Friday, October 10, 2008

"Express" aisle: My top 10 favorite sports flicks

Coincidentally enough, a look at the credits for last night's premiere of "Life on Mars" revealed it was directed by Gary Fleder, who also directed this week's "The Express," the inspiration for this list. I haven't bothered to tune in for any cop shows in the last 10 years or so except for "The Wire," but I think this one just might be a winner, based on both the rather remarkable cast (Harvey Keitel, Gretchen Mol and Michael Imperioli, among others) and fairly innovative story about a cop who does the time warp back to 1973.

And I'm fairly certain I've done a list of at least my favorite baseball movies before, which could certainly also go to more than 10. For this list encompassing all sports (and two flicks that arguably aren't about sports at all), I found I had to leave off a full four boxing movies that just missed the cut ("Requiem for a Heavyweight", "Someone Up There Likes Me" [in honor of Paul Newman], "The Hurricane" and "Raging Bull.") Given that caveat, here are my 10 favorite sports movies, and as always, please feel free to add any of your favorites among the many, many flicks I have snubbed.

"The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg"
Even more than boxing movies, I just love flicks about baseball, and this doco was directed with clear love for a great man by Aviva Kempner. Without taking away AT ALL from what Jackie Robinson accomplished, it will really open your eyes when you see what hammerin' Hank had to go through as the first great Jewish player to slug for the Detroit Tigers.

"Hoop Dreams"
I can still remember watching Roger Ebert just go gaga for this flick when it first came out, and it's almost as good as his orgasmic review made it sound. Spike Lee's fictionalized version "He Got Game" is pretty good too, but it just can't pack as much punch as this true story of two Chicago kids who dream of playing in the NBA.

"Bend it Like Beckham"
Silly? Sure, but also just a heck of a lot of fun. I had to check the IMDB to see what in the world ever happened to director Gurinder Chadha after she made this flick about two girls (Keira Knightley back when she used to eat and Parminder Nagra of "ER" fame) who just want to play soccer and the extremely fun "Bride and Prejudice." It turns out she did indeed manage to direct a feature film in 2008, called "Angus, Thongs and Snogging," which will be added to my Netflix queue at the first opportunity.

"Vision Quest"
Like Matthew Modine, I had visions of becoming a wrestler in high school, but I never took it nearly as serious as he did or got to have Linda Fiorentino hanging around to inspire me. Sure, this one might be an adolescent fantasy, but it's also just a very entertaining flick.

"Eight Men Out"
Granted, "Field of Dreams" (which was on this list before I cut it back to 10 titles) is a much sweeter take on the story of Joe Jackson, but the real story is also very compelling as told by director Jon Sayles with help from John Cusack, John Mahoney, Charlie Sheen, DB Sweeney (as shoeless Joe himself, David Strathairn and even Michael Rooker and Gordon Clapp of "NYPD Blue" (the only cop show I regularly tuned in for between "Homicide" and "The Wire.")

"The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings"
Ben "Cooter" Jones (yes, that Cooter) stopped by our office about two weeks ago to promote his new book about his time on Capitol Hill as a Democratic representative from the great state of Georgia. When he got to me and someone told him I write about movies, he very proudly said he had a small part in this odd little flick about a colorful crew of ballplayers including Richard Pryor and Billy Dee Williams who barnstorm across the Midwest (even though most of the flick was filmed right here in Macon.) I love this one almost as much as Cooter does.

"Breaking Away"
Having sat beside Renee Martinez, who is both a serious cyclist and rather fanatical fan of the Tour de France, at work for the past five years or so means I've been exposed to more cycling than any nonfan should ever have to sit through. Even though I still protest otherwise, I have come to both respect and enjoy the sport of cycling, but not as much as I do this silly little movie about an Indiana "cutter" who just wants to ride with the Italians.

"When We Were Kings"
This is the only boxing movie that made the final cut because it's about a whole lot more than boxing. This Leon Gast doco about the 1974 heavyweight "Rumble in the Jungle" between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in Zaire is also about the crazy concert featuring James Brown, B.B. King and others that Mobutu Sese Suko put on to go with it. Add it all up and you've got a whale of a tale well told.

"Searching for Bobby Fischer"
OK, these last two aren't about real "sports" per se, but I defy you to find a better movie about the nature of raw competition than this 1993 flick about a young boy thrust into in the world of competitive chess. Interestingly, this one is one of three flicks directed by Steven Zaillian ("A Civil Action" and "All the King's Men" are the others), who would go on to pen "American Gangster" and soon "I Heard You Paint Houses" for Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro.

"Bring It On"
If you can actually look me in the eye and claim you don't enjoy this one as at least a guilty pleasure, I have to say you, sir or madam, are a liar. Kirsten Dunst, Gabrielle Union and Eliza Dushku as high school cheerleaders? I'm there, and I usually am for at least a few minutes every time this inevitably shows up on TBS' afternoon movie slate.

So, there you have it. Like I said, please feel free to add any of your favorite sports flicks, and have a perfectly pleasant weekend.


Nell Minow said...

A superb list! A few more to consider: "A League of Their Own," "Bull Durham," "Remember the Titans," "Hoosiers," "Chariots of Fire," "Brian's Song," "Bang the Drum Slowly," "The Sandlot," and "It Happens Every Spring"

Reel Fanatic said...

Those are all great choices, Nell, and I cosidered them all except for the last one, which I had never heard of .. I'm assuming it's about baseball, and am looking to add it to my Netflix queue now

dbackdad said...

Great list. I'm a huge chess nut (wait ... did I say that out loud?) and love "Searching ...".

I'd 2nd Nell on Hoosiers and Bull Durham (my fave sports movie of all time and one of my top 10 of any type).

Others that you could make a case for: Million Dollar Baby, Rocky, Cinderella Man, Field of Dreams, Seabiscuit, The Natural, Caddyshack, Jerry Maguire.

Reel Fanatic said...

The only one I have any beef with is "Million Dollar Baby", dbackdad ... It's not a bad movie by any stretch, but I guess my expectations were too high because I just adore movies about boxing and because the short story it's based on by FX Toole is just sensational

kat said...

I am a sucker for sports movies, and love many of the ones on your list. Though not technically a "feel good sports movie" I have to say that my very favorite, of all time, is Ken Burns' "Baseball."

Reel Fanatic said...

I've watched that one in its entirety twice now, Kat, so I'd definitely have to list it among my favorites (if it were a longer list) too

Mercurie said...

I have a running joke that my favourite sports movies are Rollerball and Death Race 2000 (I also tend to list rollerball and death racing as my favourite sports too...). But if we have to limit the list to real sports, I think Searching for Bobby Fisher, Eight Men Out, Bend It Like Beckham, and Bull Durham would all make my list.

Sachin said...

Yes Bring It On is actually fun :) And yeah if it on tv, even I will spend a few minutes watching it. Although, I have some friends who still refuse to see it.

Another high-school film, but not-sports related, that I always end up spending time watching bits and pieces is Ten Things I Hate About You.

Reel Fanatic said...

I like that one quite a bit too, Sachin ... As long as they're smartly done, I don't think I'll ever get too old to enjoy high-school flicks

pdemko said...

Fat City! Best boxing movie ever.

And I loved Zidane -- at times tedious, but ultimately engrossing.

Reel Fanatic said...

I love Fat City too, bro, and even though Zidane is probably the single wierdest movie I have ever seen, I have to agree with you that it certainly has a hypnotic quality that's hard to resist

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