Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Greatest Sports Movies in the History of the World (Part 2)

Need I Say More?

Sly Stallone batted an extremely impressive .666 (Same as Puzo with Godfathers and Kardashian with daughters) during the thirty year run of the Rocky saga from 1976 to 2006.  The first four movies were great, but the last two (V and Balboa) kind of reminded me of an over the hill and out of shape Michael Jordan lumbering up and down the court for the Wizards in the early 2000s.  Just like Jordan should have ended his career on his game winner to beat the Jazz in ’98, the character of Rocky should have ridden off into the sunset after IV, never to be seen or heard from again.  Similar to Jordan, who would never be able to eclipse what would have been the perfect ending to his career, Rocky would never be able to surpass what he accomplished in IV.  Think about it.  He was able to avenge a friend’s death, he proved that pre-historic training methods could trump high-tech and highly juiced regimens, and he was able to effectively end the Cold War with one of the greatest punch-drunk peace offerings of all-time.  How on earth did Stallone think he could top that?

What made IV so great was the antagonist Ivan Drago played by Dolph Lundgren.  Not only does he kill Rocky’s buddy Apollo during an exhibition match on American soil, but he has the audacity to coldly say “If he dies, he dies” as medics are trying to revive him.  His robotic lack of remorse, combined with his commie affiliation and questionable training tactics are just the push Rocky needs to get back into the ring and seek revenge.  For me, as a Patriot and Apollo Creed lover, I want Rocky to get his revenge, but at the same time, there is something about the big Russian that I find appealing, making me think to myself "I wouldn’t be THAT disappointed if he sent Rocky to see his maker as well."  I know that sounds awful but I’d equate it to what goes on in the head of a second-string high school quarterback.  Obviously, as a team player they want to win, but there is a tiny part of them who wants the guy playing ahead of them to throw 3 picks in the big game, come down with a bad case of mono mid-season, or get caught with a couple bags of weed on him at school.  All this ill will so that the coach will give them an opportunity.  It is only our competitive nature as humans to think this way.  Of course, this thought process goes away if the team is playing for something bigger than the individual; say a rivalry game or a state championship.  In these instances, the second-string guy is usually rooting whole-heartedly for the starter.  Similarly, while at first, part of me was rooting for Drago, when I realized in the last scene that Rocky could singled-handedly bring about the collapse of The Berlin Wall and the abolishment of the Iron Curtain with a knockout, I put all my chips in his corner.  Some things are just bigger than the game.

Fall from Grace:  Bridgette Nielson, who played Drago’s wife, was a hot young actress with a ton of potential.  She was married to Stalone, who was one of the biggest movie stars at the time, and had all the fame and money a six foot (By the way, that is the best part of IMDB, looking up the heights of actors and actresses and seeing how disappointed or surprised you are.  In the case of Nielson, I was extremely disappointed because I thought she was at least 6’4”) Dane woman could ask for.  Fifteen years later, she was a star on the Surreal Life and had traded in Sly for Flavor Flav.  While I’m sure Flav made her extremely happy, I have to think that if she could be granted a mulligan for the past 15 years, she’d take it.

I have so much to say about this movie that throwing a couple hundred words down seems like it would be an insult to William and Arthur.  Plus, saving what I have to say gives me something to write about in the future when I develop a bad case of inevitable writer’s block.  I will say this though; a screenwriter could not have written a better plot for how things happened in this documentary, which just goes to show that real life is the best human drama.  Man I’m deep.

4b. White Men Can’t Jump

When I was eight, I came down with a case of the Chicken Pox.  While the itchiness and red marks were certainly awful, one good thing came out of it; my mom felt really, really, bad for me, so much so that she allowed me to watch any R-rated movie that I wanted, one of which happened to be White Men Can’t Jump.  (Side Note:  I know what you are thinking, with that kind of parenting, I was probably dropping M-Fers by nine, doing tequila shots by 10, and fathering illegitimate children by 12.  Quite the contrary, I didn’t swear until I was a senior in high school and didn’t take my first sip of alcohol until my first year of college, proving that a.) I was a complete loser and b.) my mom knew what she was doing.)  Even at that age, I appreciated WMCJ (Don’t want to spell it out every time) as a great sports comedy which helped to improve my trash-talking and “yo mama” joke acumen tenfold.  The exchanges between Harrelson and Snipes, as well as the rest of the cast had me dreaming of being the Billy Hoyle of the Western Suburbs who would make weekend trips down to the West and South side to hustle my way to a fortune.  Although I never actually acted on this fantasy, just thinking about it, gave me motivation to become a better ball player.  Screw college hoops or an NBA career, this movie had me wanting to parlay my basketball talent into a professional sandbagging street baller like Billy Ho.

I really liked the quality of the basketball scenes in this movie as well.  While Harrelson’s game left a little to be desired, Snipes looked like he might have been able to play a little JUCO ball, and Flight and Willie from the Brotherhood tournament played at UCLA and New York University respectively.  Crazy Raymond, who tried to stick up a convenience store to play Sidney and Billy, and who after losing decided that he was going to get his gun to try to kill everyone, is none other than former UCLA star Marques Johnson.  Johnson, who is also known for his color commentary for FSN west coast college basketball games, played one of the best characters in the movie and had me convinced that he was a normal actor, and not simply the basketball player turned actor that he really was.  If only he could have taught Ray Allen a thing or two, the fortunes of He Got Game could have been dramatically different and had more people re-watching it for more than just the recruiting visit.

G-L-O-R-I-A:  I could have done without Rosie Perez’s character Gloria.  Her voice and overall demeanor are hard to stomach and let’s be honest; a stud like Billy should have been able to do much better.  Even Perez’s willingness to do a couple nude scenes could not overcome her annoyingness.  Now that is saying something.  Get rid of Perez and throw in someone like Marissa Tomei, who has proven to be far less annoying and equally pro-nudity, and WMCJ jumps into the top 3.

I have seen plenty of movies that would fall under the thriller or horror genre; however I have never jumped out of my seat or been more afraid than when Roy Hobbs was shot by Barbara Hershey’s character in The Natural.  As a kid, I used to have nightmares about that scene thinking that something like that could happen to one of my own sports heroes like Frank Thomas, Michael Jordan, or Walter Payton.  I couldn’t even imagine how devastated I would be if I was never able to see them play because they were gunned down right on the verges of superstardom like Hobbs.  Luckily, Hobbs was able to salvage his career as a hitter 15 years later, but I often wonder how nasty he might have been on the fictional mound if he was never fictionally shot.  I ‘d have to think, as a lefty, he’d have Glavine-like control, Koufax-like velocity, Randy Johnson-like mound presence, and a Buehrle-like glove.  Unfortunately, we were never able to see the pitching version of Hobbs in his prime, but did see a pretty good hitter with a penchant for late-game heroics.  With the pennant on the line and his self-made bat “Wonderboy “ shattered in half, Hobbs uses the bat boy’s “Savoy Special” to hit a towering home run which both breaks the right field lights and gives the New York Knights the pennant.  This culminating scene is outstanding, not only for what happened, but for the musical score that goes along with it.  Go to 3:40 in this clip if you are in the mood to get goose bumps.  Now, go back and watch it again, but this time do it on mute.  Still cool, but the music is what makes the scene and the movie.

Different Ending?:  The movie is actually based on a book by Bernard Malamud.  In that version, Hobbs strikes out instead of hitting the pennant winning home run that he does in the movie.  In my opinion, Hollywood should have stuck with that original story, because it is more true to real life.  Sure, everyone loves hearing about a good comeback now and again, and some guys even have some initial success, but usually old guys giving it one final go, ends in disaster.  Think Magic Johnson post-HIV, Brando in Don Juan De Marco, or anything that Eddie Murphy has done after 1996 for examples.  When you are past your prime, you’re past your prime.  Then again, without that final scene, the chance of goose bumps is significantly lower.  Goose bumps, Realistic, Goose bumps , Realistic, Goose bumps, Realistic….. damn it, I guess I got to go with goose bumps.  Score one for tinsel town.

The funniest movie on this list is naturally the most quotable.  I can count on one hand, how many times I have watched a baseball game or other sporting event where I have not quoted this movie in some way, shape, or form (either in my head or out loud).  Most notable examples from the recent past:

-          “Vick, a juvenile delinquent in the off-season”

-       Ball Four, Ball Eight, Ball 12, and Ankiel has walked the bases loaded on 12 straight pitches.   How  can guys lay off pitches that close?”

-          “Nice Catch Rickey, Don’t ever %#%#ing do it again”

-          “Giambi leads the league in all offensive categories, including nose hairs”

-          “Yo Bartender, Griese needs a refill”

-          Anytime a third-stringer makes a bad play in a Bear’s preseason game “Shit, I’ve been cut  already?”

This movie is filled with fairly big name actors including Wesley Snipes, Charlie Sheen, Rene Russo, and Tom Berringer, but it is Bob Uecker who steals the show.  Uecker, the Milwaukee Brewers actual radio play-by-play man, plays Indians play-by-play man Harry Doyle.  Doyle drinks on the job, swears on the air, and acts like the ultimate homer, making the likes of Hawk Harrelson and Tom Heinsohn seem neutral.  He’s kind of like the lime in a Corona.  Without it, the Corona will still taste good and you’ll still achieve your desired effects from drinking it, but with it, you go from being at the table with Bud Light to partying it up with Guiness.  Similarly, without Uecker, Major League is still very good, but with him, the movie becomes great.

The main reason I rank Major League so high is because it is the only movie where I can recite every word from beginning to end.  In fact, as a kid, I could say the entire movie without it actually being on, starting with “Good Morning Gentlemen, welcome to another season of Indian’s baseball” and ending with “The Indians win it, The Indians win.  Oh my god, the Indians win it.”  Do you know how hard that is to do?  That is like being able to sing the entire “Thriller” album without the music or being able to recite verbatim the “Gettysburg Address”, Wilson’s “14 Points”, and throwing in MLK’s “I Had A Dream” for good measure.  I really do not know how I did it, but I do know that if the movie was not highly entertaining, extremely re-watchable, and about sports, it would have been impossible.  You know how people who used to be fluent in a language, kick themselves for letting it slip away?  One of the greatest regrets of my life is that I let my ability to recite Major League (without the movie being on, thought I needed to repeat that part of it) go by the wayside.  Just think of how useful that would have been at college parties and with the emergence of Youtube and America’s Got Talent, I could have been a star.  Instead, I write this now, and you read it now, extremely skeptical that I used to be able to do it.

2b.  Field of Dreams

I accidentally left this movie off the list when I first posted, but long-time blog reader, first-time blog commenter Charlie from Buffalo quickly pointed out the mistake.  All I can say is that I must have had a temporary brain cramp, especially since FOD is tied with Major League as my second favorite sports movie of all time.  It's inexcusable that I did not put it on the original list.  I'll blame it on the records that I was trying to set this past Saturday night for both speed and reps.

This was Costner and James Earl Jones's best movie and it was Liotta's second best movie (behind Goodfellas).  You know what that tells me considering that those three actors have upper-echelon A-list resumes?  It tells me that Field of Dreams must have been real, real, good and that it had a much larger appeal than just simply to sports-minded people.  You have your "early nineties sexiest man alive" audience, your "hey where do I know the voice of Simba's father from?" crowd, and your "Wow, Goodfellas was so awesome that I'm going to watch every movie that Ray Liotta was ever in" followers.  For that matter Field of Dreams gets the "wasn't Timothy Busfield somewhat relevant once" viewers as well.  Clearly, it has more global appeal than any other movie on this list and should be recognized for that.

"If you build it, he will come" is probably the most recognizable line in the history of sports movies.  It's one of my all time favorites and foreshadows a scene that I know in the future, after my father has passed, will make me cry like a baby.  We find out in the last scene, that Shoeless Joe was not the person that "the voice" was referring to, but it was actually about Ray's father.  The last scene gives Ray a chance to play catch with his deceased father again, something that he once refused to do as a kid.  The scene is great, except for one thing.  Instead of asking his dad if he wants to "play catch", he asks if he wants to "have a catch"?  I know, I know, Ray and his father are supposed to be from New York and that's what New Yorkers say, but that doesn't mean it's right.  These are the same people who say they "waited online at Six Flags for over an hour,"  confusing anyone else who is listening to them who is not from New York.  And besides, shouldn't Costner have followed the old "When in Rome" theory, because when in Iowa, you ask your father to play catch, not have a catch.  Minor detail, but those are the types of things that can keep you out of the top spot on the list.  Jimmy Chitwood would never tell Norman Dale that he had been practicing his "killer crossover and has been breaking a lot of ankles lately".  Like the Costner line, that just wouldn't feel right.                     

No question, without a doubt, the greatest sports movie of all-time.  Three words, uttered by Jimmy Chitwood, “I’ll make it”, define this movie and put it a couple notches above The Natural on the goose bump scale.  Based on true events, this is the ultimate underdog story which gives hope to all small schools at both the high school and collegiate level.  So much so that I’m going to make a bold statement that, while completely improvable, speaks to the inspirational power that Hoosiers provides.  Without this movie being made in 1986, the 2010 Butler Bulldogs never play for a national championship.   Here’s why:

1.)  I guarantee that Butler coach Brad Stevens used Hoosiers as a selling point to all his homegrown Indiana boys as a way to recruit them to Butler in the first place

2.)  I guarantee that playing in Hinkle field house, where the final scene from Hoosiers was filmed and where they used to play the state high school basketball championship was one of the reasons why each player decided on Butler.

3.)  I guarantee that every player on Butler has watched Hoosiers at least 5 times, some who have eclipsed over 50 viewings

4.)  I guarantee that they watched the movie together as a team before at least 3 of their tournament games.

5.)  I will 100% guarantee that Brad Stevens quoted the movie during his pre-game talks before both their elite 8 game and the national semifinal game.

All of this combined, as corny as it sounds, gave them the talent first (from the recruiting) and then the confidence later to believe that they could win it all.  Without Hoosiers, you’re watching Michigan State vs. Duke in the national championship.  Nothing in the world could convince me otherwise.

Getting back to the movie itself, Gene Hackman did an unbelievable job with his character of Norman Dale.  Hackman, who played small town high school basketball in Illinois, was completely believable in his role.  Just think of all the people who have played coaches who you thought as you were watching them act “This guy doesn’t know the first thing about sports.”  I’m guessing you could come up with a lot of examples.  While watching Norman Dale, I never once thought that.  In fact, I’m guessing if Hackman got a couple of instructional DVDs and reacquainted himself with the modern game that he could do just fine coaching at the high school level.  After all, a lot of coaching and teaching requires being a good actor.  I’m pretty sure he could manage that.

Unlike some movies on the list, this one will stand the test of time.  Twenty years from now, when my son or daughter has a huge game looming, you can be sure that the final scene from Hoosiers will be watched on their virtual reality sunglasses as their automated car drives them to school.  I know this because there will never be another movie like it and even if there is, they will already be so brainwashed by me that they won’t care to watch anything else. 

Added Bonus:  When my dad retired and decided to go back to school to become a teacher and coach, he started out as an assistant varsity coach.  This led to numerous jokes by members of my family where we referred to him as Shooter.  Even though it made no sense because one, my dad isn’t a booze bag, and two, he doesn’t embarrass me at all; it was still funny to refer to him as that and I think he secretly kind of liked it due to his affinity for the movie.

Well that’s it.  After almost 5,500 words, we finally have an accurate list of the greatest sports movies of all time.   That wasn’t so hard, I’m just glad I was able to set the record straight once and for all.  If you disagree, don’t be afraid to write it in the comment section, just know upfront that you’re wrong.         


1 comment:

  1. First time I've read this blog. No Doubt I'm very impresssed. But all I have to say is Seriously....Hoosiers is the Greatest Sports Movie of all Time?????