august MOVIE MEME, day 1: my favorite sports movie(s)
It starts! My re-devotion to the blogging world is coming in the form of a 31-day, self-imposed meme. If you’d like to join in on the “fun,” there’s still time! Head over to this post to get the lowdown on the eclectic assignments day-to-day. This first day’s self-assignment is “your favorite sports movie.” So, I’ve narrowed it down to one ultimate and five runners-up:
The Fighter (2010, dir. David O. Russell) – Sure, this one’s awfully fresh in my memory, but it did such a fantastic job of making what would otherwise be an “avoid at all costs” film (Mark Wahlberg starring in an inspiring sports drama “based on a true story”) and turned it into a spectacular, highly visual, well-played drama. Sure, there’s an awful lot of boxing, but what this sports movie does great is brings the cinematic qualities of an historical epic into a genre that sorely lacks in quality of filming in many cases. And it doesn’t hurt that the cast is across-the-board stellar. Melissa Leo steals the show for me as the domineering boxing mom. Her clan of white-trash daughters is welcome lightheartedness in the hardcore drama. And Christian Bale has really never been better than as the twitchy, trouble-making brother of the protagonist. Plus it’s nice to see Amy Adams stretch her legs a little bit as the bad-girl barmaid.
Jerry Maguire (1996, dir. Cameron Crowe) – Sure it’s a non-traditional entry as it deals more with the behind-the-scenes drama of professional sports as opposed to the athletes themselves, but back before Tom Cruise lost his mind he was actually turning into a seasoned actor as he got older. In arguably his best performance, as cocky but secretly caring sports agent Jerry Maguire, Cruise gives a very human portrayal, all the while utilizing his ability to play tense and neurotic. And despite his fall from grace since, Cuba Gooding Jr. brings the traditional sports story to the mix, making his on-the-decline and hotheaded Rod Tidwell a lovable family man. And remember when Renee Zellweger was the cute girl next door type? Yeah, this was one of her best performances. It’s a wonder what sports movies can do to almost any type of performer if they play it right.
The Natural (1984, dir. Barry Levinson) – Even though I recently read Roger Ebert’s surprisingly scathing review of the film, it was one I grew up watching – so despite its possible story flaws, it’s rather universally adored among sports movies. That uber-catchy and constantly sampled score certainly couldn’t have hurt. The movie was so serene and effortless to me – a rarity among boisterous rah-rah sports movies, but not so out-of-the-ordinary, I suppose, for the baseball sub-genre. Robert Redford is incredibly endearing and riveting as the central character, and Glenn Close utilizes a little-shown side of her repertoire – quiet brilliance. Let’s be honest: the woman can play the crazy card very well. But it’s nice to know she can pull off this style as well. And can we talk about the actual baseball scenes? Some of my favorite action sequences put to film. So say what you will about the supposedly weak storytelling, but I love The Natural.
Hoosiers (dir. David Anspaugh) – I know it’s probably blasphemy to not have chosen this as my top sports film, but if it’s any consolation, it was a very difficult, very close choice. It easily managed number two. And for the following reasons: Gene Hackman and Dennis Hopper give fantastic performances (not typically a necessity for a sports movie) for completely different reasons. Hopper is over-the-top and gut-wrenching as the drunken basketball dad, and Hackman is (generally) calm and collected as the not-so-loved Coach Norman Dale. Specifically with high school sports films, you’re just not used to seeing such dark histories play out. Dale’s been excused from his last coaching position for hitting a student, and he’s under pressure from the community to prove he’s a changed man. And the rag-tag group of boys from Hickory, Indiana, are such underdogs, it’s impossible to avoid rooting for the home team.