. John Lee Hancock) - Now, while Hancock has become much more well known for the massive hit The Blind Side, the director had his first major success in this Dennis Quaid starrer.  And the biggest difference between it and its 2009 counterpart is that past the central performer, there is excellent acting and writing on display - no easy feat in a modern-set sports movie.  Quaid is at his all-time best as Jimmy Morris, the middle-aged dad who's finally getting his shot at the majors.  And Rachel Griffiths as his supportive wife makes it all the more successful.  For such a low-key, Disney-fied movie, what you're getting is a subtle footnote to the glitz and glamor of the overpaid MLB. Morris is hardly a big name in baseball, but the family man is played with such care and grace by Quaid that you doubt the man is small in heart - the point of a sports movie, really.

The Fighter (2010, dir. David O. Russell) - Sure, this one's awfully fresh in my memory, but it did such a fantastic job of making what would otherwise be an "avoid at all costs" film (Mark Wahlberg starring in an inspiring sports drama "based on a true story") and turned it into a spectacular, highly visual, well-played drama.  Sure, there's an awful lot of boxing, but what this sports movie does great is brings the cinematic qualities of an historical epic into a genre that sorely lacks in quality of filming in many cases.  And it doesn't hurt that the cast is across-the-board stellar.  Melissa Leo steals the show for me as the domineering boxing mom.  Her clan of white-trash daughters is welcome lightheartedness in the hardcore drama.  And Christian Bale has really never been better than as the twitchy, trouble-making brother of the protagonist.  Plus it's nice to see Amy Adams stretch her legs a little bit as the bad-girl barmaid.  

Jerry Maguire (1996, dir. Cameron Crowe) - Sure it's a non-traditional entry as it deals more with the behind-the-scenes drama of professional sports as opposed to the athletes themselves, but back before Tom Cruise lost his mind he was actually turning into a seasoned actor as he got older.  In arguably his best performance, as cocky but secretly caring sports agent Jerry Maguire, Cruise gives a very human portrayal, all the while utilizing his ability to play tense and neurotic.  And despite his fall from grace since, Cuba Gooding Jr. brings the traditional sports story to the mix, making his on-the-decline and hotheaded Rod Tidwell a lovable family man.  And remember when Renee Zellweger was the cute girl next door type?  Yeah, this was one of her best performances.  It's a wonder what sports movies can do to almost any type of performer if they play it right.

The Natural (1984, dir. Barry Levinson) - Even though I recently read Roger Ebert's surprisingly scathing review of the film, it was one I grew up watching - so despite its possible story flaws, it's rather universally adored among sports movies.  That uber-catchy and constantly sampled score certainly couldn't have hurt.  The movie was so serene and effortless to me - a rarity among boisterous rah-rah sports movies, but not so out-of-the-ordinary, I suppose, for the baseball sub-genre.  Robert Redford is incredibly endearing and riveting as the central character, and Glenn Close utilizes a little-shown side of her repertoire - quiet brilliance.  Let's be honest:  the woman can play the crazy card very well.  But it's nice to know she can pull off this style as well.  And can we talk about the actual baseball scenes?  Some of my favorite action sequences put to film.  So say what you will about the supposedly weak storytelling, but I love The Natural.

Hoosiers (dir. David Anspaugh) - I know it's probably blasphemy to not have chosen this as my top sports film, but if it's any consolation, it was a very difficult, very close choice.  It easily managed number two.  And for the following reasons:  Gene Hackman and Dennis Hopper give fantastic performances (not typically a necessity for a sports movie) for completely different reasons.  Hopper is over-the-top and gut-wrenching as the drunken basketball dad, and Hackman is (generally) calm and collected as the not-so-loved Coach Norman Dale.  Specifically with high school sports films, you're just not used to seeing such dark histories play out.  Dale's been excused from his last coaching position for hitting a student, and he's under pressure from the community to prove he's a changed man.  And the rag-tag group of boys from Hickory, Indiana, are such underdogs, it's impossible to avoid rooting for the home team.


Bend it Like Beckham (2003, dir. Gurinder Chadha) - It's probably a heinous choice indeed to pick one from across the pond when there are so many American sports movies to choose from.  But probably more surprising than the fact that a female sports movie and female-directed sports movie happens to be so good is that it doubles as a comedy.  At points uproariously funny (mostly due to the great character performance from Juliet Stevenson) and at others thrillingly filmed, this ladies' soccer flick is my favorite sports movie.  Parminder Nagra (pre-ER, mind you) is a soft-spoken force as the determined and talented central character.  And on top of all the soccer-related drama, there's a culture clash going on.  Can Jess's traditional Indian family ever accept her penchant for a deeply western European sport?

So what are your all-time favorite films to do with athletics?


TomS said...

Favorite Sports Movie:
"Pride of the Yankees", 1942, with Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig. Runner-up might be "Bull Durham", Kevin Costner and Susan Sarandon. Guess I prefer baseball movies....

Luke said...

I've never really seen any of the classic sports movies, of which there seem to be very few anyway. And Bull Durham was enjoyable, but I simply wasn't as into it as most. I've always enjoyed Cooper's speech clip from Pride, though. Quality choice.

Andrew K. said...

Ooooooh, THE NATURAL. I faintly understand baseball, and I'm neither a fan of sports generally (or Redford) but this has Glenn Close and it's so ... sweet (for want of a better word). But BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM is a great choice, which makes me nostalgic for a number of reasons:
a) Keira. Duh.
b) Parminda Nagra who I thought was great here, and on ER and who I always wished would have broken out
c) Archie Panjabi who plays her older sister and who is phenomenal (I kid you not) on THE GOOD WIFE.
d) JRM, whom I used to love but I'm not sure anymore (since "From Paris with Love")

Cine-Charles said...

Bend it Like Beckham is a very good shout. I would have been torn between that, The Wrestler and Whip It for the win. Doge-ball and BASEketball in there for giggles also!