Sports Films: The 25 Best (IMHO) Part 2

watchingAnd 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
Slap+Shot+hansonbrosLet 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 r2original. 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
bullOne 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 caddyshackwas 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
waterboyIt 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 tnartistic 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 fppenned 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 dodgeballdoesn’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
louAnother 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 rocknewas 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.

 

 

15 Rudy
I really try not to let my utter contempt for Notre Dame bias any opinions about ancillary matters and rudythis 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. This8men 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.

 

 

13 61
This project is mostly about feature films, but I do feel compelled to include an exception. 61 is a 2001 61HBO 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.

12 Seabiscuit
Hard tack is a type of long lasting cracker often consumed by sailors & soldiers. Hard Tack was the biscuit-spanname 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 jm2a 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!!

A Few Book Recommendations for Baseball Fans

Sometimes I surprise myself by the predilections that I develop seemingly out of the mist. I have always fancied myself somewhat of a renaissance man who is interested in a wide range of subjects, which I generally consider a positive though I have noticed over the years that truly successful people seem to have tunnel vision and a laser focus on their vocation of choice. At any rate, this “variety is the spice of life” attitude spreads to the bookshelves in The Bachelor Palace as well, where one can find biographies of Founding Fathers alongside the Harry Potter series, books about agricultural science & history on the same shelf as Hemingway, and Shakespeare sharing space with The Hunger Games.

 

bballAt any rate I have…somewhat to my bewilderment…amassed quite a collection of baseball biographies. This is surprising to me because my feelings about baseball have been tepid at best for quite awhile, although as simple as it sounds and as trivial as it may seem to some I think the success thus far of the 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates has me on the verge of falling in deep like with our national pastime once again. However, I also think it wise to look a bit deeper because you see my bookshelves are not filled with recent biographies about contemporary players like Derek Jeter, Mike Piazza, John Smoltz, or RA Dickey. Cheating scandals & rampant drug use still cause me to be a bit jaded about the modern game of baseball. Instead what you’ll find lining the walls of The Bachelor Palace are tomes about hallowed names of yesteryear…Ruth, Aaron, Mays, Mantle, Maris, Musial.

If I could hope in the ol’ DeLorean and go back in time I think one of the places I might like to visit would be the world of baseball during its golden age. I’d like to catch some games at places like Ebbets Field or The Polo Grounds, see teams like The Gashouse Gang & The Whiz Kids, and watch Hall of Famers like Dizzy Dean, Pie Traynor, & Pee Wee Reese. Why?? That’s an excellent question that I may address more in depth at some other time. For now it will suffice to say that our collective bromance with this bygone era and the quintessential American game that helped define it seems eternal and that’s okay with me.

Which is all a longwinded precursor to me endorsing three excellent baseball biographies that I have read in years past and that are likely to be enjoyed by any baseball fan. There will be sequels on this particular topic, but I think it best to just whet your appetite right now with a few recommendations:

 

Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball’s Last Hero

Unfortunately one of the most beloved Pittsburgh Pirates of all time died in a tragic plane crash on New Year’s Eve 1972 when I was just 2 months old. However, growing up as a Pirates fan and living just a couple of hours from Pittsburgh means that I have heard a lot about Roberto Clemente my entire life. The Pirates organization has done an excellent job of keeping his memory alive over the past 40 years and recognizing what a truly special talent he was. However, one need not be a Pirates fan to enjoy this first-rate biography about Clemente written by David rcMaraniss, whose biography about Green Bay Packers football coach Vince Lombardi called When Pride Still Mattered is still one of the best books of any genre I have ever read. That combined with my admiration for what I’d always heard about Clemente were what prompted me to purchase this book about 5 years ago. This is a well written & engrossing story that is reverent & respectful yet honest about its subject. Clemente was somewhat neurotic & sensitive and felt the weight of being a black latino superstar. He was often treated shabbily by the press but could give as good as he got. In other words Clemente was a flawed human being just like the rest of us. That being said, his nobility & kindness shines through as well. And the author doesn’t shortchange the baseball aspect of things. I sometimes feel as though Roberto Clemente is overlooked in discussions about the greats of the game, with only long time Pirates fans willing to reserve for him his proper place among the baseball immortals. The fact is that not only should Clemente rank right up there with the best that ever played game, but he could have been even better if not for various physical ailments that plagued him throughout life. This is a book that should be read not only by anyone who calls themselves a Pittsburgh Pirates fan, but also by everyone who loves the game of baseball.

 

Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig

When I was in college I had the opportunity to take a class about sports movies. Yes that really is a thing…and it was gehrigawesome. We watched Knute Rocke: All American (with future President Ronald Reagan as The Gipper), The Natural, and Rocky…among others. But I think my favorite may have been Pride of the Yankees starring Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig. Most people know two things about Gehrig. They know that he was baseball’s “Iron Man”, having played in 2130 consecutive games between 1925 & 1939 (a record that stood for 56 years until Cal Ripken Jr. broke it in 1995), and they know that he died at age 37 from the debilitating muscle disease that now bears his name. But there is so much more to Gehrig and this book tells the story well. Many who have seen Pride of the Yankees may attribute the perception we have of Gehrig as a soft spoken, humble, down-to-earth guy to Gary Cooper’s wide-eyed, aw shucks, boy-next-door portrayal, but what the reader of Luckiest Man begins to understand is that Cooper’s portrayal was an extremely accurate representation of who Gehrig truly was. That’s not to say that Gehrig was perfect. He was a timid momma’s boy that didn’t mesh all that well with outgoing & gregarious teammate Babe Ruth and was caught in the middle of a lifelong tug-of-war between his mother and his wife that many more…forceful…men might have put the kibosh on pretty quick. But hey…we all have our issues, right?? The best endorsement I can give this book is that I am a lifelong hater of everything NY Yankees and because of the movie and this book I actually respect Lou Gehrig. You will too.

 

Joe DiMaggio : The Hero’s Life

dimaggio08_1_41Another Yankee?? Hmmm…maybe it’s just the modern day Yankees that I hate. If I had been around 60 years ago I might actually be a Yankee fan. Anyway, I remember when this biography came out about 13 years ago it was pretty controversial. Joltin’ Joe had always been a national treasure…a hero to Italian Americans, the apple of every girl’s eye, and the envy of every red-blooded male because of his graceful athletic skill and later his marriage to goddess Marilyn Monroe. Even in retirement he became the folksy pitchman for Mr. Coffee in the 1970’s & 80’s. But author Richard Ben Cramer lays waste to the DiMaggio mythos and exposes our hero as being yet another very flawed individual (I’m sensing a theme). The DiMaggio we read about here is an often petty, usually vain, sometimes bitter, frequently materialistic, largely unhappy man with an overinflated ego and a suspicious nature that had a negative impact on most of his personal relationships. The Hero’s Life is a stark reminder that just because someone can run fast, hit hard, or handle a ball with deft skill doesn’t mean they are a nice person. I suppose with guys like Barry Bonds, Lance Armstrong, Kobe Bryant, & Alex Rodriguez around we are all well aware of that fact, but it is interesting to realize that such phonies have been around for many many decades and fascinating to compare & contrast how joe-dimaggiotechnology doesn’t allow such individuals to hide their hypocrisy too well these days, whereas in DiMaggio’s time he & a complicit media were quite successful in creating a graceful, classy, refined image. Some may think Cramer’s book to be harsh or even malicious, but I generally found it to be insightful & fair. It is most definitely a page turner and a must read for every baseball fan.

100 Favorite Movies…..91-95

We continue on our path with a set of five disparate films that show just how eclectic my tastes can be. By now faithful readers are probably gaining some insight into my psyche, atleast so far as what entertains me. Please don’t hesitate to provide feedback, positive or otherwise. I claim no monopoly on defining quality amusement and always welcome the insight of others.

 

 

 

95 Uncle Buck
One of the most regrettable losses in American cinema during the past two decades was the untimely death of John Candy due to heart disease. Not really an A-List star or leading man, Candy nevertheless had an impressive career and brought joy to millions in such films as Spaceballs, National Lampoon’s Vacation, and Stripes. And while the majority of his roles were supporting and bit parts, there are two significant lead roles that stand out, one of those being in Uncle Buck. Buck is a slovenly bachelor who is unexpectedly called upon to babysit his nieces and nephew. The kids are a real handful, especially the eldest daughter, a rebellious teenager, but Buck has his own unique brand of parenting and discipline. Hilarity ensues. I’m not usually a fan of overly schmaltzy conclusions…..”heartwarming” mishandled triggers the gag reflex. But Uncle Buck does it right and has fun along the way, without resorting to the foulness so omnipresent in many modern films. It is also a departure of sorts for director John Hughes, known so well for his 80’s teen hits. It seems odd to say, but I believe Hughes is one of the most underappreciated writers and directors out there. This movie also introduced the world to Macaulay Culkin, who would become a 10 year old megastar just a year later in Home Alone.

 

94 Hook
One of my sincerest beliefs in pondering the topic of movies is that the actual movie viewing experience can have a significant impact on one’s opinion. Where the movie is seen, who one is with, what one may be experiencing in life at the moment…..all can enhance (or in rare cases be a detriment to) the enjoyment and long term memory of a particular film. I saw Hook while in college in an old, historic theater with two of my best friends. We were literally the only three people in the theater and we had a blast. It’s one of my fondest memories. The fact that Robin Williams is one of my very favorite actors (and Dustin Hoffman isn’t exactly a slouch) also plays a part in my high opinion. Though not a critical success, and not without some issues (Julia Roberts as Tinkerbell?? please), I find Hook to be a perfectly logical update of the Peter Pan mythology, the story being that he grew up and is now a Type A workaholic that doesn’t spend enough time with his family. It’s a very 90’s kind of theme and it works

 

93 Honeymoon In Vegas
A movie’s setting and its music are two key elements to success. Think Jaws and that haunting theme, Grease and its 1950’s high school motif and awesome soundtrack, The Blues Brothers with its Chicago backdrop and bluesy vibe, or Saturday Night Fever and disco. A perfect example of this vital relationship is Honeymoon in Vegas. Would Honeymoon in Myrtle Beach or Honeymoon in the Bahamas have worked?? Probably not. Now, I must admit that I’m a sucker for all things Vegas and have been planning a trip there for awhile, but looking at it as objectively as possible it cannot be denied that the Las Vegas backdrop just seems to work. Ocean’s Eleven (and Ocean’s 13), Bugsy, Rain Man, Casino, Swingers…..one could compile quite an impressive Vegas filmography (and yes, I’m conveniently ignoring Showgirls…..they can’t all be gems). The cast is superb, headlined by Nicolas Cage and James Caan, with solid performances by the always vivacious Sarah Jessica Parker, Pat Morita of Karate Kid and Happy Days fame, and a group of skydiving Elvis impersonators. Speaking of The King, the soundtrack is made up of Elvis covers done by a variety of artists including Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, and John Cougar Cougar-Mellencamp Mellencamp and ain’t bad at all.

 

92 The Ten Commandments
If it weren’t for the ever increasing hatred of Christianity in America I’d say The Ten Commandments is a perfect candidate for a big budget remake. The only problem with the original is the now antiquated special effects. Imagine what CGI and other modern tricks of the trade could accomplish in scenes like the parting of The Red Sea or Moses encountering the burning bush? Of course the other issue (besides liberal Godlessness) would be replacing Charlton Heston as Moses…..certainly no easy task. Anyway, until that day comes…if it ever comes…we have the original and it’s just fine. Is it Biblically accurate? Not exactly. There is a certain amount of poetic license taken by director Cecil B. Demille. But it isn’t offensively out of bounds either. Heston sadly became a caricature in the last couple decades of his life, but at one time he was among the most highly esteemed actors of his generation, and nowhere is he better than in The Ten Commandments. Surprisingly the film continues to be an Easter tradition on ABC television, giving millions an ongoing opportunity to enjoy and embrace its greatness.

 

91 Pride of the Yankees
The story of baseball legend Lou Gehrig is atleast somewhat familiar to even non-fans. This film chronicled his life just a few short years after his death caused by the disease that now bears his name. I first saw Pride of the Yankees in college during a sports films class (yes, such a class exists…and it was an easy A and a lot of fun) and loved it, even though I’m not a big Yankee guy. The real story is touching and emotional, and the movie does it justice. Gary Cooper is perfectly cast, as is Teresa Wright, and actress that never became a big star much to the surprise of anyone who sees her as Gehrig’s chipper wife Eleanor. It is the love story of Lou and Eleanor Gehrig that is the true soul of the movie, and that’s just fine, even in the eyes of a person like myself who doesn’t usually gravitate towards sentimental romance. Some of the scenes involving Lou’s German immigrant parents might seem a bit corny to modern audiences, but that minor infraction can be forgiven. Of course it all culminates with Gehrig’s legendary speech at Yankee Stadium where he declared himself “the luckiest man on the face of the Earth”. Not long ago I read a superb Gehrig biography by Jonathan Eig entitled Luckiest Man and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys this movie.