Looking over the films I have selected as my picks for the best sports movies, it has dawned on me that there are still many of these that I still need to see. So before you all give me that look of utter befuddlement with your mouth wide open and your jaw slipping closer to the ground, I would like to announce that the following movies will be added immediately to my Netflix rental queue:
Field of Dreams
Eight Men Out
North Dallas Forty
Please feel free to suggest others that I should see, and which I have no excuse for not watching already. Just please keep this in mind; I have already seen “Bloodsport” with Jean Claude Van Damme. For me, the fight scenes were the only thing worth watching it for.
So here we go with my picks for the 5 best sports movies, and they are presented here (once again) in no particular order:
What initially started out as a 30 minute documentary that was to be shown on PBS later turned into a nearly three hour documentary that reached a bigger audience than anyone could have anticipated. In “Hoop Dreams,” filmmakers Peter Gilbert, Steve James, and Frederick Marx followed the lives of two inner city kids (Arthur Agee and William Gates) as the pursue their dreams of becoming professional basketball players. It also chronicles their academic and personal struggles, and we get to see their families up close and see what they go through.
“Hoop Dreams” also gives us one of the most intimate looks of inner cite life ever put on film, and breaks down the stereotypes many of us have when we look at these places from a safe distance.
Do not let the fact that this is a documentary immediately turn you away from seeing it. This is by no means your average documentary with a bunch of talking heads, not by a longshot. “Hoop Dreams” turns out to be one of the most exciting and exhilirating movies ever made, and you do not watch as much as you experience these kids on the basketball courts, and of how their families constantly struggle to get by as best they can. You really do feel their heartache when things do not work out for them as it feels like we lost along with them. “Hoop Dreams” was released back in 1994, and it ended up putting many other action and drama movies to shame. Just about nothing could’ve topped what you saw here. Be sure to check out the Criterion Collection edition when you have the chance.
“Hoop Dreams” is a truly brilliant documentary, and like all brilliant documentaries released back then, it did not get nominated for an Oscar.
Click here to purchase “Hoop Dreams” from Amazon.com
Upon deciding to do this list, “Bull Durham” was really the first movie that came to mind. I still remember watching it with my family years ago, and it has stayed with me ever since. It was written and directed by Ron Shelton who has since gone on to direct some other great sports movies like “Tin Cup” and “White Men Can’t Jump.” While many baseball movies love to deal with the major leagues, this film focuses on the minor leagues and how much looser and more fun they are. Having had some baseball experience himself, Ron Shelton gives us an insiders look at this side of the ballgame that wouldn’t normally get to see, and his knowledge of it all makes the film more unique, not to mention funny and sexy as hell.
“Bull Durham” is also the movie that introduced me to the acting powerhouse that is Susan Sarandon as she gives one of her very best performances as Annie Savoy, an english teacher who believes in the “church of baseball.” The fact that Sarandon did not get nominated for this role still feels like a travesty 20 years later, and her omission is every bit as inexcusable as it was for “Hoop Dreams.” Kevin Costner and Tim Robbins also star, and they do some of their best work ever here as Sarandon decides over which of them she would like to seduce. What goes on from there contains some of the funniest and sexually uninhibited dialogue that I have ever heard in any other sports movie.
When you check this out on DVD, please be sure to listen to Shelton’s commentary as he says a lot about the world of minor league baseball as well as the making of the film. It is one of the best commentaries I have ever listened to.
Click here to purchase “Bull Durham” from Amazon.com
The Karate Kid
One of the great 80’s classics from my youth, “The Karate Kid” was directed by John G. Avildsen who gave us the Best Picture winning “Rocky,” and with this movie he showed that he still knew how to give audiences a rousing good time. It follows the unlikely friendship of Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio), a New Jersey native who has just moved to California with his mother, and their new apartment building’s janitor Mr. Miyagi (the late Pat Morita). Daniel ends up having a really lousy start as he ends up getting beat down by the toughest kids in town; a bunch of karate students from the Cobra Kai dojo who are taught by Vietnam war veteran Sensai Kreese (Martin Kove). From there, Mr. Miyagi teaches Daniel karate so that he can learn to defend himself against future attacks, and in the process gain the balance in life he needs.
Looking back at this movie years later, this was not just your average story of the one kid who got back at the bullies. It really gave you a true understanding of what karate was all about. It’s not at all about how you can kick someone’s ass in no time (although that part of it makes it enticing), but of gaining confidence in yourself and your body. Through his unorthodox training with Mr. Miyagi (“wax on, wax off”), he gains a wisdom of the world around him he may have not been able to find anywhere else. It’s still a highly entertaining movie to watch every once in awhile, and I still get all hyped at the movie’s climax where it all comes down to one last fight.
Click here to purchase “The Karate Kid” from Amazon.com
Click here to read a full review of “The Karate Kid”
Not just one of the greatest romantic movies ever, but one of the most indepth as it offers a look at the life of a sports agent. I know many of you can’t stand Tom Cruise anymore, but let’s face facts, he gives one of his greatest performances as the title character. Jerry is a sports agent who ends up developing a crisis of conscience and writes a memo that he sends to his fellow colleagues. In Jerry’s memo, he encourages everyone to take on less clients so that they can give each one more attention to their needs. As a result, he ends up getting fired by his own protege (Jay Mohr) and vows to make his memo a reality for him. Along for the ride is loyal and smitten secretary Dorothy Boyd (Renee Zellweger), and the crazily egotistical football player that is Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr. in an Oscar winning performance).
I wonder if there is another writer/director alive who can create characters with the most unique of relationships in film like Cameron Crowe. His films like this, “Say Anything” and “Almost Famous” feature such realistic relationships with all their stubborn dynamics, and they all make his movie seem so much more real than the average formulaic romantic comedies that all seem to have the same plot. Also, Crowe really gets inside the world of sports agents to where we see it is mostly about money and deals more than anything else. Thanks to Crowe and Cruise, they make you believe that this side of the sports world can be made better and far more productive. No one else could have done it better, and that’s even if they did get shown the money.
Click here to purchase “Jerry Maguire” from Amazon.com
As much as I would love to put “Raging Bull” up here, I have to go with Darren Aronofsky’s brilliant and emotionally draining “The Wrestler.” It offers a closer look at the world of pro wrestling as we follow Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson (Mickey Rourke) as he goes from one small venue to another. Randy used to be a huge star back in the days of hair metal, but now he is living life at the bottle of the barrell as he lives in a trailer home, works during the week at a supermarket, and who is dealing with the permanent injuries wrestling has dealt him over the years. When Randy ends up suffering a serious heart attack, he is forced to re-evaluate his life and decide what he can do with himself from here. However, this movie does not come equipped with your happy Hollywood ending.
Mickey Rourke, amazingly buffed up here, gives the mother of all comeback performances that should have damn well won him the Best Actor Oscar over Sean Penn (he won instead of “Milk”). You don’t want to think about who else could have played this role after watching how much Mickey immersed himself into this role. I also love how Aronofsky takes us backstage with different wrestlers, and it allows you to see if all we see of it on television is real or fake. There is great camaraderie to be found among the players, and Randy is treated like a legend among them. We also see how staged the fights are in terms of how each wrestler in a match is in agreement over what the outcome should be, and of all the little tricks they use like hiding razor blades in their pants and use it to cut their face when no one is looking.
“The Wrestler” was a true powerhouse of a movie that was one of 2008’s very best, and Aronofsky gives it a look that thankfully lacks all the slickness of a typical high budget Hollywood production. What unfolds feels so much more real than most of the other sports movies out there.
Click here to purchase “The Wrestler” from Amazon.com
Click here to read a full review of “The Wrestler”
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a couple of other sports movies I am expected to watch. But not to worry, I won’t be starting with “The Waterboy,” and I have already seen “Happy Gilmore” (hilarious). I’ll try starting off with “Hoosiers” and go from there…