Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sports movies.

(Amazing image via Life)

I have spent much of the last few weeks being absorbed in the glorious, tumultuous, heart wrenching, joyful, soul-searing time of year that is March Madness. It has been such good Madness so far! And there is still (a little) more yet to come! O happy day!

In addition to the Madness, Kathy and I have also been spending large amounts of time discussing the Fab Five documentary which aired a few weeks ago on ESPN. This documentary has produced a lot of controversy, mainly due to Jalen Rose referring to Grant Hill and other upper-class black Duke players as "Uncle Toms," as can be seen on the clip featured here. (Note: This video clip should really be watched for anything following to make sense.) This was followed up by Grant Hill writing a response in a New York Times blog calling this "sad and pathetic," and defending his family and his personal and Duke-related history. Honestly, I have no place in this discussion, but like any self-respecting white blogger who has no place in these types of discussions, it's hard to restrain myself. So, here I digress:

< digress >

Overall, both Rose and Hill make good points and I hope they can make up and send each other nice Tweets again. While I've heard ESPN commentators saying we should all move on now that they've both said their piece, I do actually think it's an important and good conversation to have. The clip from the documentary, however, again reinforces my gut reaction to defend Rose. While the term Uncle Tom is obviously an emotionally charged phrasing which perhaps could have been omitted, he was discussing the way he felt as a kid, not now, which he emphasized had to do more with his own jealousy and his own emotions than  with Grant Hill, or any other player, personally. He was reflecting on a time and a place in his life, which seems valid, and indeed, the purpose of the documentary.While African-American history makes this its own complex issue, the conflict between the Haves (in this case, Grant Hill) and the Have-Nots (Jalen Rose and his teammates) has been occurring forever: being a Haves does not necessarily make you a bad person, and you may have a right to be offended when you are constantly vilified and stereotyped; however, one has to understand the way being a Have-Nots feels. And it is always worse.

And personally, I feel like their description of Duke was a perfect description of why so many people continue to hate Duke, even if it's a simplification: "They were the people the world accepted." Whereas Rose and and his teammates, who dared to do such wild and crazy things as wear baggy basketball shorts, were sent hate letter after hate letter who told them their black gangsta ways were ruining the prestigious reputation of the University of Michigan, and that they should, essentially, die and go to hell. In short, the same stuff America has been telling poor black kids forever and ever. I would be very hard-pressed to not give a little validity to their anger. In addition, I have to say that while Hill was overall very well-spoken in his editorial, something settled sourly in my stomach each time he defended being raised in a "two parent family." While this is something one can definitely be happy about, it should not necessarily be something one defends or is "proud" of--all it does is sound like a punch in the face to everyone who was raised in a one parent family. Rose wasn't saying your two parent family was BAD. He was saying that he was raised by a poor single mom and sometimes it sucked. So your two parent family wasn't BAD, but it made him FEEL bad. Hill's defense of the two parent family feels the same way as when straight people are angry about gay people needing a Gay Pride parade when there isn't a Straight Pride parade. It's Straight Pride every day. The minority population who has had a rough time, whoever it is, has a right to be loud--proud OR angry. Understand that, and deal with it.

< /digess >

So anyway. This all got me to thinking about the greatest cinematic genre of all time: that of the "inspired by a true story" (always inspired by a true story!) sports movie. In my old post about March Madness,  one of the only really decent sentences I wrote was: "Sports, really, are probably the one public sphere where it is acceptable to show raw, unabashed human emotion." I still believe this is true. So take that raw, unabashed human emotion, and put a swelling soundtrack to it! Over-dramatize the personal storylines a bit! And BAM! Jill will be there to watch it and cry her eyes out and feel overwhelmed at the triumph of the human spirit!!!!

While there are probably almost too many great sports movies to count, here's a list of some of my personal best of the best.

Hoop Dreams (1994)

Guys. Guys. GUYS. If you have not seen this, you must. It is one of the best movies I've ever seen (and Roger Ebert agrees!). In fact, according to Wikipedia (which is always right!), "It was on more critics' top ten lists than any other film that year, including Pulp Fiction, Forrest Gump, The Shawshank Redemption, and Quiz Show." Siskel & Ebert both rated it their #1 movie of the year. It follows (for five years!) two high school boys from inner-city Chicago who dream of going to the NBA, but what's so remarkable about this film is that it's not your typical sports movie/documentary. As opposed to the Fab Five documentary, or More Than a Game, you don't know while you're watching what the future brings for these boys, and their families, who you come to know so well. You're not assured from the get-go that these boys are going reach stardom and success. You are simply following the authentic story, and as Siskel says the "harsh realities" of two boys in America who love basketball. It is as inspiring as it is heartbreaking. This line from the trailer, as an example, is just golden: "People always ask me, will I remember them if I make it? I ask them, will you remember me if I don't?"

Rudy (1993)

Well, this movie is just a whole big barrel full o' depressing. A classic portrait of tough times in the Midwest, it's full of poverty, harsh families, life in the steel mill, and friends dying! Yayyyyy! Young Samwise Gamgee loves Notre Dame football SO BAD. SERIOUSLY SO BAD. His love for Notre Dame is so earnest and pure it's almost painful. However, he runs into these problems: 1) he's poor; 2) he's short and tiny; 3) he's dumb. (Okay, he later discovers he has dyslexia. Spoiler alert.) So dumb he gets rejected from Notre Dame like a gajillion times. But does he give up? HELLS NO, PEOPLE. As the trailer dramatically tells us: "Sometimes a winner is a dreamer who just won't quit." Oh man. What an epitome of a sports movie clincher line! It is perfect! And the last fifteen minutes will make you bawl like a baby no matter who you are! If you don't you have no soul! Sorry, that's just the way it is!

A League of Their Own (1992)

For those who don't know, Kathy can quote almost this entire movie. In fact, if there was a Things Kathy  Likes, I would put "Randomly quoting A League of Their Own" at number one. So for this one, I am just going to shout into the living room and ask her to recite some of her favorite lines:
"Keep it down, your father's listening to the radio!" [That's for Allie!]
"'What if at a key point in the game my uniform bursts open and oops my bosoms come flying out?' 'You think there are men in this country who ain't seen your bosoms?'"
"By the way, I loved you in the Wizard of Oz."
"Gimme gimme gimme gimme!"
"'What do you say we slip in the backseat and you make a man outta me?' 'What do you say I slap you around for awhile?' 'Can't we do both?'"
"'I especially like that move in the 7th inning where you scratch your balls for an hour.' 'Well, anything worth doing is worth doing right."
"Avoid the clap, Jimmy Doogan."
"'Has anyone seen my new red hat?' 'Oh, piss on your hat.'"
"I'm singin' to Nelson!"
"Did you promise the cows you'd write?"
"See how it works is, the train moves, not the station."
"She's got an eye like DiMaggio."
So, there you have it. (Also, let's not even talk about the last scene in the hall of fame. Don't. even. talk. about. it.)

Field of Dreams (1989)

Kevin Costner! James Earle Jones! Ghosts! Corn! If you build it, they will come!


Bull Durham (1988)

Kevin Costner! Susan Sarandon! Tim Robbins! The minor leagues! I believe in long, slow, deep, wet kisses that last three days!

Friday Night Lights (2004)

Moral of this story: high school football in Texas is WAY scary and intense, and the lives of these boys and the adults around them actually makes me extremely uncomfortable and upset. But, really well done movie. (I have not watched the TV series, although I have heard many good things and would like to.) I would also like to comment on the fact that Beck's "Golden Age" dominates the end of this trailer, which is interesting since it's hard to listen to pretty much any track from Sea Change without wanting to slit your wrists, so that combined with Billy Bob Thornton and Texas football? That is quite a concoction of emotions, my friends.

Hoosiers (1986)

Okay, so to be honest, I haven't watched this movie in a long time and don't remember much about it, but I feel like it has to be included on this list. I do know that it includes almost all of the ingredients for a Classic Sports Film, such as 1) motivational coach speeches; 2) the tale of the underdog Cinderella story; 3) the high-school-sports-team lifting up a small town theme; 4) basketball in Indiana, which is essentially like football in Texas, but less scary, although I may just feel this way because I like basketball way more than I like football, but still, it's the Midwest, they're more gentle folk there, so yes, it is less scary than Texas; and 4) as witnessed in this clip, the slow clap. What more can you ask for than that?

The Sandlot (1993)

So other Best Sports Movies Lists I've looked at, such as ESPN's, don't include the Sandlot anywhere, perhaps because it's a kids movie, but Kathy and I believe this is foolish. No one loves baseball more purely than a bunch of prepubescent boys. Along with other classic 90s films such as Stand By Me and Now and Then and others, this is one of the most perfect movies about childhood of all time: it encapsulates summer, friendship, baseball, youth. They seriously, seriously, seriously do not make kids movies like they used to. This golden age of childrens' movies in the 90s did things we've somehow lost the ability to do: they were perfectly appropriate for kids, at the same time that they weren't dumbed down in the least. They were innocent and fun, but they were also honest and often moving, making them enjoyable for everyone to watch. I miss it.

Bend it Like Beckham (2002)

This is a great female-centered movie which, like many other good, upbeat female-centered movies (Legally Blonde, Mean Girls, etc.) are often shrugged off--even by the people who like them--as being "guilty pleasure" type movies. But in fact, I think they're all extremely well written and well done: just because they're fun doesn't mean they're stupid. This movie is also of course great because it's a soccer movie, and even though it was made in the UK it was also extremely popular here, and how often are soccer movies--with a female protagonist--popular in America? Mark that one as a never, until Bend it Like Beckham. Oh, and in addition to a female protagonist, she's an Indian-British protagonist. Cultural awesomeness abounds! The only thing which isn't necessarily great about this movie is the romantic relationship between Jess (Jesminder) and the coach, and the resulting feud between Jess and her best friend super hot Kiera Knightly (Jules): if it seems  annoying and unnecessary, it's because it is. The actual romantic relationship was supposed to be between Jess and Jules--which seems pretty obvious throughout the movie--but the makers of the movie wimped out.

Glory Road (2006)

I remember seeing the trailer for this in the theaters with Kathy, and we immediately turned to each other and said: "Uh, yes please!" College basketball AND a moving story about race relations? THERE IS NOT A MORE PERFECT MOVIE PLOTLINE! This is based on the (shocker!) true story of the 1966 NCAA college basketball championships, where the coach of the little known Texas Western team shocked the nation, and most especially their opposing team of Kentucky, with super duper racist  coach dude Adolph Rupp, by having five black players as the starters, for the first time ever. The coach, Don Haskins, is white, so this could easily fall into the white-man-raising-up-the-black-man storyline which I know is reviled by many, but it's still a great, important, moving story. And I mean, Stevie Wonder's in the trailer. Come on.

Gridiron Gang (2006)

Listen. I feel like people may give me shit for this one--I mean, it stars The Rock. The Rock! But like Glory Road, this is another one of those movies where the story is so good I can't help but love the whole thing. This one deals with kids who've been in gangs and killed people and stuff and are locked up in juvie, but they find a way to redemption through football and a coach who believes in them. This is the stuff dreams are made of! Second chances! So much triumphing of the human spirit! YAYYYYYYY! However, I should say that the opening scene was extremely violent and disturbing and I'm not quite over it, since I do not deal well with such violent and disturbing things. I do not deal well with them at all. This probably also explains why I'm not a humongous fan of football. But, I really also wanted to include this one if just because the footage at the very end, of the real players and the real coach (from the TRUE STORY!!!) was just incredibly awe inspiring.

The Mighty Ducks (1992)



I know this is an incomplete list. Which ones did I miss?


  1. i OBVIOUSLY love all things mighty ducks. but that is, of course, D2. as i just told you since you're sitting next to me. :):):) i'll comment on the content of this post when i get to read it.

  2. my favorite part:
    "College basketball AND a moving story about race relations? THERE IS NOT A MORE PERFECT MOVIE PLOTLINE!"

    for realzzzzzz.

    this is a great post. you know i could talk about movies and sports and sport movies forever (FOR-E-VER), but let's just keep it simple for now. and lay off the high ones.

  3. um, you forgot Remember the Titans, and Miracle.
    Also, the movie Goal! is pretty darn good.