Sports are one of the few things that can instantly connect people, or immediately label them enemies. Much like sports themselves, films on the topic are also often just as contested. To add to a constantly growing conversation, I have here my Top Five Favorite Sports Films.
5. Goon (2011)
I’m not a hockey fan by any means but I absolutely love hockey movies. My theory is that with film, they cut out all the downtime and just leave in the exciting stuff. Goon is excellent because not only is it based on a true story (seriously), it also stars Seann William Scott and Liev Schreiber. Scott plays a guy who gets recruited to be the enforcer (resident fighter/tough guy) for a minor league hockey team. He spends the season getting into fights on the ice and generally kicking the crap out of anyone that dares to cross him or anyone on his team. It all leads up to the final game where he’ll come up against his idol, another enforcer, Ross “The Boss” Rhea (Liev Schreiber). How can you hear that description and not think it’s going to be awesome? It’s a film about hockey players hired to beat each other up and they’re played by Seann (I’m a comedy genius) William Scott and Liev (don’t mess with me) Schreiber.
4. The Longest Yard (1974)
Strangely enough, football is my favorite sport yet I rarely see a football movie that I like. Perhaps to me, football is just so much more engaging and intense live than watching it cut up in a movie. The Longest Yard is one of the exceptions to this rule. Paul “Wrecking” Crewe (Burt Reynolds), a former pro football player is arrested after stealing his girlfriend’s car and getting involved in a police chase. He goes to jail, where he is “talked” into forming a football team comprised of prisoners to play against a team of guards. Though it is a comedy, there are quite a few surprisingly serious moments in the film (there is a murder plot that ends up killing the wrong person) but they are balanced well with the comedic aspects. Burt Reynolds is in his element and I don’t think the film would have worked with any other lead (case in point, the 2005 remake). Let’s pretend the Adam Sandler version doesn’t exist because it really can’t compete, in any way, with the Burt Reynolds one. Mostly because Burt Reynolds is too much awesome for anyone to imitate and Adam Sandler is, well, Adam Sandler.
3. Remember the Titans (2000)
After all that talk about not liking football movies I have yet another on my list. Based on a true story, this film does a great job weaving the sports elements and the dramatic elements together. A desegregated school in 1971 hires a black head coach to run the football program. Tensions rise and obstacles are put in place to prevent the team, and coach, from succeeding in the first season they are integrated. They overcome great odds and end up winning the championship. What makes it that much more amazing is that the movie is inspired by true events. These things really happened. I think that’s why the emotional level of the film is so high. Denzel Washington shines as Coach Boone and the supporting cast was so perfectly selected that it seems a miracle they got everyone they did. Plus, the football scenes actually feel like a football game. It is so rare for filmmakers to get the sports part of a sports film right but they did a wonderful job with this one.
2. Miracle (2004)
Speaking of miracles. Here is another hockey film, and another film based on a true story. It follows the story of the 1980 US Men’s Ice Hockey team. Remember that the events of this film take place during the Cold War, when the Soviets were, well, not our friends. Second, remember that the Olympics are a huge source of patriotism and pride for many countries, especially in hard times. Finally consider that, in 1980, we were major underdogs. We weren’t expected to even compete at the level of the Soviet team. Our team was made up of an array of players from different backgrounds that had varying degrees of experience, none of which really matched the Soviets, at least not on paper. All of this combined sounds like an overly complicated, unbelievable plot made up by the idealistic minds at Disney. That’s what makes it incredible. It’s true. We actually overcame these things to win the 1980 Olympics. There is something so wonderfully entrancing about an impossible true story combined with the fervor of sports that makes for excellent storytelling.
1. Bull Durham (1988)
Along with hockey, baseball is right up there with sports I just can’t get into but I still enjoy films about it. This film has everything you could want from a sports film. There is the veteran player (Kevin Costner) that comes to the minors to impart wisdom upon the talented but sloppy rookie (Tim Robbins). There is a romantic triangle between the veteran, rookie and the beautiful older woman, Annie (Susan Sarandon). Then there is the classic underdog story everyone loves. All of these things mesh together to create what is, in my opinion, the best sports film, and especially the best baseball film. This is definitely Kevin Costner’s best performance. There is a real appreciation of the sport, and of good filmmaking evident in the final product and I think that is what makes a great sports film, and even a great film in general. Appreciate your subject material and the art form through which you are telling your story.