Hunting out movies for ‘sports’

Let’s face it, sports and movies usually don’t mix very well together. There are more bad sports movies than there are good ones.
For every “Raging Bull,” there are five “Mighty Ducks” sequels. For every Oscar nomination a sports movie gets, there are 12 “Razzies” (annual award recognizing the worst movies) with other titles’ names on it.
So with the Oscars coming up this Sunday, your friendly neighbourhood sports department (that would be me) decided to give you its top four sports movie picks.
While every sports column under the sun has probably done this, it’s a first for your fledging “A Reuben with A View.” A premiere, if you will.
Roll camera . . .
#4—Any Given Sunday (1999)
The only reason this cracked my list is because I consider it the “Titanic” of sports films. You see, while it may have some of the finest, in-your-face football game sequences this side of Playstation 2, the movie itself just isn’t that great.
Director Oliver Stone uses the same sharp editing tricks from “J.F.K.” to tell the story of the Miami Sharks (a fictional pro team). But don’t worry, there’s no conspiracy theories here. It’s football.
Score more than the other team (oh, and mix in a series of “stock-jock” characters) and you have a money-maker on your hands.
I have to admit some of the performances aren’t bad, including Dennis Quaid as the down-and-out injured quarterback and Al Pacino, with the dubious role of the hard-living, burnt-out head coach who gives the cliche-ridden speech before the big game.
Plus, Cameron Diaz also stars so it can’t be that bad, right?
The only way to truly enjoy this movie is on the big screen, either in a theatre or at home with all the surround-sound fixings.
#3—Field of Dreams (1989)
Baseball is merely the backdrop for Kevin Costner’s search for inner peace in this movie where “building it and they will come” apparently is the answer to life, the universe, and everything (this is pre-“Waterworld” Costner so it’s actually watchable).
Although a little too preachy at times, “Field of Dreams” manages to capture a theme that’s not often explored in sports movies: regret. The expression of this isn’t relieved, though, with the big play at the plate or the two-out, bases-loaded home run in the bottom of the ninth.
Instead, it delivers a piece of childhood—something every adult wishes they could seal in a bottle and open up when the stress of the “real” world builds up.
#2—Hoop Dreams (1994)
From the glitz of “Any Given Sunday” to this documentary about two kids from the streets of Chicago with dreams of professional basketball, “Hoop Dreams” is top drawer.
You don’t even have to be a basketball fan to enjoy this one. Just displace the sports and you’ll see the problems these kids and their families run into are quite universal.
Not only is this movie about family, but a real look how kids barely out of their teens are scouted like high-calibre athletes—all for the glory of winning.
One of the more interesting side-stories is William’s (one of the two boys) older brother, Curtis. He also was a high school basketball star but couldn’t hold on to a scholarship due to an knee injury and eventually works for minimum wage as a stock clerk.
The pressures he puts on his brother to perform are some of the more poignant scenes of this film.
“Hoop Dreams” doesn’t jump in your face with slam dunks and rap music, rather its simplicity and honesty does so much more.
#1—Slap Shot (1977)
I remember watching a Senators game in Ottawa a couple of years ago and hearing a promotion over the P.A. system announcing the Hanson brothers would be in town to sign autographs and goof it up during one of the intermissions.
I literally did a double-take at the jumbo-tron and lo-and-behold, there were the original actors hamming it up on camera.
Normally, the pessimist in me would say what a sad state of affairs it is for these guys to be peddling characters they played more than 20 years ago for a fast buck.
But I didn’t. Instead, it reinforced what I knew all along—“Slap Shot” is a true sports classic.
Folks, this is the hockey movie of all hockey movies (by last count, that number was under 10 and I’m not even counting the, dare I say long-awaited, “Slap Shot” sequel due out next week on DVD and video).
Before Wayne Gretzky donned a Los Angeles Kings jersey to sell the game down south, “Slap Shot” wrapped up all the sports’ stereotypical bits into an “old-time hockey” stick and cross-checked the United States in the face.
For better or worse, this movie has it all: the fighting, the gap-toothed yet lovable tough guys, the fighting, the French-Canadian goalie complete with broken English and poor lateral movement, and your typical “for all the marbles” championship game to end it all.
Oh yeah, it had one of the best payoffs in any movie, period (and that includes “Citizen Kane” and “Casablanca”). And for the record, Maxine Nightingale’s “Right back where we started from” is one of the best songs used in a closing credits sequence.
Did I mention the fighting?
Actually, strip away the scene-stealing Hanson brothers and “Slap Shot” is still a very good movie. It never tries to do too much. I think it knows what it is: a slapstick comedy that happens to capture everything that’s fun about sports.

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