Friday, January 29, 2010

10 Favorite Sports Movies (#1-5)

5. Slap Shot (1977, George Roy Hill)
"They brought their fucking toys with them."
Whenever Paul Newman starred in a George Roy Hill film (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sting), an instant classic was produced. Reg Dunlop (Newman) is the captain of a hockey team that is really sucking. They aren't horrible but they just can't seem to get it together. You could suspect that one of the many reasons, is that the players are just horrible human beings. The characters are foul mouthed and they play dirty. In once sentence I've just summed up the essence of Slap Shot. How could such an amazing film be based on such characters with simple premises? Hill somehow pulls it off by capturing the spirit of giving into the stereotype of being a "man." Similar to Animal House, this is one of the quintessential "guy" movies and yet so many people still haven't seen it.Hill also captures the ice in a very unique way. The sound for its time is phenomenal as we hear the puck go flying across the ice and the players slam into the walls. Honestly I notice how short my thoughts on this movie are but I love the film because it is in fact so simple and yet still so enjoyable. Its about men and just how rough they can get in competition with each other.

4. Bull Durham (1988, Ron Shelton)
"Who are you anyway?"
Each of the main characters in this film is constantly trying to win the affection of someone (a lover) or something else (baseball) both out of love or trust. You have Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) who is an excellent minor league catcher who may soon be putting away his glove. You have Nuke Laloosh (Tim Robbins) who is a up-and-coming minor league catcher who has no maturity whatsoever. You finally have Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon) who is a woman obsessed with baseball and wants to date a baseball player. Of the three, Annie is the most interesting as one might want to call her a tramp, groupie, or slut but she truly just wants to be in love with a man who knows the ins-and-outs of her favorite sport. She pursues both Crash and Nuke and the two relationships contrast perfectly. Crash and Annie discover that they both love other things (like favorite writers) outside of baseball while Nuke during his time with Annie realizes that he wants nothing more than to be a star player. Crash is soon tasked with getting Nuke's head in the game and he discovers that Nuke can't play if he has a single thought that isn't baseball related (like a relationship with Annie) going around in his head when he pitches. The whole film revolves around these three unique characters and their complex relationships with each other over the course of a season. This is just as much a study on love and friendship as it is a look inside the heads of sports celebrities.

3. The Hustler (1961, Robert Rossen)
"I got talent, so what beat me?"
The story of Fast Eddie Felson (Paul Newman) is a story about defeat in a game of pool brought on by his lack of character in the way the he lives his life. Pool is depicted as this game where players only talk to each other so they can judge each other's character, and the film has plenty of that (despite character being Fast Eddie's flaw). Sarah Packard (Piper Laurie) is Eddie's drunk lover and is showcased just as much as Eddie making it one of my favorite female roles in a predominantly male cast. Bert Gordon (George C. Scott) is perfect as this stern villain who has it out for both Eddie and Sarah. Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason) is quiet but he has this presence where he remains the passive king of the pool hall. The black and white color perfectly fits the tone for the film while the editing captures both the speed and the pauses that occur while setting up a shot and finally hitting the ball. I think by now I've realized that character is all at the center of great sports movies, and the characters in this film outright state that the way to succeed in competition is character (which is the answer to the quotation at the beginning of this passage). The Hustler paints pool as this epic tragedy, and Newman and co. make it believable.

2. Raging Bull (1980, Martin Scorsese)
"You win, you lose. You win, you win. Either way you still win."
Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro) is depicted as a man full of anger, grief, and the incapability of loving a woman past just having sex with her. When LaMotta first meets his future wife, Vickie (Cathy Moriarty), he becomes obsessed with her as he watches the young girl go swimming. LaMotta wants her and he gets, her but as he soon goes on to become a professional boxer, his wife is just a sexual object. Vickie then begins to cheat on Jake possibly with Jake's brother Joey (Joe Pesci). Jake suspects something and very quickly his violent life inside and outside of the ring meshes together. When Vickie comments that a fellow boxer looks good, LaMotta beats his face to a pulp when their match comes up. He later goes home and does the same to Vickie. The fight scenes in the ring are brutal for the time. The camera is always close to the action and the sight of fists hitting bodies as blood and sweat flies everywhere is only benefitted by the black-and-white color of the film. After LaMotta retires from the ring and his love life, he becomes a pathetic stand-up comedian at a night club. Past that, we don't learn much else about LaMotta but within the context of Paul Schrader's story, we know all we need to know to observe a typical yet thrilling Scorsese-driven examination of the lengths men go to be with the women they obsess over.

1. Hoop Dreams (1994, Steve James)
"Coach keeps asking me, when you going to grow?"
This documentary film isn't just about basketball, but also about an examination of ambition. Two black kids named Arthur Agee from South Side Chicago and William Gates from the Cabrini Green projects want to be NBA players. Arthur's dad is unemployed and is fighting a drug problem while Will's family lives without any electricity. We see their poverty and the way that Steve James depicts this authentic feeling reality, we feel as if there is little hope that these kids will ever succeed. The film follows the two boys from eighth grade to their freshman year of college. We watch as recruiters from St. Joseph's High School (which recruited the famous Isaiah Thomas) see the two boys playing on a basketball court at their local playground and immediately pick up the two boys. The boys debate going to the school because they read at the fourth grade level, have to commute ninety minutes, and not many black kids go there for Arthur and William to relate to. Conflict soon arises. Arthur's college transcripts won't be sent out unless his parents pay tuition and evidence is uncovered by the filmmakers that Arthur is a special case because of his athletic ability on the court was not what the recruiters thought it would be. William tears a ligament and this may affect his future as a player. I'm not going to say what happens next, but what is it about this film that makes it so different than others? This is a film that captures life. It shows that life is what defines a player. It shows actual dreams come true in front of our eyes.

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