Bringing in the next installment, here are numbers 6-15 of the greatest sports movies of all time (at least in my humble opinion). A lot of recent gems gracing this part of the list, as well as some of the classic sports films that introduced me to the genre as a kid, way back when I actually had time to watch these movies over and over and over.
15. Trouble With The Curve – An old, aging Clint Eastwood (repetition for emphasis) tries desperately to hold on to the only thing he knows, scouting the minor leagues. That alone makes for a great movie. Throw in Amy Adams who continues to prove she belongs among the elite actresses of our generation (she also shows up later on in this list) plus John Goodman throwing down against Matthew Lillard in a battle of familiar faces, and you’ve got an amazing cinematic endeavor that just happens to center around America’s favorite pastime. Oh yeah, and “JT” Justin Timberlake’s in it as well, and I have to begrudgingly admit that he’s good. All in all, if you haven’t seen ‘Trouble With the Curve’, whatever you do, don’t watch it with your old man, unless you want him to see you cry.
14. Little Giants – Are they kids? Yeah, they’re kids, and they’re playing a game they probably won’t even remember when the pains of puberty forever alter their state of mind, but ‘Little Giants’ reminds us of a time when the entirety of our universe didn’t extend beyond the town line, when days were long and no one’s parents were anywhere to be found, except when they showed up to watch us play with our friends (watch little Johnny run all the way to the endzone simply to hug his dad who finally shows up to the game, then tell me this movie doesn’t belong on this list). Oh, and apparently Spike was on ‘True Blood’, who knew?
13. A League of Their Own – Feminism is what it is, and I’m all for equality. That said, I’m not one to protest in the streets and burn bras that aren’t mine for the sake of a cause we should have realized a long time ago. But ‘A League of their Own’ showcases, in a non-painfully forced way, the struggle of women to get their fair shake in this world. The big wigs of Baseball need to fill the seats while the boys are at war, but the concept that women’s baseball would be a permanent fixture in this country is met with laughs. Yet after spending 90 minutes watching these women sweat and bleed for the game they love so much, I’ll be damned if I’m not appalled at the blunt sexism they face. Geena Davis plays probably her best role ever as Dottie Hinson, and Tom Hanks brings his A game as the at first drunk and useless but eventually kind-hearted and wisdom bequeathing manager. This movie has made ‘There’s no crying in baseball” a household sentiment, and it’s already 22 years since this movie’s conception.
12. The Sandlot – “Sandlot Sandlot Sandlot!” There’s a reason I yell this at random strangers as I run past them. And that reason is that this movie fucking rocks! I talked earlier about ‘Little Giants’ capturing one’s childhood, but no movie does that better than ‘The Sandlot’. Making friend’s, getting into trouble with those friends, trying desperately to impress those friends only to have it backfire dramatically and horribly in your face, these are memories we all have (at least I do!). Also, the crush on the older lifeguard at the local pool, weren’t we all Squints at some point in our lives, some of us not even that long ago? Similarly to the above mentioned “There’s no crying in baseball”, “You play ball like a girl” was the biggest insult one could utter in my day (maybe we should have been watching more feminist movies to dissuade us from that notion).
11. Shaolin Soccer – Just pure fun. The movie itself isn’t all that great, but given that Americans have finally caught on to the World Cup craze (although they’ve already seem to have forgotten it), I figured I should at least include one Soccer (I’m sorry, futbol) movie on this list. And as much as I love ‘Ladybugs’, ‘Shaolin Soccer’ takes that spot. The Hong Kong import tells the tale of martial arts experts applying their ‘Crouching Tiger Hidden Wires’ skills to the sport of soccer, flipping around the ball and goal as they attempt to win the seemingly pedestrian game. It’s dubbed, but the subtitles aren’t all that necessary, we’re not watching it for the subtext and character development.
10. The 6th Man – I know what you’re thinking. Seriously? Marlon Wayans made this list. But you don’t know ‘The 6th Man’ like I do. While the inspirational speeches made by both Coach Pederson and the above mentioned Wayans brother (Kenny Tyler in the movie) may not live up to some of the other speeches on this list, they’re still pretty good and hold up to fill the “winning isn’t about winning” speech necessary to the sports movie format. What really puts this movie up among the ranks of top sports movies is the scene just after Marlon’s brother, Antoine, played by Kadeem Hardison, is taken to the hospital. Marlon is told in the locker room the sad news that his brother has died, bringing the world of sports crashing down around the college athlete as real world consequences rock him to his core. Marlon Wayans brings it in that scene, one of the few scenes that will bring a tear to my eye no matter how many times I see it.
9. The Program – The movie that made me want to play college football and make Christmas trees out of beer cans, not necessarily in that order. James Caan turns in, probably, the most realistic college coach performance, in that he struggles with keeping a handle on his team, but actually doesn’t seem to care all that much, since he knows he’ll be teaching/mentoring/babysitting a whole new crop of players come next fall. This idea is captured in my favorite scene of ‘The Program’, the last one, which mirrors the first as Caan and his assistant coaches begin the trek across the country for their incoming class of athletes. Andrew Bryniarski also turns in the most bad ass-est of all football performances, smashing a car window with his head upon not getting cut and then playing the final game in the coolest face paint job in the history of movies.
9. Miracle – Do you believe in miracles? It’s impossible to be American and not love this movie. And if you question me on that, perhaps you need to have a little talk with Senator Joseph McCarthy. The movie stars Kurt Russell as the iconic coach Herb Brooks, leading a misfit band of young Hockey players on the road to immortality. Aside from Kerri Strug, the hockey team in ‘Miracle’ defeating the proverbial giant of the unbeatable Russian team in the 1980 Winter Games is the greatest moment in US Olympic history, and this movie delivers that story to the viewer in a heartfelt, family friendly, nail-biting, gut-wrenching, tears-of-joy-enabling, red-white-and-blue blood pumping rush. While the second movie on this list to pit Americans vs Russians, at least this movie had some actual historical relevance and accuracy, which in turns adds a tremendous weight to the movie itself.
7. The Fighter – While I’m usually “rooting” for the title team in most sports movies, only one has actually had me pounding the table while yelling profanities of encouragement at the television set. That movie is ‘The Fighter’. Ironically, while Marky Mark Wahlberg was pretty good in his role as fighter Micky Ward, it’s Christian Bale’s incredible transformation into Ward’s brother, Dicky, that really had me entrenched in the pits of this movie and thoroughly on the hook for the final bout of the film. Amy Adams once again appears on the list, that girl really has some talent, and while this movie as a whole shows the ways in which the world outside of sports often steps in to taint the pure beauty of the sport, sometimes the heart of an athlete can still persevere.
6. Rudy – The lessons of ‘Rudy’: don’t give up, do everything you do the best you can, don’t ever give up. Rudy’s triumphant return to the practice field gives me chills every time, it’s not about winning a game, or a scholarship, or a pro contract. It’s about showing up and putting in work, doing what you love no matter who tells you that you can’t. The payoff that comes is Rudy simply getting a chance to suit up and march out onto the field with the rest of his team. The fact that he does get into the game towards the end is simply the icing on the cake. Sure, Sean Astin’s been a hobbit, a goonie, a forensics something-or-other on ‘The Strain’, but for me he will always be that “five foot nothing, a hundred and nothing” pipsqueak football player with a heart that could fill the damn grand canyon.
That does it for this installment of the greatest sports movies of all time. Now, if you’ve been paying attention, and you love this genre like I do, you might be thinking that you already know what’s coming next in the top five, but let me tell you, I’ve got some surprising upsets coming, and each one will come with a full description why. So stay tuned!