It has, without a doubt, been a wild last few months here. And by here I mean everywhere. For me, you – all of us. And in all the commotion, I have been really bad about posting. So I apologize. But we are back now, officially. That means more routine, scheduled posts. So tell yo kids tell you wife and please help us share our content as we get this bad boy going!
Indulge me to take a quick step back from the nonstop carnage of our world for just a moment, though – we do have one thing to be thankful for, as weird as it sounds. And that is the return of Professional sports. Even sports feel a little odd though – all these tournaments, round-robins, playoffs? Where are we and what is this universe. But thank the good lord we have something to stare at on the TV that isn’t terrible, sad, or depressing. Although watching the Bruins actually brings the stress levels up to max capacity, it’s still the greatest thing on cable. Also, shout out to Celtics and Bs both winning their series quite handily.
Ah – Sports, the medium where we can all kick back, put our feet up, and watch some of the most talented, spectacular human specimens around the world compete for glory on the biggest stage. The stage feels a whole lot bigger this year, though. Your audience for every major sport that has returned (MLB, MLS, NBA, NHL, UFC, etc.) is probably going to double in terms of viewership, for the pure fact that there has been such a drought of athletics for so long that literally anything is better than nothing. It’s a unique opportunity for sports to try and bring us together a little more than usual – even if your favorite teams are not playing (or have already been eliminated). Because finally, we actually have someone, or something, to root for.
Sports gives us the chance to put aside our bullshit for a minute and actually focus on a cause outside our day-to-day lives, even if it isn’t for anything more than pride and pure regional allegiance. But hell, is it fun. And these films I’m about to list capture the best in sports in such a light that makes them worth regular re-watches – because they give us that sense of the majesty that can only be achieved on the field, on the big screen. Whether you are a sports fan or not – there is a very high probability that if you grew up watching movies, even occasionally, your life was touched by one or many sports films. As a kid watching some of these, I know it got me hyped up beyond belief – and it still does as an adult.
Sports films have their inherently corny moments, we know this as a tried and true fact. And there have been a fair share of terrible ones, indeed. But this is to be expected, because really a lot of the corniness that we see as just cheese is in all actuality the same substance that makes these movies great. While there are an equal amount of sports comedies out there, I will save that for another post and stick with the more “serious” of the group in this one.
Rudy – 1993; (My Score: 10/10): Need I say more. The greatest sports film of all time? I think many would agree. Rudy Rudabeger is the iconic underdog story – the story that shows all of us that with enough drive, energy, and genuine passion for the game and doing what you love, you can and will achieve your dreams. In short, its a classic (and true) story about an underdog recruit / walk-on for the Notre Dame football team who leaves everything on the field for his chance at a shot at glory. To get there, he has to get through the death of his loved ones, work his ass off on and off the field to support his education, work hard in class to maintain his standing and balance the life and dreams of a young man who wants to leave his mark on history. Plainly said, a requirement for all sports fans, and one of the most inspiring films ever made. Also this film stars Samwise goddamn Gamgi, I mean what more could you possibly ask for (although this was many years before LOTR).
Miracle – 2004; (My Score: 10/10): One of the greatest movies about US sports ever made, and absolute triumph of filmmaking, it should be a requirement by age 18 that every American should watch this movie at some point in their lives. The film follows the historic 1980s U.S. men’s hockey team in the Olympics, led by Herb Brooks (Kurt Russel) in the deep days of the cold war. The team is a ragtag group of college studs , all with their own agendas and ways of playing – but they unite under a dream, a dream to beat the heavily favored Soviet team who had been dominating opponents for years. It is an epic tale of perseverance, grit, excitement, and the ultimate underdog story. AND – its based on a real story! This is piece of American history we are talking about. Kurt Russel shines as Brooks here, and is really the centerpiece of the entire film. “Who do you play for?” – “I play for the United States of America”. You owe it to yourself to give this one a look – about as close to perfection in a sports film as you will see.
Rocky – 1976; (My Score: 9/10): A movie as American as apple pie, and the film that shot Sylvester Stalone in to the limelight. Rocky is the classic underdog (noticing a theme, here?) story. Fun fact, the film had a budget of just $1M, and remains one of the most successful sports films of all time to this day, spawning a half dozen or more sequels as a result. The original is, in my opinion, the best of these for a variety of reasons. It personifies Americana of the day and age and really shows the grit and hard work required to be come truly great. Rocky could be any of us, and I think that’s why this film resonates with so many. He is just an average guy, living in below-average circumstances, who wanted to be great. Rocky is a tale that shows us we are much more than our income, job title, looks and dress. What really matters is heart (see, corniness again but its true I mean just watch the movie!). The ability to “go the distance” where no fighter has gone before, to earn the respect of himself above all. He didn’t even want to win, the man just wants to prove himself and show he’s actually much, much more than just your average joe. And for that, Rocky has been immortalized in sports and film fame forever.
Million Dollar Baby – (My Score: 10/10): An academy award winner for best picture, and deserving so – MDB is an absolute masterpiece in every way. I have never met anyone who watched this film and didn’t have positive things to say. I watched this movie at age 10 or so, when I first really started to get into movies, and I remember just the raw, incredible emotion Hilarry Swank brought to the limelight. Not only is this movie heartbreaking, but it just shows you how unfair and cruel the world can be, even when it should have every reason to be behaving differently. You laugh, you cry (frequently), but most of all – you actually feel like you are going through this incredible struggle of a female boxer in a world where everything is turned against you, as a participant, rather than a viewer. One of the most raw, uncut views at sports and the cruelty behind violent ones in particular. Outstanding cast and directing by the amazing Clint Eastwood. This one ain’t no picnic, so don’t go in expecting one!
Coach Carter – (My Score: 8/10): Another excellent sports film that explores deeply both questions of race and the struggles of growing up in a challenging world as a young man, and the efforts of one, unique coach in bringing together a struggling band of misguided students. One of my favorite Samuel L. Jackson roles and an iconic message about the importance of focusing on your future rather than always thinking about RIGHT NOW. As in, you have to be able to succeed off the court if you can ever ac ahieve your dreams on it. Because otherwise, you are just prioritizing one thing and eventually setting yourself up for failure. There is more to life than sports, and Director Tom Carter showed us this here.
The Hustler – 1961; (Score: 10/10): The greatest movie about pool ever made, and a Paul Newman classic. This piece of film legend follows a young, suave pool shark and hustler who makes his living challenging unwitting opponents and making a name as one of the greats, until he blows his shot at success against the greatest player in the world due to vanity alone. He must then work against his own demons and face the problems in his life before making his way back to the table to take on his opponent again in one of the most satisfying conclusions to a film I’ve seen in recent memory. A classic, but dated and definitely not for everyone, and very different from most on this list.
Raging Bull – 1980 (My Score: 9/10): One of the grittiest, most intense films ever made about boxing starting the immaculate Robert De Niro, a middleweight boxer who risks his life, love, health and family as his rises through ranks to earn his first shot at the middleweight crown. It shows you the highest highs he achieves within the ring, and the lowest of lows when his life becomes completely consumed by his drive to succeed at his career. Scorscese is brilliant as ever in this black-and-white biographical drama based on Jake LaMotta’s life and story. I personally found this film a little hard to watch at times, but that in no way is a reflection of the quality of the film and more just my preferences. This is a masterful piece of cinema and is widely regarded as one of De Niro’s greatest roles and Martin’s best films. Gritty. Gritty. Gritty. Loving that word today. But the best of the best films generally are in that they touch on the uncomfortable things we don’t always want to see or hear, but need to see or hear. Because life isn’t always cupcakes and rainbows.
Remember the Titans – 2000; (My Score: 9/10): One of the finest football films ever put to screen, RTT is a true story of the first Black coach in a segregated Virginia community who is in charge of leading a recently integrated group of athletes through the trials of the game, and everything involved off the field around the time it is based (1974). I watched this at a very young age and was blown away by Denzel’s strength as an actor, and the his ability to command a screen and lead this group of divided individuals together towards one common goal. Particularly in light of recent BLM movements, I think this movie is as good a watch as ever, and an important piece of history we should all look to for a message of unification and the ability to find common ground where there seems to be very little.
Hoosiers – 1986; (My Score: 10/10): This is one of my personal favorites ever. It follows the story of a small town, underdog school basketball team in Indiana, who through grit, perseverance and sheer will – and thanks to the coaching of Gene Hackman -transforms into championship contenders. Its a tale of redemption, determination, and improbable victories – everything a good sports film requires. It’s a classic, and I guarantee if you ask you parents they will have something nice to say about it. Hackman’s acting as coach Dale is exceptional, and showcases some emotional sides that he usually hides in his more serious roles we so frequently see him starring in. His assistant, Dennis Hopper, is equally enjoyable to watch alongside his boss as he battles internally and externally alongside the court to transform a group of students into true believers in themselves and their team. Outstanding score, picture-perfect sets and an underdog atmosphere set the stage for one of the greatest endings in sports movie history. Just a terrific film right here.
The Sandlot – 1993 (Score: 8/10): What story better personifies the love of baseball and childhood than Evan’s The Sandlot? It’s a childhood right of passage (at least where I come from) to watch this movie, whether you are an athlete or not. The reason this movie is so great is it is as much a sports film as a movie about growing up. While the centerpiece of the film is, quite symbolically, the sport and love of the game that keeps this team of misfits and friends together, equally important is the story of growth outside of the diamond and the adventures of this iconic young crew of pals. Is it a perfect movie? No. But it excels in being authentically about the experience of the young athlete, and the joy of playing together as a team where I certainly met many of my best friends, to this day. I think we can all relate to this one, even a little.
I could keep going, but let’s stick with this for now… What would YOU have on this list?
P.S.: Three others I would put on this list: Moneyball, Field of Dreams, and a League of Their Own.
Have an awesome week my friends.