American History released their special edition of “100 Greatest Sports Movies.” Here are the top 10 picks; all films made before 1989. An indication of age or they just don’t make sports movies like they used to?
Number 10 on the list of Greatest Sports Movies is the 1977 documentary “Pumping Iron.” For many it was the first flex of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s muscle. “Pumping Iron” follows the terminator (Schwarzenegger) and the Hulk (Lou Ferrigno) on their path to the 1975 Mr. Olympia competition. Robert Fiore and George Butler gave us a verifiable classic documentary with the blab, sweat and juice boiling beneath body-building.
“Pumping Iron” is a classic, but there are arguably much better sports documentaries. For instance “Hoop Dreams”: a deeply investigative sports film and acclaimed documentary, placed way down at number 86.
Redemption comes with Number 9 on the list of Greatest Sports Movies: “Olympia”. Without a history lesson Leni Riefenstahl’s documentary about the ’36 Summer Olympics might seem arbitrary. The film’s mastery of sports cinematography was groundbreaking, setting precedents for movies, documentaries and sports on television.
Number 8 on the list of Greatest Sports Movies is Ted Kotcheff’s 1979 football drama “North Dallas Forty”. Adapted from Dallas Cowboy Peter Gent’s autobiographical shocker, the film captures this game of men off the field. Nick Nolte’s sensationalized Hollywood portrayal gets closer to truth than any documentary could.
Number 7 on the list of Greatest Sports Movies is “Breaking Away”, the most inspiring pick on the list. Raking in Oscar nominations and awards, it brought the talents of Dennis Quaid and Daniel Stern to the screen. A definitively American film about blue collar kids who break their mold in the Little 500 bike race.
Number 6 on the list of Greatest Sports Movies gets down and dirty in baseball’s minor leagues. “Bull Durham” is Kevin Costner’s perfect performance as a washed up catcher tossed from the “the show” to the minors. This modern classic pits Costner in the middle of failure, ambition, the fans, Susan Sarandon, and most all the game. Costner is King of the Diamond with “Field of Dreams” at 17 and “For Love of the Game” at 51.
With several great Hockey films, only one belongs in the top 10 Greatest Sports Movies and that’s “Slap Shot” at number 5. George Roy Hill’s film is often grouped in the greatest American comedies. Yet, anything helmed by Paul Newman is packed full of every rough-edged male emotion there is. What better place for this drama to unfold than in the foul-mouthed, fist-flinging rink of amateur hockey.
There are few things more American than Gary Cooper and Baseball, thus number 4 on the list of Greatest Sports Movies: “The Pride of the Yankees”. Sam Wood’s film starring Cooper is a personal favorite which forever stamped Lou Gehrig in my lexicon of favorite athletes. It stars real life teammates, Babe Ruth and Mark Koenig, but rarely goes into the essence of baseball. It focuses on making Gehrig an American hero, which on its own merit justifies why Athletes are so revered.
American’s glorify and equally brutalizing sports, but the Brits turn sports drama into mythology. Such is the case for number 3 on the list of Greatest Sports Movies, the multiple award-winning “Chariots of Fire”. British runners during the 1924 Olympics are on a mission from God and Social justice. It’s a heavy film, but the opening sequence on the beach, accompanied by Vangelis’ iconic theme, is so uplifting it carries the drama effortlessly.
Is the game of pool a sport? Arguments aside, hustling certainly takes an athlete’s prowess. Paul Newman’s second appearance on the list of Greatest Sports Movies is “The Hustler” at number 2. Newman’s Fast Eddie is a cinema touchstone in the culture of cool as a pool hustler hell-bent on beating the great Minnesota Fats. Cemented by 9 Oscar nominations this American classic rekindled a passion for pool in America. With Jackie Gleason as Minnesota Fats and George C. Scott as the financier, it’s a film close to perfect. What’s better? Jake LaMotta as a bartender. Telling your woes to Jake LaMotta is like telling Vince Lombardi how to win.
Why is Jake LaMotta the prince of woe? That is easily answered by the number 1 pick of Greatest Sports Movies. Martin Scorsese’s “Raging Bull” starring Robert De Niro is quintessential cinema and quintessential boxing. The film that made Scorsese a director and De Niro an actor is a breathtaking portrayal of a tragic hero. Sports are not a zero-sum game and Jake LaMotta is the quintessential loser. Aesthetically, Scorsese’s black and white sequences in the ring are as brutally beautiful as De Niro’s monologues in the mirror.
Check out the American History special on newsstands now, which should be in circulation until March of 2011.
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