And we’re back!! I hope you enjoyed Part 1, which I assume you did or you wouldn’t be back. Logic rules. Anyway, the middle part of our batting order contains a wide variety, including more hilarious Saturday Night Live alumni, some movies older than my Dad, & one or two entries that you won’t be startled to see but may be somewhat surprised to see so soon. Remember, these are my own opinions and I am fully aware that others might view things differently. Please leave me some comments about what sports movies you like or don’t like, and if you haven’t yet been Manotized and become a citizen of The Manoverse you’re just a click away from one of the best decisions you’ll make all day.
20 Slapshot / Rocky II
Let me say two things. First, hockey is probably my least favorite of the major sports (which, since I live in America, doesn’t include soccer). Secondly, I’m just a skosh too young to see what the big deal is about Paul Newman. Several of his most notable films were made either before I was born or when I was an infant, and a lot of them seem to be westerns, which just aren’t my thing. That being said, I have enjoyed a few Newman performances, chief among them this outing as a veteran player-coach for a minor league hockey team on the verge of going belly-up. The team’s braintrust decides to focus on keeping the club financially viable by making it an entertaining sideshow rather than a competitive entity. Hilarity ensues, including the three Hanson Brothers, man-children with a hysterical penchant for thuggery & rulebreaking. Rocky II is the inevitable sequel to the original. Hindsight proves that this is a series that peaked in its initial outing and had, for the most part, diminishing returns thereafter. However, II isn’t too far gone from the quality if its predecessor, and (spoiler alert) it’s the one where The Italian Stallion finally wins the title so I cannot exclude it from this particular honor roll.
19 Raging Bull / Caddyshack
One normally wouldn’t think of this pair of films together, but I do for a simple reason. Both films would likely be rated far higher on most any other list they’d be on. Caddyshack…the classic 1980 story of The Haves vs. The Have Nots at a snooty country club…is consistently ranked as one of the funniest movies of all time. Raging Bull…a biopic of 1940’s pugilist Jake LaMotta that was also in theaters in 1980…is generally considered not only one of the greatest sports films but among the finest movies of any genre. The pedigrees for both are impressive. Caddyshack was directed by Harold Ramis and stars Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, Rodney Dangerfield, & Ted Knight. Raging Bull was directed by Martin Scorsese and stars Robert DeNiro (who won the Academy Award for Best Actor) and Joe Pesci in one of his earliest roles. DeNiro, much like Pacino, makes anything he is in awesome. I think the timing was just a bit off in relation to my enjoyment of these particular movies. They aren’t the kind of stories that an 8 year old kid is going to watch on the big screen, and by the time I saw them and began to understand their greatness I had developed my own tastes and had a bunch of other films that I preferred. Caddyshack is more in my wheelhouse since I like comedy, while Raging Bull just can’t compare, in my humble opinion, to another boxing film that we’ll discuss eventually.
18 The Waterboy / Talladega Nights
It will probably surprise many that Adam Sandler has a couple of entries in this little countdown. When one thinks about sport movies it is unlikely that Sandler would automatically come to mind. However, a sub-genre that I am especially fond of is the sports comedy. I like comedy and I love sports so I suppose it makes sense. The Waterboy is vintage Sandler back when he was at the pinnacle of his career nearly two decades ago. It tells the story of a dimwitted country bumpkin from Louisiana’s bayou who goes from abused waterboy to college football star thanks to classic Sandler rage. The supporting cast is terrific, with Henry Winkler (aka Fonzie) as a mild mannered coach and Academy Award winner Kathy Bates as an overprotective mother standing out above the rest. As with many of Sandler’s popular films critics hated The Waterboy while real people continue to gleefully watch it over & over again. Much like Sandler, fellow SNL alum Will Ferrell is a love him or hate him kind of actor. His films aren’t artistic masterpieces that get four stars from stuffed shirts, but Joe Sixpack tends to enjoy them. In Talladega Nights he teams with the vastly underrated John C. Reilly to form an odd NASCAR racing duo. Ricky Bobby is the kind of smug simpleton role that Ferrell has perfected, and the writing is pretty sharp for an alleged “dumb” comedy. There’s plenty of on track action and a clichéd climactic race. Both of these films are just a lot of silly fun, and I see nothing wrong with that.
17 Fever Pitch / Dodgeball
Speaking of silly fun & SNL alums…
Fever Pitch is actually based on a novel written by Nick Hornby, the same British author who penned High Fidelity and About a Boy, both of which were adapted into films as well. This particular story was originally about soccer and I believe a more faithful movie was made in 1997. However, this is America and we couldn’t care less about soccer, so the script was reworked into a tale about baseball for this 2005 effort starring Jimmy Fallon & Drew Barrymore. There are a few interesting things about Fever Pitch. First of all, it leans heavily toward rom-com territory so some may not really consider it a sports film. In my humble opinion though there’s enough sports involved for it to make the cut. Secondly, the filming happened to take place during the miraculous season when the Boston Red Sox broke the infamous Curse of the Bambino, which necessitated a change to the movie’s intended ending. And finally, this is a story (aside from the romantic stuff) about a fan. A hardcore fan. An obsessed fan. A fan who eats, drinks, sleeps, & breathes baseball and lives & dies with his team’s every win or loss. We can all see just a little bit of ourselves in him. Fallon & Barrymore are a charming duo and it’s a shame they never made any more movies together. Dodgeball is kind of unusual in that it doesn’t feature an actual sport but instead focuses on a game most of us played as children. However, it utilizes the sports movie playbook all the way. I’m a Vince Vaughn fan even though he pretty much plays the same kind of affable slacker in every movie he makes. I suppose if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, right?? This is another silly comedy that’s not going to change lives or add anything meaningful to intelligent conversation, but if you’re chillin’ out and looking for a delightful way to waste a couple of hours it’ll do the trick just fine.
16 Pride of the Yankees / Knute Rockne: All-American
Another true story: When I was in college I saw these two entries during a class I took about sports films. Yes that was actually a thing. I can’t remember if I got an A, but one would hope so because if a person can’t score an easy A in that class what hope do they have dealing with legitimate scholastic material?? At any rate, these movies were both released in the early 1940’s within a couple years of one another. Pride is the story of New York Yankees legend Lou Gehrig and chronicles his rise from a baseball player at Columbia University all the way thru his legendary Iron Man streak with the Bronx Bombers, culminating in his untimely demise from the illness that now bears his name. We also get a glimpse at Gehrig’s family life, especially the dynamic between his overprotective mother and the lovely young lady that becomes his bride. It is kind of an outdated, corny movie and prime material for a remake…if anyone under the age of 40 knew who Lou Gehrig was, Cal Ripken, Jr. hadn’t broken Gehrig’s Iron Man record a couple of decades ago, & there was an actor on the planet who could portray Gehrig as impressively as Gary Cooper. Rockne was the football coach for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish from 1918 to 1930, winning four national championships in five undefeated seasons (I know that makes no sense but if you are curious feel free to do some research) before being tragically killed in a plane crash. To this day he still has the highest winning percentage of any Division 1A football coach in history. All-American tells Rockne’s story, although these days it is probably more notable for the appearance of future President Ronald Reagan as The Gipper, complete with a legendary speech that atleast 75% of hardcore football fans can recite from memory.
I really try not to let my utter contempt for Notre Dame bias any opinions about ancillary matters and this certainly would qualify, but, objectively speaking, Rudy is a really solid movie. Based on the true story of Daniel Ruettiger, a young Illinois man who grew up in the 1950’s dreaming of playing football for the Fighting Irish, Rudy is a classic underdog story…the foundation of sports cinema. You see, Daniel had everything going against him. His family was poor. He was dyslexic & had below average grades. And…oh, by the way…he was 5ft.6 and 170lbs. soaking wet. That’s hardly the kind of “athlete” one of the nation’s elite football programs typically recruits. But Ruettiger was persistent, and after a couple of years in the Navy, a couple of years working at the local power plant with his father & brother, and then getting his academics up to par at a less stringent institution of higher learning, he finally enrolled at Notre Dame at the age of 26 and walked on to the football team. Now does that mean that he became a superstar athlete?? Of course not. That’s not what Rudy is about. Vince Lombardi may have said that “winning is the only thing”, but different people define victory in a variety of ways. This film is notable as well for being amongst the earliest work of both Vince Vaughn & Jon Favreau.
14 Eight Men Out
Baseball fans of all ages should be atleast somewhat familiar with the 1919 Black Sox scandal. This movie is based on a 1963 book written about that situation. Both the book & the film are quite good. The cast isn’t all that memorable with the exception of John Cusack & Charlie Sheen, who were both up & coming performers when the movie was made in the late 80’s, but the performances are all solid. The players who were eventually banned forever from baseball aren’t given a free pass for their errors in judgment, but the prevailing viewpoint is that they were far from villains, that there were understandable circumstances that led to poor decisions. I first saw Eight Men Out many years ago and came away believing that maybe…just maybe…the punishment was a bit too harsh, but then again I’m compassionate like that. Your mileage may vary.
This project is mostly about feature films, but I do feel compelled to include an exception. 61 is a 2001 HBO movie about the competition to best Babe Ruth’s single season home run record, one that had been setting the pace since 1927. The number 61 has a double meaning. First, Ruth’s record was 60 homers in a season so 61 would break the record. Also, the action in this film takes place during the 1961 MLB season. The focus is on two men…New York Yankees outfielders Mickey Mantle & Roger Maris, and their contrasting lifestyles & demeanors. By 1961 Mantle was a living legend, another in a long line of Yankee icons, whose drinking & hard partying ways were well documented. Conversely, Maris was a quiet & old-fashioned guy from North Dakota who felt and was often treated like an outsider in The Bronx. Even though we know how this home run race turned out the story is still compelling and the examination of the personalities & relationships is fascinating. It is a well-written script and the performances are terrific. The film was directed by lifelong Yankees fan Billy Crystal, who really should direct more often. In my heart & mind Maris, an honest & humble man, is still baseball’s single season home run king.
Hard tack is a type of long lasting cracker often consumed by sailors & soldiers. Hard Tack was the name of a race horse in the 1930’s. Hard Tack fathered a race horse named Seabiscuit. Sea biscuit is an alternative term for the aforementioned cracker. Interesting. Seabiscuit (the movie) is based on a really good book about that young racehorse, who won a lot of races in the late 30’s. Like so many great sports films it’s an underdog story. In this case the horse was an underdog, but so was its owner, trainer, & jockey. There’s a lot of inspirational relationship stuff here, but oddly enough there’s no romance, atleast not the kind we usually see. It’s a well-written story with many of the characteristic sports movie brush strokes, but Seabiscuit is better than average. We don’t pay as much attention to horse racing in America as we once did, for various reasons, but it is still the sport of kings and this movie will remind you of that.
11 Jerry Maguire
It had me at hello. It completes me. But is it a sports film?? Ehhh…I suppose, although it’s really more of a romantic dramedy, which is why I am putting it this far down in the countdown. It does tell a story from the perspective of an agent, which is unique. We get an interesting peek inside the cutthroat business side of sports, including some fun cameos from former Eagles frontman Glenn Frey as a team owner, real life agent Leigh Steinberg, ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr., and a plethora of former NFL players and other athletes. And we even see some on-the-field drama courtesy of Rod “Show Me the Money” Tidwell, a role that won Cuba Gooding Jr. an Academy Award.
That’s it for now. Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion…coming soon!!