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Game 6’s Greatest Sports Movies Series

In Uncategorized on March 21, 2011 at 6:05 pm

We here at Game 6 love to start arguments. There’s nothing like a good row to get the comments flowing. But as much as we enjoy starting arguments, we really love to settle ’em – and I like to think we’ve done a pretty good job over the years. We’ve hit the hardwood – Jordan vs. LeBron (Jordan) – tackled tennis (cool) – and ranked the greatest sports video games of all time (NHL ’94 #1). This week, we take you to the movies, one sport at a time, in the Game 6 Guide to the Greatest Sports Movies, Ever.

But first, a quick primer: this isn’t some lame, pseudo-intellectual, let’s-see-how-much-obscure-movie-jargon-I-can-pack-into-each-sentence type of list. We here at Game 6 are not going to be Roger Ebert-ing around, talking about “art direction” and “mise-en-scene” and whether the actors “go for broke” or “chew the scenery” or “truly embody their characters.” No. There’s far, far too much of that out there already.

People who read these types of lists want to know three things:

They want to know whether the movies in question are a) enjoyable, b) entertaining, and c) re-watchable. That’s it.

They don’t care about boom mikes and key grips and bleepin’ method acting. Fans of sports movies are, first and foremost, sports fans. And what that really means, of course, is that they are fans of dramatic competition, public spectacle, and unrehearsed human emotion … because, after all, what are sports if not public, competitive spectacles which feature (and, in spectators, elicit) raw and spontaneous displays of human emotion?

Sports illustrate a desire in us for purity, for the ideal of the even playing field. That’s why steroids are such a big deal – they muddy the holy water of the game. And that’s why so many fans can love the rawness of sporting events while at the same time detesting the canned, ultra-processed press conferences held afterwards.

Knowing this, it logically follows that the films sports fans will most enjoy (and inevitably re-watch) are those that have a dash of three things: 1) drama or excitement; 2) a prominent display of skill or lack-there-of; and 3) some form of affect, whether it be glee, sympathy, empathy, hatred and rage, disgust or hilarity, joy or pain. The true sports fan wants always to feel, no matter the context. If a director’s brilliance or the virtuoso performance of an actor helps them do that, fine. If not, that’s fine, too. No one ever accused Adam Sandler of being a great actor, but that doesn’t mean Happy Gilmore isn’t funny as hell.

Unfortunately, the odds are stacked against sports movies, and for every Happy Gilmore there are seven Caddyshack II‘s. Here’s why: Sports movies are born out of an essential paradox – they are rehearsed vehicles which have the unfortunate task of re-creating the ultimate in spontaneity. It’s really, really difficult to do. Purity must be preserved.

This means, first of all, that any competition scenes must be realistic. For this, you need athletic actors (there aren’t many) and sports-knowledgeable directors (ditto). Then, you need meticulously-recreated environments on which to shoot: pristine, convincing stadiums, arenas, or tracks. Finally – and hardest of all to achieve – you need an authentic atmosphere. You need to create a baseball clubhouse that sounds, smells and feels like a baseball clubhouse. Your hockey players need to act like hockey players, your football coaches like football coaches, your golfers like golfers. This can present serious problems, especially for the Disneys of the world, because sports are, by and large, an R-rated medium. That’s just the way it is. So a high school football movie that doesn’t have a swaggering, swearing coach already has one strike against it. Any more than one strike can torpedo a film.

So, in short, when creating this list we here at Game 6 worked hard to keep the strikes to a minimum. We strove for the spontaneous. We tried to preserve the purity. Ultimately, we did the best that we could.

Okay, you get the idea. Here’s how it’s going to work:

Each day this week we will feature a top-5 or top-10 list of films (depending on the number of installments to choose from) from each of 6 major sports: golf, hockey, basketball, football, boxing, and baseball. Each list will be ranked in descending order, from least enjoyable to most, but know this: all of these movies are good, many of them great. Pop in any flick from these lists and it’ll leave you entertained. That’s a Game 6 guarantee.

We’re going to start today with golf and hockey, move tomorrow to basketball, hit football on Wednesday, boxing and baseball on Thursday, and wrap it all up on Friday with a very special – and no doubt painfully-executed – Game 6 Guide to the 25 Greatest Sports Movies, Ever. You have no idea how terrified I am to whittle down these lists. I mean, I am dreading it. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the final list was more like 30 or 40 movies long. I just don’t see how I can possibly narrow it down to 25. You might have to pry the list from my mangled fingers over the weekend. Anyway, here it goes:

Without Freddy Adu, I present to you the first installment of Game 6’s Guide to the Greatest Sports Movies, Ever.

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  1. You are such a tease… All foreplay with no sports movie release!

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