As I slowly get back to banging on a keyboard in my spare time, I figured it was time to resume the barely begun Top 50 Sports Movies of All Time I started a while back. I know I said I'd be adding to this list in very random increments, but picking it up after a year and 1/2 or so is ridiculous.
Here's a very quick recap as what, why and how this works. (CLICK HERE for the long explanation from the original article):
I love writing, I love movies to the point of being an annoying Rain Man type about them at times and I love sports. As you'll see below, I added an extremely tenuous Husker connection to the ratings to justify bothering Corn Nation with it. I also like to throw in a quick review of a Sports Movie That Just Missed, a Truly Awful Sports Movie That People Rave About (Overall Cosgroves) or a Sports Movie That Isn't Really a Sport But We Still Love It. Here are the different categories and how they're rated:
Quality of Sports Scenes - Yeah, it's Hollywood, but how realistic were they? Are there pro athletes in there? Are they so bad that it was distracting, even allowing that we don't expect actors to be pros? Also, is everything shot in tight, so you have no clue what's going on? ("Remember the Titans", "Miracle")
The Bad Guys(s) - There's gotta be a villain, right? How effective is the opponent? Do we hate him enough? Or if he's the respected, quality guy who we don't really hate (think Apollo Creed), can he still carry the part to where defeating him fires us up?
Music - Soundtrack & score. Are we Gonna Fly Now or what? Am I buying the CD or hitting up Itunes for a couple of the songs?
The Chick (or dude) Love Interest - Does she bring anything to the table or is she just white bread supportive? On the negative, is she downright horrifying and there to tell the guy he's going to lose until hopping the bandwagon at the end? (The "You can't win!!" Adrian Balboa type)
Adrenalin/Goosebump Scenes - One of the main reasons we watch 'em. What made you tingle? (Sometimes this'll double up the music - think Vision Quest when Louden starts warming up to the first few licks of Lunatic Fringe by Red Rider) Hall of Fame Coach Speeches score big here as well.
Comedy - Some of these are comedies, others are serious but have funny scenes. We'll rank appropriately.
Unintentional Comedy - Stallone, Macchio & Keanu emoting, Russell Crowe skating, Tim Robbins pitching, Clubber Lang period...you get the idea.
The Training Montage - I said, ARE WE GONNA FLY NOW?
Rewatchability - Perhaps the most important factor. If this comes on, am I settled in for the next few hours? How many times have I seen it & do I plan to do so again?
Now stars, thumbs up and rotten tomatoes have been taken, so our rankings will consist of the following:
***** Osborne - Exceptional, one of a kind, legendary, etc.
**** Devaney - a definite cut above, great, groundbreaking... the next level down
*** Pelini - still very good, enjoyable, potential for greatness was there, above average
** Solich - average at best, nothing special, brought nothing to the table, not bad but...
* Callahan- not good, pretty bad actually, maybe could rise to ok with work, sorta want the 2 hours back
none - Cosgrove- that special place beyond awful, can't unsee it, blechhh, not even enjoyable drunk
So upward and onward, but first, let's check out a great sports flick that isn't a sports flick:
SEARCHING FOR BOBBY FISCHER
Would make my top 20 films of all time & possibly top 10 or 15. The basics of the story, based on the life of the main character, Josh Waitzkin, are that a young Josh, after watching homeless people play chess in Washington Square in NYC, is revealed to be a chess prodigy. His father hires a teacher for him, played by Ben Kingsley. Josh begins to win at an amazing clip until a cocky young pansy of a rival comes along. He becomes scared to lose and worried that his father's love may be tied up in his winning. The pressures of his coach become unbearable as well.
However, in true sports movie tradition, we have nothing to fear. Dad loves his boy, the teacher's going to ease up, they'll grab homeless wino Laurence Fishburne for the Coach Speech and Josh will lay the smack down on the pansy's candy ass.
1st off, chess is not a sport and a quick view of the homeless bums, foppish coach and complete mental freak shows who are the professional players will confirm that these guys are farther from being athletes than the card players in Rounders. However, it is filmed in total sports movie fashion.When Josh heads back to the park for speed games against the bums to reclaim his mojo, Larry Fish gets the adrenaline pumping:
"He didn't teach you how to win, he taught you how not to lose. That's nothing to be proud of. You're playing not to lose, Josh. You've got to risk losing. You've got to risk everything. You've got to go to the edge of defeat. That's where you want to be, boy - on the edge of defeat."
"But what? Play. Never play the board, always the man. You've gotta play the man *playing* the board. Play *me*. I'm your opponent, you have to beat *me*. Not the board, beat *me*."
Almost enough to make you think you're watching Herb Brooks send Team USA out to whup Russian ass, instead of a little kid and park bum playing chess.
And despite the chess theme, it should absolutely be required viewing for all sports parents, especially those that tend to go a little overboard. How parents should treat their talented kids is a driving theme behind this movie, and if you are a sports parent, this movie will get to you. Guaranteed.
However, after my highest recommendation, the fact remains that chess is not a sport, so we move on to...sailing?
Australia, here we come:
#48 - Wind
Let's get the opening complaint out of the way - SAILING IS NOT A SPORT". I was with you. To me, sailing was nothing more than rich guys with cigarette holders and ascots splashing though the low seas in sailboats as people looked on from six figure yachts and speedboats. As P.J. O'Rourke once described the America's Cup: "It's like going to Indianapolis Speedway in your Ferrari to watch the tour buses race."
But trust me. When you see a bunch of guys built like Brian Urlacher twisting and lifting and heaving stuff around, you'll change your mind. Dudes are in SHAPE. Yes, steering the tub is usually some bastard with sagging skin or man tits whose true talent lies in hostile takeovers. Think of him as the QB. Dan Fouts' and Tom Brady's horrid physiques didn't make football not a sport. So we're good that sailing qualifies, right? Good.
The story starts with Will Parker (Matthew Modine) and Kate Bass (Jennifer Grey) in a two person boat sailing race. With the race in hand, they screw up and wipe out. This impresses legendary stinking rich skipper Morgan Weld (Cliff Robertson) so much that he immediately hires Will for his racing team and and aeronautical engineering grad student, Bass, tags along. (That's right. Baby is a burgeoning rocket scientist)
Will kicks ass in training and gets put in charge of the second boat, kind of like a sparring partner. Of course, he takes down the main boat and gets hired on as their tactician as they prepare to defend the America's Cup which the USA has never lost. One small problem, though. Will and Kate like to hump and smooch and cuddle in front of everyone, and since she's the only girl around, the boys get a little annoyed and complain. Also, since the still tight-bodied Miss Grey stays fully clothed, the male audience gets pretty damned annoyed as well.
So Kate gets the boot for being a chick and Will opts for a shot at the Cup. Say bye bye to Kate for now.
Well, good ol' team USA finds itself in a Cup dogfight with New Zealand captained by Jack Neville (Jack Thompson) who looks like he drinks Foster's for breakfast and says "Good on ya'!!" a lot. In the deciding race, everything goes to shit on the US boat when, with a huge lead, Will hits a floating marker meaning they have to circle around it again and miss it this time. To make matters worse, the ol' skipper ignores his advice in the home stretch and costs them the race. Quite frankly, I wonder how these twits made it through qualifying, but whatever. U!S!A! U!S!A!
So the American team is shamed as New Zealand parties it up and they return home forever having disgraced people named Tad, Mimsy and Beef Wellington III. A bunch of time goes by in a few seconds and Will heads to the desert where Kate is doing the Daddy issues thing with an old German named Joe played by Stellan Skarsgard, who is easily the finest actor named Stellan working today. Guess what? Joe's an aeronautical engineer too.
Well, Will wants to win back the Cup, so he talks Joe into helping him build a boat and decides to hang out in the desert with the two of them. Because, you know, a dude would absolutely not be bothered staying in the same hanger where an old German is railing his hot, hardbodied ex upstairs. It should be noted at this point that viewers will probably pick up on the fact that Jenny Grey's nose is changing sizes. Not an optical illusion - she did the surgery after filming, then had to cut extra scenes down the road.
Anyway, building fancy racing boats costs money, so Will heads home to hit former skipper Morgan up for cash. One tiny problem. He's decided to become a broke, batshit-crazy old bastard. He's grown the hair long, likes to wave a pistol around, has left all the doors open so there's leaves & weeds in the house and likes to babble crap about how they're born losers and can't win.
Think Howard Hughes meets Adrian Balboa.
So, there's no cash there. However, Morgan's hot daughter, Abigail, happens to drop by, so Will kills two birds with one stone, locking down a piece of ass for himself - take THAT, Kate - and putting her in charge of fundraising. Before long, Abigail's and Joe have raised the cash, they're building a boat, cooking out & arguing a ton, getting the old team back, talking science and boat design, channeling dead Indians and getting ready to head for New Zealand and win back the Cup. Also, Will and Kate are snogging away with their new partners while staring longingly at each other. Let's just say it's becoming obvious that Joe and Abigail better keep their long-term options open.
Anyway, they're off to New Zealand for the big races. Of course, there's going to be drama with tanned preppy guys hollering at each other. And of course Kate's going to end up on the crew before all is said and done because nobody puts Baby the Aeronautical Engineer off the boat in a corner twice. And of course it's coming down to Game 7 with the Americans heading to the starting line doing Geronimo Indian dances to fire themselves up, raising oversized Indian sails and Kiwis using their mast as a giant sail-ripping spear.
And tactics. Lots and lots of tactics. About wind. Get it?
Will aeronautical engineers with no experience building boats cob together a winning ocean vessel in the middle of the desert? Will a bunch of the same boobs who lost the first America's Cup in 140 years win it back? Do Will and Kate get back together? Well, if you don't know the answer to these questions...you're probably on the wrong list.
QUALITY OF SPORTS SCENES: Quite simply, top notch. Let's put it this way - I cannot emphasize enough how much I don't give a shit about sailing. And given the amount of TV time it gets anymore, neither does anyone else, at least not since Ted Turner was on the cover of Sports Illustrated and Dennis Connor won the Cup back (movie was loosely based on this). Since then? Nothing.
Well, the race scenes are excellent. They shoot them from long distance and aerial as well as up tight in the boats themselves. And these sure appear to be actual crews running 50 ways at once the entire race. The cinematography and the music keep you on the edge of your seat. And if, like myself, you don't know squat about sailing? No worries, the races are called by Peter Montgomery, better known as the Voice of the America's Cup, complete with computer graphics visualizing all the moves and tactics. The races cut between the live movie action and Montgomery on a TV broadcast breaking things down.
Quite simply, if you've made me both care about and understand sailing, you get the A++
Grade: ***** Osborne
THE BAD GUY(S) - Hard to lay a Bad Guy grade on a movie without one. Morgan Weld can be a dick, but he's on our side. The little ginger jackass, Charlie, that Will fires mid-series is a small-timer as far as the cast goes. And Jack Neville, the New Zealand skipper? Well, his largest crime seems to be beating the USA. Even his sail-ripping strategy seem more like good tactics than evil behavior. Quite frankly, he just comes off as a guy you want throw back drinks with. Since he looks like the type that might put you under the table then piss on your docksiders for fun, we'll give him a bit of an upgrade.
Grade: ** Solich
MUSIC - Very solid work by Basil Polodouris. Carries you along with the action and raises some goosebumps. Especially liked the touch where the bass drums kick in as the Geronimo flag rises. Basil's the man who scored Robocop, Red Dawn and Starship Troopers, so you know you're in good hands.
Grade: **** Devaney
THE LOVE INTEREST - I was a little torn here. Jennifer Grey is cute as all get out, and leaving grad work to join her man when he runs off to join the sailing team scores solid points. She also does a fine job of bein' one of the boys in camp.
But when she's kicked off the team for too much PDA and being a girl, I didn't like the whole, "C'mon honey! We're LEAVING!" act she threw down on Will. 99.4% of women will disagree with me, but sexual discrimination on the part of a couple of old, crusty white guys in a sport that you knew going in was run by about...oh...100% old, crusty white guys?!! That's not something where your man has to choose between you and his dream. It just isn't.
She rebounds though. And also gets bonus points for revenge-screwing a Stellan.
Grade: *** Pelini
ADRENALINE/GOOSEBUMP SCENES - Some good ones. See above for the actual action and music. The looks on the Americans' faces as they walk down the dock after losing to the Kiwis. Will's speech about "what's better than winning the Cup? - losing it and winning it back" is nice. The genuine look of happiness on Jack's face as he congratulates the Americans. Nothing on the level of seeing Roy McAvoy's 3-wood drop in the hole or seeing Brendan Conlon tap out Midnight Lee, but you'll tingle occasionally.
Grade: *** Pelini
COMEDY - Not much going on here in this category. Can't think of one good intended belly laugh. I remember some chuckles while they're farting about in the desert, but it's not that kind of movie.
Grade: * Callahan
UNINTENTIONAL COMEDY: Some points scored here for Jennifer Grey, Aeronautical Engineer. That's a pretty heady leap after making her chops as Baby & Ferris Bueller's angry kid sister who was gonna let Charlie Sheen snort 8-balls off her ass. Stellan Skarsgard gets points for being weird, but that may have been intentional, hard to tell. This category's runaway power belongs to Cliff Robertson as Morgan Weld, depressed, gun-wielding bajillionaire who deals with losing races by growing his hair long, losing his fortune and living with the doors open. Incredibly out of place with the rest of the movie. Imagine the scene in Vision Quest when Louden visited his grandfather, only the old man came out in dress yelling in Dutch and started throwing darts at his dog for no reason and you get the idea.
Big points also for Jennifer Grey's fluctuating nose size.
Grade: ***1/2 Pelini Plus
THE TRAINING MONTAGE - It's goofy and interesting as they get the boat prepared, but there's nothing close to a Philly Art Museum stairs moment or anything. Stellan doing a Swede/German Bill Nye the Science Guy impression makes this more of a non-category.
Grade: * Callahan
REWATCHABILITY - Mixed bag. I can't really compare it to many others on the list because it never really snagged a solid spot on the movie rerun circuit. When it's on TV? I definitely watch. I like a good comeback story, the races are gripping and Jenny tanned and dressed for the shore is a good thing. And I can watch the Cliff going nuts scene non-stop. Would I feel the same way if it was on Cinemax5Star or FX every other week? No idea, so that's a downgrade.
Grade: *** Pelini
OVERALL - A well-done, (mostly) serious sports movie with fantastic action scenes - especially given the sport - an engaging likable cast and a pretty decent story. You can score big points with a date on DVD night. During the desert and scenes, she will be hissing things like, "Why can't they admit they just love each other and get together?" In other words, enjoying herself thoroughly. Even if nothing else rises to All-American levels, you'll stay mostly interested.
And let's face it, we expect the USA to defeat every country in every single sport. Even silly sports like sailing that we don't care about.
Director Carroll Ballard aimed high here. This is about love, sportsmanship, crushing defeat, forgiveness and redemption, just to name a few. It mostly connects even if it does drag a little at times. The cast is engaging and likable and having the USA team put together as a ragtag group scrapping for everything makes them a believable underdog come finals time.
Minus 1/2 star because it IS about sailing.
Grade: ***1/2 Pelini Plus
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