Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Fantastic boxing flicks

Though there are great movies about all varieties of sporting endeavours, few have attraced as much attention from Hollywood as boxing.

There are many reasons for this. It's the essence of human combat, which brings with it all the elements of triumph and tragedy. It's also, conveniently enough for Hollywood, easily the most corrupt of the mainstream sports.

So, in honor of "Rocky Balboa," which I have to admit I'm predisposed to just give in and fall in love with, here's a list of some of my favorite boxing flicks (excluding the "Rocky" franchise, just to be ornery.) As always, please feel free to sound off with any I may have forgotten.

Raging Bull
Granted, an obvious choice, but for me and many other people this one will always top the list. Featuring a searing performance from Robert De Niro as Jake La Motta, the reason its vintage Scorsese is not just that it explodes with violence and obscenity, but because every ring success of LaMotta's life is paralleled by real-life failure, which Scorsese never shies away from.

The Boxer
Daniel Day Lewis reunited with Jim Sheridan and Terry George for one more movie about "the troubles," this time playing boxer Danny Flynn, who is let out of jail after serving time for actions in his past with the IRA. "Some Mother's Son" remains my favorite in their series of Northern Ireland flicks, but "The Boxer" is also notable for showing that peace is often just as messy as war.

The Hurricane
It pained me to watch Denzel win an Oscar for "Training Day," not because he didn't deserve it, but because it should have come for his multi-layered portrayal of Ruben "Hurricane" Carter in this flick. For a more straightforward and campy prison boxing flick, you also can't go wrong with Walter Hill's "Undisputed," starring Wesley Snipes and Ving Rhames.

Pulp Fiction
OK, here we cross over into movies that simply feature boxers, but this is my list, right? You can debate if this one was ever as revolutionary as it was made out to be, but for me at least, you can't deny its value for sheer entertainment.

When We Were Kings
The joys in this Leon Gast documentary about the 1974 match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in Zaire are almost too many to list. From Foreman and his huge dogs to the crowds mobbing Ali with adoration to James Brown preparing for his show that went with the match, it's just a feast for the senses.

Out of Sight
I just watched this again the other day, and it remains my favorite Elmore Leonard adaptation. Clooney and Lopez might steam up the scream, but Don Cheadle's prison boxer "Snoopy" Miller and Steve Zahn's Glen Michaels are both just a hoot.

Requiem for a Heavyweight
Few movies have done a better job of showing the seedy and sad side of boxing than this 1962 flick, written by Rod Serling. Anthony Quinn is the clumsy, proud "Mountain" Rivera, forced to retire after a life of beatings, trying to find a new job with no skills. His manager, Maish Rennick (Jackie Gleason), is devastated, too: He had bet against his own fighter and owes money to gangsters. With thugs threatening his life, Rennick sabotages Rivera's dream of working in a summer camp and signs him up to dress as an Indian chief in humiliating wrestling matches. By the time you reach the end of this one, it's guaranteed to break your heart.

The Set-Up
This film noir classic tells the story of Stoker Thompson (Robert Ryan), a fading fighter who doesn't realize he's supposed to throw a fight. When he discovers his fate but refuses to comply, doublecrossing his doublecrossers, it's pure noir gold.

I had never heard of Michelle Rodriguez until I saw her play Diana Guzman in this simply fantastic boxing flick. Along with her powerful performance as a sarcastic, angry 15-year-old with a penchant for pugilism, you get a flick that truly captures the reality and rhythm of a boxing gym.

On the Waterfront
When you set aside all the politics surrounding this one, you still get a very compelling flick. And though the only fighting comes down on the docks, Marlon Brando's Terry Malloy and his plea that he "coulda been a contender" will last forever.

Call this one a bonus pick. It really has nothing to do with boxing until late in the movie when poor Noah Taylor climbs into the ring to get pummeled and prove his manhood to young Thandie Newton. Along with the two of them, you get Nicole Kidman and, I believe, Naomi Watts in this Aussie flick about coming of age and, of course, flirting. Just watch it.

And there you have it. Feel free to let me know of any I overlooked, and have a great day.


* (asterisk) said...

I've not seen all of those movies, but Raging Bull is an absolute masterclass in film-making and film acting.

The Hurricane: great flick, and I'm right there with you on the Training Day comment, although I'd even add that he didn't deserve an Oscar for that frankly disappointing cop film.

Pulp Fiction is still really good, but looking back now after all the hype has blown over, couldn't it be half an hour shorter? Don't ask me right now what to cut, but first up would probably be all that stuff at Jack Rabbit Slim's, even tho' it'd mean losing Steve Buscemi's tiny cameo.

When We Were Kings and Out of Sight both good movies, too.

I think Rocky Balboa is going to be a huuuuge box-office hit. Not sure it'll trouble the Oscars much, but the normal people will love it!

Anonymous said...

Out of Sight is still one of my favorite movies and I still have to do the hard sell on it, too.
As far as Denzel--he should have won for Malcolm X and his role in Training Day is SUCH a supporting role its not even funny.
And I have to say, I like Rocky, as well. It won best picture the year I was born.
Been a while since I saw Flirting, but I remember liking it a lot (except for those crazy accents).

Reel Fanatic said...

I think you're right about Pulp Fiction, Mr. *, but a little fat on such an entertaining movie is just quibble to me ... I think you could have definitly cut some of the Jack Rabbit Slim's stuff, but I enjoyed the interaction between Uma and Travolta in that scene quite a bit

Anonymous said...

My favorite boxing movie would have to be Snatch, produced by Guy Richie. I know it is more of a diamond caper, but how about Brad Pit as the gypsy bare nuckel fighter! And speaking of Pit, how can you not mention Fight Club, in your 'boxing' list? That movie was crazy.....

Chris said...

Just an aside here, I wouldn't cut anything from Pulp Fiction. Even the "fat" is entertaining, and if you cut out Jack Rabbit Slim's, do you leave the overdose stuff in? It wouldn't make much sense, but that's just me.

As for the boxing flicks, I really enjoyed last year's Cinderella Man, one of the most mysterious box office failures of the decade. Did people really care about Russell Crowe's phone-throwing that much?

And though I've been "crusading" against Clint Eastwood lately, I put Million Dollar Baby on my top 10 list in 2004. Once you know what happens in the end, the movie is hard to watch multiple times, but all the stuff leading up to that ending is top notch.

And hey, I know this movie didn't do well and probably isn't very popular even among people who saw it, but I enjoyed The Great White Hype with Peter Berg as a hyped white fighter going up against Damon Wayans, who claims his "blackness" will be able to win alone. Tons of people were in it, like Samuel Jackson, Jamie Foxx, Cheech Marin, Jon Lovitz, Jeff Goldblum...who spouts my favorite line when he's filming his documentary, "My father always said, 'Laugh, and the world laughs with you...Cry, and I'll give you something to cry about you little bastard...'" Ron Shelton helped write the screenplay, but it was mostly dismissed.

Reel Fanatic said...

"The Great White Hype" is indeed a surprisingly good flick Chris .. on paper it looks like a recipe for disaster, but the cast and the genuinely funny script somehow make it all work

pdemko said...

Fat City is the bomb.

Anonymous said...

A couple good ones, Paul Newman's SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME and Michael Ritchie's DIGGSTOWN with James Woods and Lou Gossett Jr.

Chalupa said...

Chris, I'm glad you mentioned Million Dollar Baby and Cinderella Man. I was also glad to see Snatch mentioned as well.

Raging Bull, The Hurricane and Snatch were the first ones to come to mind when I saw the post title. I've seen so many other movies with boxing elements in them, but I'm having trouble thinking of names. Did anybody see Ali?

Anonymous said...

I agree about Snatch and Fight Club. I would also add From Here To Enternity. Burt Lancaster getting Montgomery Cliff transferred in because of his boxing ability only to have him refuse to fight.

Reel Fanatic said...

Good choices, but I have to say the most glaring omission on my part would have to be Fat City (and not just because it was suggested by my brother) ... And that Someone Up There Likes Me with Paul Newman indeed almost made the list, but I simply ran out of time!

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Linda said...

I really liked Rocky Balboa. Reminded me why I love Rocky. Stay for the credits .....

Anonymous said...

Did you know there are 810 matches to the keyword "boxing" in IMDB? I don't think all of them relate to fisticuffs however (Great Expectations?). Anyhoo, I've only seen a few of the flicks mentioned and I have to admit "Million Dollar Baby" was a real gut-punch for me. But, admittedly, I'm a Paul Haggis groupie.

TFKoP said...

Reel Fanatic,

I have to add one movie to your great list: Charlie Chaplin's "City Lights" has a great (and uproariously funny) boxing match in it.

If you haven't seen this 1931 movie, I recommend it. The whole film is fantastic.

--joe "TFKoP"

Reel Fanatic said...

I have not seen City Lights, tfkop, a definite omission on my part .. I will soon

Thanks for the good word on Rocky Balboa, Linda .. I can tell from the reviews that I'm just gonna eat this one up

Anonymous said...

I agree with Chris, Cinderella Man was unfairly overlooked. I love boxing and baseball movies...football ones are okay and basketball (other than Hoosiers) are horrible.

Anonymous said...

What about Million Dollar Baby?

And, if you're going for even low-key references to boxing, you could include Say Anything - expecially after Llyod breaks his nose at the end when Dianne comes in :)

Reel Fanatic said...

Though I know I'm definitely in the minority here, anonymous one, I have to say I was just underwhelmed by Million Dollar Baby ... It was OK, but given the great source material by F.X. Toole, it could have been so much more ... I'll definitely, however, second any call to recognize the great Lloyd Dobler

Jill said...

Thank you for not including the repulsive Million Dollar Baby in this list.