100 Memorable Movie Characters…Part 3

 

“We live in a box of space & time. Movies are windows in its walls. They allow us to enter other minds, not simply in the sense of identifying with the characters, but by seeing the world as another person sees it.”  –  Roger Ebert

 

 

 

My apologies for the slow progress of our little project. I actually had this ready to post last weekend, but ran into some personal issues…sad circumstances that I’d rather not revisit at the moment. I am thankful for the diversion The Manofesto provides during tough times. This space has been a godsend for me thru the years…cathartic, even when the subject matter might not be indicative of that fact. If even one person out there has gotten half as much pleasure out of reading this stuff as I’ve had writing it then it’s all been worth it. Anyway, if you haven’t read Parts 1 & 2 please take some time to catch up. We’ll leave the light on for you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

50     Scout Finch (To Kill A Mockingbird)

Her proper given name is Jean Louise Finch, and she’s the precocious daughter of a respected attorney in 1930’s Alabama. Scout also narrates the story, the crux of which is a controversial rape trial wherein her father is defending the accused. Along the way she spends time with her brother Jem & their pal Dill Harris and becomes fascinated with mysterious neighbor Boo Radley. She loves & respects her father, and slowly begins to understand the deeper issues that plague her community. To Kill A Mockingbird won the 1961 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and was adapted into a film just a year later. The movie was nominated for eight Academy Awards, winning three. Actress Mary Badham was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Scout Finch but lost to Patty Duke for her role as Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker. Badham was the youngest actress ever nominated for that particular award until Tatum O’Neal took home the trophy a decade later. Badham had a very short acting career that was essentially over by the time she was 14 years old, but I suppose when you star in To Kill A Mockingbird right out of the gate the bar is set rather high. The novel is one of my favorite books of all time, and thankfully the movie stays as faithful to it as one could expect.

 

Quotes

“Maycomb was a tired old town, even in 1932 when I first knew it. Somehow it was hotter then. Men’s stiff collars wilted by 9am, ladies bathed before noon after their 3pm naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frosting from sweating & sweet talcum. The day was 24 hours long, but it seemed longer. There’s no hurry, for there’s nowhere to go, nothing to buy, and no money to buy it with. Although Maycomb County had recently been told that it had nothing to fear but fear itself, that summer I was six years old.”

“Neighbors bring food with death, flowers with sickness, and little things in between. Boo was our neighbor. He gave us two soap dolls, a broken watch & chain, a knife… and our lives.”

 

 

 

49     Lord Voldemort (The Harry Potter Series)

He Who Must Not Be Named!! This dude is so evil people don’t even want to mention his name, which is pretty heavy stuff. I’m a much bigger fan of the Potter books than the movies, mostly because the books are so massive that the movies necessarily leave a lot of minor characters & subplots on the cutting room floor. Obviously though Voldemort doesn’t have that issue. Thru the course of the series we learn how his life began as Tom Marvolo Riddle, his father abandoned he & his mother, the mother died so Tom ended up in an orphanage, he met Albus Dumbledore who got him into Hogwarts School, and Tom descended into a psychotic murderer who became the most powerful wizard in the world. He is obsessed with becoming immortal, especially after losing his physical body upon killing James & Lily Potter. When you get right down to it the entire Potter story can be boiled down to Good vs. Evil, and Voldemort is basically a fictionalized version of Satan. Good vs. Evil is a staple in literature, movies, & other forms of entertainment, and there is always a Bad Guy. Having said that, I think it is fair to rank the Potter series amongst the best modern fiction out there and Voldemort is one of the most memorable evildoers ever portrayed on film.

 

Quotes

“There is no good and evil. There is only power, and those too weak to seek it.”

“Welcome, my friends. Thirteen years it’s been, and yet, here you stand before me, as though it were only yesterday. I confess myself… disappointed. Not one of you tried to find me.”

“Shall I divulge how I truly lost my powers? Yes, shall I? It was love. You see, when dear, sweet Lily Potter gave her life for her only son, she provided the ultimate protection. I could not touch him. It was old magic. Something I should have foreseen.”

“I’m going to kill you, Harry Potter. I’m going to destroy you. After tonight, no one will ever again question my powers. After tonight, if they speak of you, they’ll speak only of how you begged for death.”

“I know that many of you will want to fight. Some of you may even think that to fight is wise. But this is folly. Give me Harry Potter. Do this and none shall be harmed. Give me Harry Potter, and I shall leave Hogwarts untouched. Give me Harry Potter, and you will be rewarded. You have one hour.”

“Harry Potter, I now speak directly to you. On this night, you have allowed your friends to die for you, rather than face me yourself. There is no greater dishonor. Join me in the Forbidden Forest, and confront your fate. If you do not do this, I shall kill every last man, woman and child who tries to conceal you from me.”

 

 

 

48     Jefferson Smith (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington)

James Stewart is one of my favorite actors of all time. It’s A Wonderful Life. Harvey. Rear Window. Vertigo. I could go on, but one of the best roles of Stewart’s career is Jefferson Smith, the leader of an organization called The Boy Rangers (because The Boy Scouts refused to allow use of their name). Smith is a good-natured, idealistic, naïve young man who is inexplicably maneuvered into becoming a replacement Senator from an unnamed state. Once in the U.S. Senate others are under the impression that Smith can be manipulated to do their bidding & line their greedy pockets, but the newbie is much more astute & committed to his principles than anyone realizes. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington was originally intended to be a sequel to 1936’s Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, with Gary Cooper reprising his role as Longfellow Deeds, but when that idea fell thru director Frank Capra retooled the story into a vehicle for Stewart, who received his first Academy Award nomination for the role.

 

Quotes

“You’re not gonna have a country that can make these kind of rules work, if you haven’t got men that have learned to tell human rights from a punch in the nose. It’s a funny thing about men, you know. They all start life being boys. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if some of these Senators were boys once. And that’s why it seemed like a pretty good idea for me to get boys out of crowded cities and stuffy basements for a couple of months out of the year. And build their bodies and minds for a man-sized job, because those boys are gonna be behind these desks some of these days.”

“I wouldn’t give you two cents for all your fancy rules if, behind them, they didn’t have a little bit of plain, ordinary, everyday kindness and a little lookin’ out for the other fella, too.”

“There’s no compromise with truth. That’s all I got up on this floor to say.”

“Get up there with that lady that’s up on top of this Capitol dome, that lady that stands for liberty. Take a look at this country through her eyes if you really want to see something. And you won’t just see scenery; you’ll see the whole parade of what Man’s carved out for himself, after centuries of fighting. Fighting for something better than just jungle law, fighting so’s he can stand on his own two feet, free and decent, like he was created, no matter what his race, color, or creed. That’s what you’d see.”

“I guess this is just another lost cause, Mr. Paine. All you people don’t know about lost causes. Mr. Paine does. He said once they were the only causes worth fighting for, and he fought for them once, for the only reason any man ever fights for them: Because of one plain simple rule: Love thy neighbor. And in this world today, full of hatred, a man who knows that one rule has a great trust. You think I’m licked. You all think I’m licked. Well, I’m not licked, and I’m gonna stay right here and fight for this lost cause.”

 

 

 

47     Annie Savoy (Bull Durham)

The term “Baseball Annie” may or may not have originated with Ruth Ann Steinhagen, a 19 year old Chicago woman who became obsessed with infielder Eddie Waitkus and shot him in a hotel room in 1949. That incident inspired the 1952 novel The Natural, which was adapted into a movie starring Robert Redford in 1984. At any rate, a Baseball Annie is a groupie who hooks up with baseball players, and Annie Savoy might be the most well-known (fictional) example. Susan Sarandon’s most famous role before Bull Durham was probably playing Janet Weiss in the 1975 adaptation of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, although she has five Academy Award nominations and one Best Actress trophy on her resume. Sarandon gives Annie the perfect blend of sensuality, humor, strength, metaphysicality, & vulnerability. She is almost motherly (in a sexual kind of way of course) to inexperienced rookie pitcher Nuke LaLoosh, while veteran catcher Crash Davis isn’t intimidated at all & calls her out on her BS, which totally turns Annie on. Sarandon was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical, but lost to Melanie Griffith for her role in Working Girl.

 

Quotes

“I believe in the Church of Baseball. I’ve tried all the major religions and most of the minor ones. I’ve worshipped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms, and Isadora Duncan. There are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there are 108 stitches in a baseball. When I learned that, I gave Jesus a chance, but it just didn’t work out between us. The Lord laid too much guilt on me. I prefer metaphysics to theology. You see, there’s no guilt in baseball, and it’s never boring, which makes it like sex. There’s never been a ballplayer slept with me who didn’t have the best year of his career. Makin’ love is like hitting a baseball, you just gotta relax and concentrate. Besides, I’d never sleep with a player hitting under .250, unless he had a lot of RBIs or was a great glove man up the middle.”

“This is the damndest season I’ve ever had; the Durham Bulls can’t lose and I can’t get laid!”

“Baseball may be a religion full of magic, cosmic truth, and the fundamental ontological riddles of our time, but it’s also a job.”

“Women never get lured. They’re too strong and powerful for that.”

“Actually, nobody on this planet ever really chooses each other. I mean, it’s all a question of quantum physics, molecular attraction, and timing. Why, there are laws we don’t understand that bring us together and tear us apart. It’s like pheromones. You get three ants together, they can’t do dick. You get 300 million of them, they can build a cathedral.”

“Cute? Baby ducks are cute, I hate cute! I want to be exotic & mysterious!”

 

 

 

46         Mr. Miyagi (The Karate Kid)

Who would have ever guessed in 1975 that the owner of Arnold’s Drive-In would go on to become a sage old martial arts master & building maintenance man?? Pat Morita was viewed as a comedic actor because of his work on Happy Days & MASH, so the powers-that-be were reluctant to cast him as Mr. Miyagi, a role that requires a kind of quiet wisdom. Hindsight is 20/20, and we understand now that Morita was perfect for the part, which earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor (won that year by Haing S. Ngor for his role in The Killing Fields) and which he reprised in three sequels.

 

Quotes

 “First learn balance. Balance good, karate good, everything good. Balance bad, might as well pack up, go home.”

“In Okinawa, all Miyagi know two things: fish & karate. Karate come from China, 16th century, called te, ‘hand’. Hundred year later, Miyagi ancestor bring to Okinawa, call karate. ‘empty hand’.”

“Fighting always last answer to problem.”

“Wax on, right hand. Wax off, left hand. Wax on, wax off. Breathe in through nose, out of mouth. Wax on, wax off. Don’t forget to breathe, very important.”

“Man who catch fly with chopsticks accomplish anything.”

 

 

 

45     Vincent Gambini & Mona Lisa Vito (My Cousin Vinny)

Actor Joe Pesci makes his second appearance in our countdown, but in a very different role from the violent lunatic he plays in Goodfellas. Vincent is actually on the other side of the law…a middle-aged attorney who has never tried a case. When his young cousin & a friend are charged with a murder they didn’t commit in Alabama they call upon Cousin Vinny to help. It then becomes a classic fish-out-of-water story because you have very Brooklyn Vinny clashing with the locals of a small southern town. Such tales are dime-a-dozen in Hollywood, but this one is particularly well done, and none of the depicted stereotypes are mean-spirited or small-minded. Vinny proves to be unconventional yet clever, in no small part due to the motivation & assistance provided by his girlfriend Lisa. Until Vinny Marisa Tomei had been best known for her small screen roles on soap opera As the World Turns and Cosby Show spinoff A Different World, but that all changed when she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Mona Lisa. Since then she has gone on to have a steady & sporadically successful career with a few additional award nominations. My Cousin Vinny is one of my go to movies when I’m in the mood to chill out & need something to simply put a smile on my face, and it holds up quite well after 25+ years.

 

Quotes

“I routinely twist the maximum allowable torquage.” (Lisa)

“You’re in Ala-fuckin’-bama. You come from New York. You killed a good ol’ boy. There is no way this is not goin’ to trial.” (Vinny)

“Imagine you’re a deer. You’re prancin’ along. You get thirsty. You spot a little brook. You put ya little deer lips down to the cool clear water…bam! A fuckin’ bullet rips off part of ya head! Your brains are layin’ on the ground in little bloody pieces! Now, I ask ya, would you give a fuck what kind of pants the son-of-a-bitch who shot you was wearing?!” (Lisa)

“When ya look at the bricks from the right angle, they’re as thin as this playing card. His whole case is an illusion, a magic trick. It has to be an illusion ’cause you’re innocent. Nobody, I mean nobody, pulls the wool over the eyes of a Gambini, especially this one.” (Vinny)

“Well, I hate to bring it up because I know you’ve got enough pressure on you already. But, we agreed to get married as soon as you won your first case. Meanwhile, ten years later, my niece, the daughter of my sister is gettin’ married. My biological clock is tickin’ like this, and the way this case is goin’, I ain’t never gettin’ married!” (Lisa)

“Did you just say you’re a fast cook, that’s it!? Are we to believe that boiling water soaks into a grit faster in your kitchen than on any place on the face of the Earth!? Perhaps the laws of physics cease to exist on your stove! Were these magic grits? I mean, did you buy them from the same guy who sold Jack his beanstalk beans!?” (Vinny)

“The car that made these two equal-length tire marks had positraction. Can’t make those marks without positraction, which was not available on the ’64 Buick Skylark! You see when the left tire mark goes up on the curb, and the right tire mark stays flat and even? Well, the ’64 Skylark had a solid rear axle. So, when the left tire would go up on the curb, the right tire would tilt out and ride along its edge, but that didn’t happen here, the tire mark stayed flat and even. This car had an independent rear suspension. Now, in the ’60s, there were only two other cars made in America that had positraction, independent rear suspension, & enough power to make these marks: one was the Corvette, which could never be confused with the Buick Skylark. The other had the same body length, height, width, weight, wheelbase, and wheel track as the ’64 Skylark, and that was the 1963 Pontiac Tempest.” (Lisa)

 

 

 

44     Jack Torrance (The Shining)

I’ve been very slow to jump on board the Stephen King train, but over the years I’ve dipped my toe in the pool occasionally. The Shining is King’s 1977 novel about an schoolteacher & aspiring writer and his family who are hired to run a creepy hotel in Colorado. It was adapted for the big screen in 1980, with Jack Nicholson taking on the lead role. Jack Torrance slowly descends into madness, (spoiler alert) eventually attempting to murder both his wife & young son. King famously disliked the film and felt like Nicholson was miscast as Torrance. The author would have preferred a nicer “everyman” sort of actor in the role since it would have made Torrance’s dark turn all the more unsettling, whereas Nicholson was already typecast as unhinged & scary. By 1980 Nicholson had amassed five Oscar nominations, winning Best Actor in 1975 for his role in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, so it is understandable that director Stanley Kubrick would jump at the chance to have him star in The Shining. Robert De Niro, Robin Williams (who was unknown at the time), and Harrison Ford were all considered, but King didn’t like any of those choices either so perhaps he’s just impossible to placate.

 

Quotes

“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

“Come out, come out, wherever you are!”

“Here’s Johnny!”

“Wendy, darling, light of my life, I’m not gonna hurt ya. Ya didn’t let me finish my sentence. I said, I’m not gonna hurt ya. I’m just gonna bash your brains in.”

 

 

 

43     Fredo Corleone (The Godfather Trilogy)

Actor John Cazale starred in only five movies before cancer took his life at the young age of 42. Those movies?? The first two Godfather films, The Deer Hunter, The Conversation, & Dog Day Afternoon…all of which were nominated for Best Picture. That’s quite a track record, and it’s unfortunate that we’ll never know what might have been if Cazale lived & had a long career. Fredo is the middle son of the Don of America’s most notorious crime family. Unlike his tough & hotheaded older brother and cool & calculating younger brother Fredo is a little slow and kind of nervous, so he isn’t trusted with any kind of important responsibilities within the organization. In Part II he betrays his brother Michael, who is nearly killed by rival gangster Hyman Roth. When Michael learns of Fredo’s treachery he has him murdered. Despite the fact that Fredo is a bit of a horndog he is a sympathetic character. On a personal level I understand that feeling of being overlooked, disrespected, & thought of as somehow…less…by others. Fredo knows how people view him and he is frustrated by it because he believes he isn’t quite as inept as everyone thinks he is and just needs someone to give him a chance, but on the other hand he is shown to screw up every opportunity he is given by his family.

 

Quotes

“Mike! You don’t come to Las Vegas and talk to a man like Moe Greene like that!”

“You’re my kid brother, and you take care of me? Did you ever think about that? Huh? Did you ever once think about that? Send Fredo off to do this. Send Fredo off to do that! Let Fredo take care of some Mickey Mouse nightclub somewhere! Send Fredo to pick somebody up at the airport! I’m your older brother, Mike, and I was stepped over! I can handle things! I’m smart! Not like everybody says, like dumb! I’m smart, and I want respect!”

 

 

 

42     Riggs & Murtaugh (The Lethal Weapon Series)

The buddy/cop movie formula is tried & true…but also hit & miss. The two cops are usually opposites in every way…one experienced & one less so, one by the book & one more rebellious, one a family man & the other a free-wheeling single, a serious dude vs. a wisecracking smartass. There are variations, but the tension between two individuals who see the world completely different yet are forced to work together toward a common goal is the essence of the story. We don’t remember much about the bad guys or the particular crimes involved…what sticks with the audience is the relationship between the two heroes. Arguably the formula has never worked better than with Lethal Weapon. In four films between 1987 & 1998 Danny Glover portrayed straitlaced Roger Murtaugh, a husband & father who’s been with the LAPD for many years and is on the verge of retirement, while Mel Gibson is Martin Riggs, a younger widowed detective who is grieving his wife’s death and lives on the edge because he may or may not be crazy, suicidal, or both. Thru the years the duo grow from being initially distrustful of each other to becoming brothers from another mother, all while chasing an assortment of criminals. Opinions vary on the strength/weakness of each individual film, but the franchise as a whole is quite enjoyable even more than two decades after the fourth movie was released, and that is due mainly to our affection for Riggs & Murtaugh.

 

Quotes

“What did one shepherd say to the other shepherd? Let’s get the flock out of here.” (Riggs)

“I’m too old for this shit.” (Murtaugh)

“We can’t shoot a dog. People? Okay, but not dogs.” (Riggs)

“My baby is having his baby!” (Murtaugh)

“You have the right to remain unconscious. Anything you say ain’t gonna be much.” (Riggs)

“We both know why I was transferred. Everybody thinks I’m suicidal, in which case, I’m fucked and nobody wants to work with me; or they think I’m faking to draw a psycho pension, in which case, I’m fucked and nobody wants to work with me. Basically, I’m fucked.” (Riggs)

“You’re not trying to draw a psycho pension! You really are crazy!” (Murtaugh)

“Well, what do you wanna hear, man?! Do you wanna hear that sometimes I think about eatin’ a bullet?! HUH!? Well, I do! I even got a special bullet for the occasion with a hollow point, look! Make sure it blows the back of my goddamned head out and do the job right! Every single day I wake up and I think of a reason not to do it! Every single day! You know why I don’t do it?! This is gonna make you laugh! You know why I don’t do it?! The job! Doin’ the job! Now that’s the reason!” (Riggs)

 

 

 

41         Jeff Spicoli (Fast Times at Ridgemont High)

Another tried & true movie formula is the high school flick. Every generation has one or two definitive ones, and in the pre-John Hughes era of the early 80’s it was Fast Times at Ridgemont High. By 1982 Sean Penn had done one episode of Little House on the Prairie and was part of the ensemble in the film Taps, though he was certainly lower on the proverbial depth chart than George C. Scott, Timothy Hutton, & probably even Tom Cruise. That changed in a big way with Fast Times, which also featured a group of youngsters…Forest Whitaker, Judge Reinhold, Eric Stoltz, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Anthony Edwards, Nicolas Cage…who would go on to have rather successful Hollywood careers. However it is Penn as Spicoli, a beach bum stoner, that stands above the crowd. Sean Penn has been nominated for Best Actor five times and taken home two Oscars, but he’ll never escape the shadow of a character that he portrayed almost four decades ago. Spicoli’s interactions with teacher Mr. Hand (portrayed by My Favorite Martian’s Ray Walston) are hysterically funny, and he embodies the surfer dude stereotype so perfectly that I would argue he is the model for it.

 

Quotes

“All I need are some tasty waves, a cool buzz, and I’m fine.”

“People on ludes should not drive.”

“Hey bud, what’s your problem?”

“Hola, Mr. Hand.”

“I did battle some humongous waves. But you know, just like I told the guy on ABC, danger is my business.”

“I’ve been thinking about this, Mr. Hand. If I’m here and you’re here, doesn’t that make it our time? Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with a little feast on our time.”

 

 

 

40     Abbott & Costello, The Three Stooges, Laurel & Hardy, & The Marx Brothers (multiple films)

Stay with me folks…I’ll try not to make this too complicated. I’ve made this a four way tie for several reasons. Actually I debated including any of these acts at all, but in the final analysis I couldn’t justify excluding them. Here’s the thing…we’re discussing movie characters, right?? Well, when it comes right down to it all of these guys portrayed slightly different characters in all of their films, none of which stand out above any others. Their movies are more about the situations they are put in and the zany antics that follow. Having said that, we must also recognize that their stage personas are characters in & of themselves, so essentially they are…in a roundabout way…portraying the same characters in all of their films. Bud Abbot & Lou Costello starred in about three dozen films from 1940-56, and around Halloween I’d much rather watch Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein or Abbott & Costello Meet The Invisible Man than any modern slasher flick. Moe, Larry, Curly (and sometimes Shemp or Curly Joe) made over 200 films from 1930-70. The vast majority of those were “short subjects”, meaning the movie is 40 minutes or less, but The Stooges did star in about two dozen full length features, and when I was growing up in the 70’s & 80’s their stuff was on television with some regularity. Laurel & Hardy teamed together in over 100 movies from the late 1920’s to the mid-40’s. About 1/3 of those were actually silent films & 40 were short subjects, but they did star in a couple dozen full length features. The Marx Brothers…Groucho, Harpo, Chico, Zeppo, & Gummo (real names: Julius, Adolph, Leonard, Herbert, & Milton)…were NY City kids born to Jewish immigrants from Europe. Gummo never appeared in any of the movies but was part of their Vaudeville act. Zeppo appeared in the first five movies but left performing behind and became an agent. Groucho, Harpo, & Chico are the trio most associated with The Marx Brothers, and they did about a dozen films together. Gabe Kaplan, the star of 70’s sitcom Welcome Back Kotter, was a big Marx Brothers fan and The Sweathogs were allegedly loosely based on the group. I am not including quotes from these acts because they provided far too much material to sift thru and narrow down. In addition, much of their comedy is slapstick & physicality that obviously doesn’t translate to the written page all that well. Suffice to say that the comedic contributions of all four holds up surprisingly well after several decades and has undoubtedly influenced comedians that have come along in the ensuing years.

 

 

 

This feels like an appropriate place to pause. Readability has always been a primary goal here at The Manofesto, so I shall refrain from pushing ahead and wait for another day.

Sports Films: The 25 Best (IMHO) – The Top Ten

film-crewOne thing that almost all great sports films have in common is an intense final act. The concluding installment of this venture might not be all that dramatic, but hopefully it’s a good read. If you haven’t done so already please catch up by checking out Part 1 and Part 2. After all, a good ending is meaningless without the enjoyment of the preceding crescendo.

 

 

 

 

10 We Are Marshall
I fully admit my extreme prejudice in overrating this film. I am a proud alumnus of Marshall muUniversity, and the 1970 plane crash that killed the entire football team is a deeply emotional event for anyone who has ever attended Marshall and lived in Huntington, WV. There is a wonderful 2000 documentary called Ashes to Glory that tells the story of the plane crash & its aftermath best, but We Are Marshall is a pretty good fictional account that has grown on me thru repeat viewings. Matthew McConaughey’s performance as head coach Jack Lengyel is somewhat quirky, but not too distracting. Englishman Ian McShane is grossly miscast as a West Virginia steel worker, but again it’s no big deal. Matthew Fox’s heartbreaking portrayal of assistant coach Red Dawson is superb and perhaps should have received an Oscar nomination. It is difficult for me to gauge how this movie is viewed by the general public because of my personal connection, but I think it is deserving of a spot in this particular cinematic potpourri.

 

 

9 Happy Gilmore
For many people of a certain generation it is Happy Gilmore, not Caddyshack, that is the golf happycomedy of record. This is Adam Sandler in his goofy mid-90’s prime. It isn’t going to win any awards or garner critical acclaim, but it’s a really fun way to spend a couple of hours vegging on the couch. Happy is a hockey player wannabe with anger issues who must find a way to raise money to pay his grandmother’s back taxes so she won’t lose her house. Enter Carl Weathers as the clichéd mentor/guru, a golf pro with a hilarious wooden hand after an unfortunate run-in with an alligator. Happy ends up on the pro tour challenging top dog Shooter McGavin (a fantastic name), with the two ending up in a climactic battle on the course. Along the way Happy romances a pretty girl, gets into a hysterical fistfight with Bob Barker, & becomes the talk of the golf world due to his unconventional style. If you’ve seen Happy Gilmore once I’m willing to bet you’ve watched it dozens of times.

 

 

8 Major League
What would happen if the Bad News Bears were adults and played on a MLB team?? That’s Major-Leaguepretty much the idea of this movie. The Cleveland Indians haven’t won a World Series since Harry Truman was President, and at the time Major League was in theaters in 1989 hadn’t even won a league pennant since the 1950’s. They are perfect fodder for a loveable loser story. The setup here is that the owner has died and his bimbo widow has inherited the club. She devises a scheme to sabotage attendance so the team can be relocated to sunny Miami. The devious plot involves putting together a hilariously ragtag motley crew, including a pitcher who just got out of prison and is as likely to reach the bleachers as the strike zone with his fastball, an outfielder who practices voodoo, a speedy center fielder that couldn’t hit water with a baseball bat if he was sitting in a boat, & a bunch of old, washed up veterans with personality conflicts. Of course we know how it ends, but the journey is engaging and the characters are unique & funny, so the sports movie clichés aren’t at all bothersome. It is interesting to note that the film climaxes (spoiler alert) with the Indians winning a one game tiebreaker to capture the division and get into the playoffs. We learn in 1994’s Major League II that they lost the ALCS. In that inferior sequel Cleveland wins the ALCS but we still never see them in the World Series.

 

 

7 The Karate Kid
I’ve written on previous occasions about time capsules. If one were to open an 80’s time kkcapsule full of movies I suspect that The Karate Kid would be among the treasured loot, alongside The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the Back to the Future trilogy, & two of the first three Star Wars films (the original came out in 1977). Kid stars Ralph Macchio as a high school student (Macchio was 47 years old at the time) who has relocated from New Jersey to Los Angeles and is being bullied in his new school. He turns to martial arts for assistance, with guidance from a sagacious old Japanese building super. Kid paints inside the lines of the sports movie blueprint, but the characters are so interesting and the martial arts setting is different enough from the usual football/baseball/basketball scenario that this film has become an indisputable modern classic. There were a few tepid sequels, but none can hold a candle to the original. Oh, by the way, I was just kidding…Macchio was only 23 when he played Daniel Laruso. He is now 53 years old.

 

 

6 All the Right Moves
Am I crazy or does this movie fly way under the radar?? Tom Cruise is a megastar who has made a plethora of notable films, some that are popular with the masses and others that are critical darlings. One must give Cruise credit for being a versatile performer even if it seems like he might be kind of an out-of-touch crackpot diva in real life. ATRM was one of Cruise’s earliest efforts, released in 1983 (the same year as Risky Business). It is the quintessential high school football movie. Cruise is a talented player whose goal is to use his skills to score a movescollege scholarship and escape his dreary Pennsylvania hometown, rising above a dead end life in the steel mills. Being trapped in a small town and yearning for something more is hardly an original plot, but it works really well in a sports movie because it rings so true. Many athletes that fans watch on TV almost daily come from working class families in economically challenged neighborhoods. What we view as a fun way to relax on the weekend is, for a lot of young men, their ticket to a better life. ATRM captures the essence of that struggle really well, and portrays just how important a game can be to a town that has nothing else to look forward to. Craig T. Nelson is well known for his role in the 90’s sitcom Coach, but here he plays an entirely different kind of coach, the type of guy who is way too intense and has just a bit too much power. ATRM holds up really well after three decades and provides much food for thought while also being quite entertaining.

 

 

5 Tin Cup
My father loved to play golf until he got older and his knees went bad. Once he gets them replaced I am hopeful he can get back out on the course and knock a few balls around with my eldest nephew, who has inherited Dad’s fondness for the game. At any rate, even though I am physically unable to play I too love golf. Many people find it kind of boring on TV, but I have spent many a Sunday afternoon watching the entertaining final round of a tournament. There aren’t a lot of golf-centric movies, but a couple stand out amongst the crowd, including this 1996 Kevin Costner rom-com in which he simultaneously romances a shrink while also trying to qualify for the U.S. Open. He’s a failed professional golfer who now owns a rundown tin-cup-560driving range, lives in a camper, & drinks a lot. He’s kind of given up and just doesn’t give a damn. What motivates him to get his act together?? A woman of course. Don Johnson is great as a smooth talking pro golfer. I mean he’s no Shooter McGavin, but there’s got to be a bad guy, right?? And of course there is a faithful sidekick played by one half of Cheech & Chong. I believe it is Cheech. Anyway, like a few other flicks you’ve read about here the plot leans a lot more toward romantic comedy than sports, but there is an appropriate amount of golf action, including the requisite climactic showdown. This one has a fantastic twist. Anyone who’s ever watched Tin Cup knows what I mean and I won’t spoil it. The combination of Costner’s charm, a solid supporting cast, a well written script, & the always reliable sports movie playbook make this one that is likely to stand the test of time.

 

 

4 Hoosiers
Youngsters in The Manoverse may not be familiar with Gene Hackman, an award winning actor whose career peaked in the 70’s with classics like The French Connection, The Conversation, The Poseidon Adventure, & Superman. However, since then he has had a few notable crusty old man roles in films like Mississippi Burning, Unforgiven, The Firm, & Hoosiers…one of the greatest sports movies of all time. Here Hackman is a disgraced former college basketball coach who lost his job after hitting a player. He’s given a second chance by an old friend, a high school principal in Indiana. Most sports fans know how significant basketball is there, and the small town of Hickory is no exception. It’s the kind of dead end hoosierstown where folks toil too hard for too little and don’t have much hope for a better future. You know…like we’ve seen in a hundred other sports films. But my philosophy has always been that things become formulaic because the formula seems to work. The townsfolk don’t understand the new coach’s ways and aren’t shy about offering input. The team…like all great underdogs…is outmatched & undermanned, but somehow they pull together and win. The wildcard is an enigmatic lad named Jimmy Chitwood, a basketball prodigy who doesn’t know whether he wants to play basketball. Of course he does play, and he hits the last second winning shot that we all know is coming. Sports films are usually David vs. Goliath. David almost always wins. That is the accepted norm. What separates the wheat from the chaff is the quality of the writing and the performances. Hackman adds necessary gravitas to Hoosiers. The 1950’s setting is quaint & nostalgic. A solid supporting cast doesn’t hurt. It’s the total package, and that’s why we love it.

 

 

3 Bull Durham
Stop…collaborate & listen…Costner is back with another edition. Okay okay…I’m sorry…I just couldn’t resist. Anyway, as Forrest Gump might say, Kevin Costner and sports films go together like peas & carrots. Here he plays a veteran catcher who has spent most of his time in baseball meandering in the minor leagues. His career is nearing its conclusion, but instead of getting one last cup of coffee in The Show he’s sent down a couple of rungs on the ladder to the lowest of the minors to mentor a young pitcher whose arm is superb but isn’t mentally or emotionally mature enough to be taken seriously. Hilarity ensues. And yes, there is a bdrom-com element, with Susan Sarandon as a philosophical baseball groupie who tries to have her cake & eat it too with the older catcher & the younger pitcher. Bull Durham is a really fun look inside the world of minor league baseball, where the players aren’t making a bazillion dollars, there’s very little if any TV coverage, and there aren’t any perks like first class flights or luxury hotel rooms. The script is sharply written and Tim Robbins, in one of his earliest roles, is hysterical as the goofy pitcher. I had an opportunity a few years ago, while hanging out with my friend The Owl in Columbus, OH, to see a game involving the real Durham Bulls, and scenes from this movie kept flashing thru my mind. It holds up really well after nearly three decades, and I suspect that’ll continue to be the case for many years.

 

 

2 Field of Dreams
Back to back Costner!! The dude has three films in the Top 5. That’s amazing!! And it’s not like I’m a hardcore Kevin Costner fan. Outside of the plethora of sports films he’s starred in there are a lot of snoozers like Waterworld and The Postman. But sometimes one finds their niche and it’s just a perfect fit. I heaped about as much praise as possible on Field of Dreams a few years ago when I named it 3rd amongst my 100 Favorite Movies, and one of the things I said was that calling it a sports film is an “epic oversimplification”. It is much more than that. I even stated that Field of Dreams “is not about baseball”. I stand by that declaration. However, FieldofDreams_1636642cin hindsight I realize that most sports films aren’t only about whatever sport they feature. Sports themselves are about more than winning or losing a game. Due to my disability I was never able to play competitive sports which is unfortunate because I believe that many valuable lessons can be learned thru involvement with such activities. Teamwork. Responsibility. The importance of following rules. Dedication. Focus. Work ethic. Respect. Honor. Tact. Diplomacy. The value of fitness & physical well-being. Integrity. Leadership. How to win & lose graciously. Overcoming obstacles & failure. I could go on, but you get the point. Field of Dreams is about things even more metaphysical than any of that, and it uses the backdrop of baseball to perfection. It’s a beautiful story that I’ve probably watched a hundred times over the years, and I’ll probably watch it a hundred more. It just never gets old.

 

1 Rocky
This list could reach its epic conclusion no other way. There were sports films produced before 1976, but Rocky re-wrote the rulebook and redefined the genre. It is THE classic David vs. Goliath story. Everything else that has come afterward is a derivative variation on the theme. But have you watched it recently?? Everyone remembers the big picture…the broad strokes. Characters like Rocky, Adrian, Mickey, & Apollo Creed. Rocky pounding on raw meat or running up the steps of a Philadelphia museum. That theme song!! Yet Rocky has been copied & parodied so much that people forget that it is a REALLY great movie. Stallone was a 29 year old struggling actor when he wrote the screenplay. Yes that’s right…Sylvester Stallone created Rocky!! He had to fight the suits to star in the film though. They wanted a big name like Burt Reynolds, James Caan, or Robert Redford to play the titular role. What would that rockyBhave been like?? Obviously we’ll never know, but, though now the masses couldn’t imagine anyone else as Rocky Balboa, the truth is that the script is so good that it likely would have worked anyway. Were there too many sequels made?? Probably, although I think the only one that was really terrible was Rocky V (the one with the late Tommy Morrison as a bitter former Balboa protégé). The rest were sufficiently entertaining popcorn cinema…they just lacked the heart & depth of the original. Rocky won the Academy Award for Best Picture, overcoming competition from Network, Taxi Driver, & All the President’s Men, and is a rare film that is beloved by both critics and normal people. Stallone became only the third person to ever be nominated for Best Actor & Best Original Screenplay in the same year. The other two were Charlie Chaplin & Orson Welles (since 1976 Woody Allen, Warren Beatty, Billy Bob Thornton, Roberto Benigni, & Matt Damon have all had similar double nominations). As much as I love sports movies I must admit that they rarely have this kind of elite pedigree. Not even Raging Bull or Field of Dreams, though nominated, won Best Picture. That’s not what this is about though. Awards are merely icing on the cake and just mean that a bunch of other people agree with my assessment. Good for them. The world would be a better place if more people acknowledged my wisdom.