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Friday, March 04, 2005

Best Sports Movie Ever?

After Oscars, is there any debate?

I think that there still is.

Don't get me wrong. I liked "Million Dollar Baby", even for its sadness, its violence, its ending. It was a very good movie, but I don't think it was a great movie. I thought the plot to be somewhat formulaic, with the poor girl turning to boxing as a ticket out. I am a huge fan of Morgan Freeman, but wasn't his role a reprise, of sorts, of his role in "Shawshank Redemption?" Clint Eastwood was good, but I've always found him to be an actor of somewhat limited range. To me, Clint plays Clint. It turns out that Clint is just what this role needed, but he always plays that type of character. Finally, the cinematography and lighting were neat, but the convention of back-lighting and having characters come in and out of shadows, to me, was overused.

Am I nitpicking? Probably. Did Hillary Swank do a fine job, yes, but I don't actually think she was as good in her role as Annette Benning was in "Being Julia." Was the cast superb? Yes. Was the story compelling? Yes, again.

I didn't love "Raging Bull" and wasn't as agog over "Bull Durham" as many people, as my best man played minor league baseball for about 4 years and told me stories that made "Bull Durham" look like a cliche. I liked "Field of Dreams" better and think that "Eight Men Out" is perhaps the best baseball movie ever. Then again, I like most of the stuff that John Sayles does.

I suppose what I'm saying is that the moniker "best sports movie ever" is in the eye of the beholder. "Rocky" certainly captured people's imagination, and "Friday Night Lights" is a good film on HS football (although I thought the book was better). Some sports fans love "Rudy". I thought it to be an above-average film that had its moments.

"Hoosiers" was an excellent film, as was "Remember the Titans", and I never get tired of watching "The Natural" either. To me, there's something very picturesque about looking at the white lines of a baseball field, the bright bases, and the details of the ads and the scoreboards on the outfield walls. I didn't read the book "The Natural," but some purists liked it better than the film. I did read "Shoeless Joe", the book on which "Field of Dreams" is based, and this is once instance where I thought the movie more than did the book justice.

For what it's worth, here's my Top 22 (and I am sure I am missing a great movie somewhere):

1. Eight Men Out
2. Hoosiers
3. Rocky
4. Chariots of Fire
5. Million Dollar Baby
6. Remember the Titans
7. Friday Night Lights
8. Seabiscuit
9. Breaking Away
10. Raging Bull
11. The Natural
12. Field of Dreams
13. Bend It Like Beckham
14. Bull Durham
15. Caddyshack
16. Slapshot
17. The Rookie
18. Rudy
19. Bang the Drum Slowly
20. Brian's Song
21. He Got Game
22. Jerry Maguire

Those are the one's I've seen (I didn't see "Ali" or "*61", for example).

And then, of course, there's "Hoop Dreams", which is a documentary and doesn't fall into the same category. That story, to me, is the most compelling of all.

Clint Eastwood, Hillary Swank and Morgan Freeman are to be congratulated on a great movie. Just remember that the standards of the Academy are different from the standards of Fan Nation. The latter rewards movies for being the best-crafted, directed, acted and shot, while the former's standards are much more ethereal.

The most important thing of all is whether you yourself like a movie, can relax while watching it, and enjoy the story being told. "Million Dollar Baby" does compel us to confront some very complex issues, much more so than many of the other candidates referenced on the list. The reason that I prefer "Rocky" is that not only was the main character in "Rocky" an underdog, so was the movie itself. Now, that may not be a fair criterion, but "Rocky" was shot with relative nobodies on a shoestring budget. That, to me, is part of the movie's charm.

I have been fiddling around with this list for a while, but needed some post-Oscar reflection to figure out which movies I like the best and why. Unlike arguing about who is the best baseball player ever (which Allen Barra did in a recent book relying upon various stats as his metrics), there are no statistics here.

And that makes art some compelling. You can relax with it, you can enjoy it, and you can take it all in without having someone somewhere reduce it all to an algorithm for success.

So those are my favorites. What are yours?


Blogger Andy said...

Good call on Chariots of Fire. It's a tremendous movie that is often overlooked and forgotten. The music alone is enough to get me fired up.

12:17 PM  
Anonymous julie said...

sportsprof - no love for "the cutting edge?" come on! d.b. sweeney? no jobu shoutout in 'major league' either? i'm pretty sure once it's out "kicking and screaming" with will ferrell will make the cut. i also enjoyed "little giants", so i'm pretty sure my opinion shouldn't matter. who doesn't love "icebox?"

4:25 PM  
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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing those list. I didn't watch those other movies that was listed here because I don't know them. Since you share it here, I want to watch them.

Producer Chris Young

2:29 AM  

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