Sunday, March 09, 2008

Downtime and the Silver Screen revisited

Anyone that reads my stuff knows two basic facts about me -

  1. I'm not too big on sports outside of football and baseball so this downtime between seasons is ...well...downtime.
  2. I'm a movie buff. I love movies. Enough of one that I minored in film while in college and was stunt coordinator for a video shot in Rhode Island for the Kelly Deal 6000 back in 1996. I will enjoy films that I recognize as bad films.
That said, this is what I wanted to address...

I wanted to do the ten best sports films to hit the silver screen. I've done top ten lists of sports films before, waxing poetic about films like The Natural, Breaking Away, and Chariots of Fire. But I haven't done the list like this. This is going to be a list of the ones not traditionally thought of as sports films.

The most important rule of this list is that it involve some sort of competitive sport, or the link to sports that is integral to the plot of the movie.

And here's the list, along with the relevant sport and a little something about the film...

10. Better Off Dead (Skiing) - 1980's comedy cult-classic featuring a young John Cusak as Lane Meyer. Meyer loses his girlfriend to the captain of the high school ski-team and spends the movie exploring a variety of suicide options. The movie climaxes with a ski race between Meyer and Stalin, the captain of the ski team. For those of you who have not seen the film, there's a great Howard Cosell reference/running joke through the course of the film.

9. Bananas (Howard Cosell, announcing) - This might seem an odd choice, but the early Woody Allen comedy has two absolutely genius scenes with Cosell. The scenes bookend the film with Cosell announcing two wildly inappropriate activities that have virtually nothing to do with sports.

8. The Quiet Man (Boxing, horse racing) - I'm not a John Wayne guy. I just never really got the fascination. I am, however, a fan of John Huston and I have always had a soft spot for this film. Wayne plays a retired boxer returning to his familial roots in Ireland. While the fight choreography is not to today's standards, the brawl at the end is good fun.

7. The Blood of Heroes (Random made-up future sport) - Ah. The sport of juggers. I love this film. It's part of the low-budget post-apocalyptic society movies of the 1980's in the vein of The Road Warrior. The movie focuses on a brutal sport that pretty much entails two teams of five vying to put a dog skull on a stake.

6. Ong-bak: the Thai Warrior (Competitive muay-thai) - Realistically, the plot of this movie is almost a martial arts cliche. The bad guys offend a temple and its greatest student tracks them down to restore the honor of the temple. The martial arts, however, are phenomenal. Some of the best scenes take place in a bar with people betting on matches. Worth a look for any martial arts fan. And if you are a MA fan and have yet to catch Tony Jaa, then you're missing out.

5. Jet Li's Fearless (Wushu, athletic association) - One of the last of Jet Li's martial arts epics, this one is based in the foundation of the Chin Woo or Wushu Athletic Association. The film is shot beautifully, on par with other martial arts epics like House of Flying Daggers or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The film ranges from street fights to tournaments, thus the inclusion on the list.

4. Gladiator (Gladiatorial games) - Let's face it. They were referred to in ancient Rome as "The Games." The blood-sport in which these athletes engaged is at the roots of a number of modern sports from football to boxing.

3. Unleashed (Underground fighting) - Known by the title Danny the Dog in Europe, this little movie is about a man conditioned from boyhood to be a thug's guard/attack dog. This makes this list for two sequences in which Danny is forced into unsanctioned underground fights in order for his "owner" to make a few extra bucks.

2. Marathon Man (Running) - This classic about Nazis in hiding, diamonds, and a guy in the wrong dentist chair at the wrong time could easily have been number one. Featuring Dustin Hoffman as a runner training for the marathon in the Olympics, his studies and training end up horribly interrupted when he accidentally stumbles into his brother's (Roy Scheider) second life. Not for the faint of heart, nor those who already have a fear of dentists.

1. Fight Club (Bare-knuckle brawling) - Clever, this film is largely built around split personalities and illegal blood-sport. Well...that, and soap. If you've seen the film, you understand.

Well...those are my ten. I'm sure I missed a few, and would love to know which ones you think I might have missed. I have to admit, I considered both The Odd Couple, and Mighty Aphrodite as they both feature sports writers.


David Sullivan said...

There is an Irish film called "The Van" in which two blokes try to set up a Chip and Burger van with Irelands World Cup Soccer run in the backdrop. Funny and it shows the zeal and patriotism of sports fans outside of the US.

Another favorite of mine is "A Gentleman's Game" which chronicals a boys experiance growing up in an exclusive country club environment.

Kevin Smith said...

Is that the one by the writer of The Commitments? I haven't seen it, and I really should.

Dave said...

If we can put made-up sports on the list, I nominate "Rollerball." The good one, not that crap remake. That is a fantastic film.

Also, maybe not a Top 10, but I always liked "Victory". Pele with the bicycle kick and all that.

sugarshane024 said...

No Blood Sport? That's ludicrous. That was Jean Claude's prime!

Dave said...

Oh yeah, what about Slapshot?

Kevin Smith said...

Remember guys, the point of this list is films not traditionally considered sports films. Slapshot and Victory are both pretty regularly associated with their respective sports of hockey and soccer.

As for Bloodsport...entertaining, but i have to say its not even close to on the level of any of the martial arts films mentioned.

Suldog said...

For a really good film that only has a sport as background (and one great scene totally about that sport) I'll nominate "Night And The City" with Richard Widmark. The 1950's one, not the recent remake. It's about a small-time hood promoter of wrestling, both real and fixed, who gets in over his head and contends with the mob of London. Really gritty film noir-type movie.

By the way, as regards "The Van", yes, that was written by the same guy who wrote "The Commitments", Roddy Doyle. I've never seen the movie, but I read the book.