Sunday, April 06, 2008

Greatest sports movies ever made

With the release and success of George Clooney’s “Leatherheads,” about the early days of pro football, I revived my list of the best sports movies, arranged by individual sports. It’s not a top 10 list, although it would be simple to glean such a collection.
Some sports lend themselves easily to drama or comedy (boxing, baseball, horse racing) and others have yet to witness a cinematic effort worthy of their sport (gymnastics, tennis, figure skating).
So here is my best (and favorites) per areas of endeavour:
Auto racing – Strangely, not many superior movies here, except for John Frankenheimer’s “Grand Prix (1966) with James Garner. The best drag racing movie was the Oscar-nominated Shirley Muldowney biopic “Heart Like a Wheel”(1983), the best Indy car flick was Paul Newman’s “Winning” (1969), and the best stock car movie (not “Ricky Bobby,” folks) is either Richard Pryor’s “Greased Lightning” (1977) and the first black champion, Wendell Scott, or “Last American Hero” (1973) with Jeff Bridges.
Baseball – This lineup is loaded, from “Pride of the Yankees” (1942) to “Field of Dreams” (1989) to “Bull Durham” (1988) to “The Natural” (1984) to “The Bad News Bears” (1976, original with Walter Matthau). Because “Field of Dreams” reached me on a personal level (about father-son relationships), it gets my vote.
Basketball – Once you go past “Hoosiers” (1986), you need not go anywhere else, or see anything else. This film is in the argument for best sports movie ever made.
Billiards/pool – “The Hustler” (1961) – the original character of Fast Eddie Felson, as portrayed by Paul Newman, is, perhaps, his greatest role.
Bobsledding – “Cool Runnings” (1993) – The story, based on the true events of the Jamaican bobsled team, in the 1988 Calgary Olympics that caught the world’s imagination.
Bowling – “Kingpin” (1996) – Any movie with Bill Murray swearing a ridiculous toupee and bowling with a ball containing fish is classic.
Boxing – Among the best MOVIES ever made involve boxing, including Martin Scorsese’s “Raging Bull” (1980), Sylvester Stallone’s “Rocky” (1976) and Clint Eastwood’s “Million Dollar Baby” (2004). Not just as sports movies, but as movies, period.
Chess – “In Search of Bobby Fischer” (1993) – A small film that caught the soul of the most mental of games.
Curling – “Men with Brooms” (2002) – Yes, Virginia, they’ve made a movie about curling; a small Canadian movie … but aren’t all Canadian movies small?
Cycling – “Breaking Away” (1979) – Nominated for Best Picture, this is on most critics’ top 10 sports movies of all-time’ Dennis Quaid at his earliest. Also up there is “American Flyers” with a young Kevin Costner.
Dog Shows – “Best in Show” (2000) – So bitingly funny, it hurts.
Football – Since “Brian’s Song” (1971) was actually a made-for-TV movie, it shouldn’t (technically) count, and “Horse Feathers” (1932) was as much about football as the Marx Brothers would allow (not much), “The Longest Yard” (1974 original) is probably the best.
Gymnastics – The problem with this sport is that the two “best” movies – “American Anthem” (1986) and “Stick It” (2006) look nothing like actual gymnastic competitions.
Golf – “Caddyshack” (1980) – The funniest sports movie ever made and one of the funniest films EVER! Perhaps the most quotable films ever produced … if you’re a guy.
Hockey – “Slap Shot” (1977) – The greatest movie about professional hockey, with Newman (again), and listed on everyone’s all-time top 10 sports movies list. The best amateur hockey movie is “Miracle” (2004) about the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team that beat the Soviet Union.
Horse racing – “Seabiscuit” (2003) and “National Velvet” (1944) excellently represent a sport that has deep roots in filmdom. My favorite is the little-known “Let It Ride” (1978), with Richard Dreyfuss as the epitome of the horse gambler.
Martial arts – “The Karate Kid” (198?) – Oscar nominated as best picture from the director who directed “Rocky.” And please, don’t say “Enter the Dragon” was better.
Poker – “The Cincinnati Kid” (1965) – Steve McQueen in a five-card showdown with Edward G. Robinson. Enough said!
Roller Derby – “Kansas City Bomber” (1972) – Raquel Welch on wheels!
Rugby – “This Sporting Life” (1963) – Richard Harris introduced to audiences.
Sailing – A lack of good movies in this area, given the length of America’s Cup competition so the winner is “Wind” (1992) with Matthew Modine.
Soccer – “Bend It Like Beckham” (2000) – One of the surprise sleeper hits of the 21st century and a film that did more to introduce Beckham to U.S. audiences than the L.A. Galaxy.
Skating – Too much like gymnastics movies, when “The Cutting Edge” (1992) is thought to be the best of its genre and it has nothing to do with real skating competition.
Skiing – “Downhill Racer” (1960) – Robert Redford as an egotistical Olympic hopeful.
Swimming – “Pride” (2007) – A true story about a coach starting an inner-city program in Philadelphia.
Tennis – Poor representation for this sport. Little to choose from for, by walkover, “Wimbledon” (2004) wins.
Track and field – “Chariots of Fire” (1981) – Winner of Best Picture; with one of the most unforgettable musical themes ever heard.
Wrestling – “Vision Quest” (1985) – Starring Modine and Linda Fiorentino, about a high school wrestler’s quest to defeat a particular opponent, the movie features a classic soundtrack (Madonna, Journey). For pro wrestling, would you believe The Fonz (Henry Winkler) in “The One and Only” (1978)?
I’m sure you can find others, but this is my list. I couldn’t find a place for Rol­ler­ball” (1975) because it’s not really a sport ... yet (FOX hasn’t figured out how to get it on TV). Let’s hear from you.


john austin back pain said...

That is a pretty extensive list.

My list:
Sea Biscuit
The Hustler – a stretch
Enter the Dragon – another stretch
Chariots of Fire – the best
Cinderella Man
Brian's Song
Slap Shot
The Rookie
The Natural
Tin Cup
Phar Lap
Remember the Titans

Anonymous said...

I can't believe you list chess as a sport and don't even mention cheerleading! Seriously? Competitive cheerleading combines the athleticism of dance and gymnastics. And, of course, the first Bring It On is the top cheerleading movie.

Chuck B. said...

Poor anonymous ... not only are your politics wrong, you don't know a thing about sports.
Let's say it loud and proud - cheerleading is NOT a sport - it is an activity. It is NOT an NCAA sport (as is dance NOT s sport either) or an Olympic sport.
Chess is more competition than cheerleading and has been covered by Sports Illustrated. All cheerleading involves is young, nubile girls (with overbearing motheers) in real short, short (bordering on obscene) skirts.
It is as mucha sport as "reality" television is truthful and unscripted.
Sorry, you lose again.

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