A friend of mine said he liked that I recommended a couple of older movies people could watch while quarantined. I told him I liked what the Union-Tribune did in their sports page. Since March Madness wasn’t going to happen, they made a bracket of the best sports movies, and had them battle each other to determine which was best. My wife, overhearing that, said, “Well, baseball’s opening day is March 26. Why not do a list of the best baseball movies?”
I decided I’d just combine all that and do a list of my favorite sports movies. At first I thought I’d do a Top 25. I just knew all the films I loved wouldn’t fit into a Top 10. But as I jotted them down it kept getting longer and longer. I ended up going with the Top 75. And since any movie list gets lots of people complaining, I thought I’d throw a couple of things out in my intro.
Chariots of Fire is probably on most sports lists. It won four Oscars (including “best picture” and “best screenplay”). I’m sure it’s great, but I was 12-years-old when it came out, and the clips of people running in slow motion, with that annoying score by Vangelis…kept me from ever giving it a chance.
The year before that, the “Miracle on Ice” happened and I remember how excited everyone was by this upset against the Russians. So I’m sure I would’ve liked the movie Miracle (Kurt Russell as the coach), but I missed that one.
Will Smith looked amazing as Ali (he got an Oscar nomination), but I missed that, too. Smith was terrific in Concussion, but that wasn’t good enough to make this list.
Invictus and For the Love of the Game both looked good, I just never saw them, either (I can only watch so many movies!)
And on that subject, a few other movies that I thought were okay, but not great: Seabiscuit, The Sandlot, Million Dollar Baby, Rudy, Bend It Like Beckham, Friday Night Lights, Varsity Blues, and The Scout (which pains me, as the premise is great and it has Albert Friggin’ Brooks, one of my comedy heroes). In 8th grade I did a report on Jesse Owens, and was obsessed with him for a few years. But the movie Race a few years ago, just wasn’t that great.
As someone who grew up playing basketball, I wanted to like Blue Chips. The best thing about that was the soundtrack (CCR, Hendrix, Al Green, John Lee Hooker, Nile Rodgers, and Mellencamp covering “Baby, Please Don’t Go.”). I never gave Space Jam a chance, because I’m not 10-years-old. Watching Jordan dunk or Bill Murray snark…wasn’t enough for me to give a cartoon a chance.
Major League had a handful of funny scenes, and it was well-cast. It just got so over-the-top with the craziness, I couldn’t get into it as much as all my friends who seemed to love it. Bob Uecker was almost good enough to get this movie onto the list, though.
I was too lazy to figure out if chess was considered a game or a sport, so I opted for it being a game. Otherwise, a few chess flicks would be on my list. That leads to the argument over whether pool/billiards is a game or a sport. I had to Google that, because there are a handful of great pool movies. It is deemed to be a “sport” (which doesn’t explain Minnesota Fats being so fat, but I digest). Just don’t give me crap for not putting The Color of Money on my list. It was okay, but it wouldn’t make Scorsese’s list of Top 10 movies, or Tom Cruise’s (he’s on here a few times, though).
Everyone that saw Grand Prix in the mid-60s raves, but…it’s a four and a half hour long movie. Even if it’s a John Frankenheimer flick, I’m just not into race cars enough to ever want to devote that much time to watching cars (although a handful of race films did make this list).
And since this intro is getting long enough to take four hours to read, enough delay. On with my best sports list. These are my favorites. Up yours!
I mean…what are yours?
- THE NATURAL. One of my favorite things in my memorabilia collection is a baseball card I got from the movie, of Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford). Apparently the book has a darker ending, but I prefer it in its movie form. Directed by the great Barry Levinson with two great Roberts — Duvall and Redford. Randy Newman gave us a musical score that’s different than his usual stuff. Wilfred Brimley played an old school baseball manager so well. There’s a scene when he’s shaving, and looks up at Hobbs, who asks if he can play in the game. One of many brilliant scenes.
- ROCKY. Just as Brimley excelled as a baseball manager, Burgess Meredith had such a great vibe as a crusty old boxing trainer, I wondered why a fighter didn’t hire him just for pep talks in the corner. My idiot stepbrother is the only person I’ve ever met that didn’t like this movie. He hated that you could see that the punches didn’t connect, and that Rocky wasn’t that smart. It won three Oscars (including “best director” and “best picture”) and nominations for acting and writing for Stallone, which is a rare feat in Hollywood. An okay boxing movie was made on the boxer (Chuck Wepner) that inspired this story (It was called “Chuck” but the title was changed to “The Bleeder” for obvious reasons).
- THE HUSTLER. Fun fact: boxer Jake LaMotta plays a bartender in this. Another Fun Fact: just as Deliverance made banjo sales go up significantly (that’s kinda weird, huh?), this movie helped spark a resurgence in the popularity of pool. Paul Newman as Fast Eddie, Jackie Gleason as Minnesota Fats, and George C. Scott. That’s a nice trio for a film.
- BULL DURHAM. Ron Shelton wrote this, and many other movies on this list. Perfect casting: Costner is great at playing baseball players (and cowboys), Tim Robbins looks like a meathead, and there’s a nice supporting role for actor/writer Robert Wuhl, who would write the sports series Arli$$ for HBO (as well as a couple of the episodes of the underrated Police Squad series).
- JERRY MAGUIRE. Written, directed, and produced by former San Diegan Cameron Crowe. It also gave us the catch phrase “Show me the money!” This was back before Tom Cruise danced on couches and talked about Scientology, Cuba Gooding Jr. wasn’t facing lawsuits, and Renee Zellwegger had her original face. Nice supporting work from Bonnie Hunt and Jay Mohr, who is one of the best sports talk show hosts ever (and a damn good stand-up comedian). I wish he had a few more scenes in this film as the slimy agent.
- THE WRESTLER. Sure, wrestling is fake, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a “sport” does it? Mickey Rourke got nominated for an Oscar playing this aging wrestler who is trying to pay the bills any way he can. Written by Robert Siegel who gave us another movie on the list (spoiler alert: it’s Big Fan).
- RAGING BULL. I once saw this on a list as the #1 movie of the ‘80s. So perhaps it should have been #1 here, but for a “sports” category, Rocky was the underdog boxing film that beat it out. It’s because the teaming of Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci is so great, it made it so much more painful seeing them team up again in the disappointingly long Irishman.
- HEAVEN CAN WAIT. There have been two remakes of this story (Chris Rock blew one big time). You could argue it’s not a “sports” movie, per se. But the Warren Beatty version has so much football going on, both on the field, in the locker room, and even with the purchase of the Los Angeles Rams. And since you won’t be able to watch the Rams and their new logo, in their new stadium, for some time… watch this movie. Buck Henry and James Mason as angels, Charles Grodin as the weasel, Jack Warden as the put upon trainer, and Beatty’s real life women — Julie Christie and Dyan Cannon…all perfect in their parts. This is in my Top 25 favorite films of all time.
- THE CHAMP. I didn’t plan to put two Jack Warden films in a row on the list. I’m sure this will happen later in the list with other actors. Jon Voight did so many great pictures in the ‘70s (for you younger folks — he’s Angelina Jolie’s dad). Here he plays an aging boxer trying to win the love of his son, and custody, by getting back in the ring…while Faye Dunaway tries to waltz back into the boy’s life. You hate her more than you did when she screamed “No wire hangers!” in Mommie Dearest.
- REQUIEM FOR A HEAVYWEIGHT. It ticks me off that this movie never pops up on sports movie lists. Written by Rod Serling (yeah, the Twilight Zone guy), it’s the story of aging boxer Louis “Mountain” Rivera (Anthony Quinn), who loses a close fight to Cassius Clay (yeah, a young Muhammid Ali). His slimy manager (Jackie Gleason) bet against him, and the fight ending early. Now he owes people money, and Mountain bails him out, even though it’s dangerous for him to fight again. He’d like to get a job as a camp counselor, and his kind trainer (Mickey Rooney) gets him that job. What happens at the end is one of the most heartbreaking scenes you’ll ever see that doesn’t involve a death.
- WHITE MEN CAN’T JUMP. As a white guy that played basketball my whole life (and, well…couldn’t jump), I loved watching Woody Harrelson school guys on the court. He and Wesley Snipes had great chemistry. Rosie Perez has just the right amount of annoying in her voice. It was also cool that real NBA stars were used in scenes (I was a big fan of Marques Johnson). Ron Shelton wrote and directed. His second movie to make my list.
- THE PRIDE OF THE YANKEES. It’s a classic, you moron (thanks to Art Garfunkel for that line).
- CINDERELLA MAN. I’m a big boxing fan. I’m just not sure why boxing movies make me cry more than any other sports on screen. It’s not just when they get knocked down. I bawled my eyes out when Rocky was yelling for Adrian. In this, it’s when Russell Crowe, as real life boxer James J. Braddock, goes to his manager (the always great Paul Giamatti) during a meeting and begs for money so he can keep his kids, and he’s humiliated as he walks around the room collecting hand-outs. As always, look for Ron Howard putting his siblings in small roles, and as always, he fictionalized stuff. That bothers me. Max Baer, who killed people in the ring, was actually a lot nicer than the movie portrays.
- HOOSIERS. My high school basketball coach my senior year, took us to see this when we won a big game (with a winning shot by a guy from Indiana with “Hoosier” on his license plate). Aside from the romance between Gene Hackman and Barbara Hershey (she’s 18 years younger, but on screen, it just looked odd to us), it all worked. Some of it was a bit corny (and corny is one of the reasons Rudy doesn’t make my list), but it’s an inspirational true story. And if you’re able to cast Dennis Hopper as the town drunk — score!!
- BIG FAN. Written by The Wrestler scribe, this was a criminally underseen indie film about a sad sack (comedian Patton Oswalt) who only has one friend (great character actor Kevin Corrigan), who cheers him on, every time he calls a late night sports show with rants. When his favorite football player beats him up in a bar…things get interesting. Don’t let Wesley Snipes/Robert De Niro’s disappointing The Fan turn you off from seeking this out.
- THE LONGEST YARD. (original, not Adam Sandler’s awful remake). This is more of a prison movie, but Burt Reynolds was just so bad-ass. And we saw Richard Kiel before James Bond movies, breaking people’s friggin’ necks!
- ALL THE RIGHT MOVES. For some reason, when people talk about Tom Cruise’s career, this movie never pops up. It’s a terrific story about high school football players that want to get out of Pittsburgh. Craig T. Nelson was perfectly cast as the mean coach. So much so that, they ended up giving him a TV show called Coach! Great supporting work from Lea Thompson and the late Chris Penn.
- HOOP DREAMS. Who said documentaries can’t be on my list? Critics Siskel & Ebert both named this the best movie of 1994. That’s high praise. Now, that year, I liked Pulp Fiction, The Shawshank Redemption, Forrest Gump, Clerks, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Shallow Grave, and Quiz Show all more; but Hoop Dreams was certainly the best sports flick that year, and one of the best documentaries ever.
- A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN. A woman I was dating came over to my apartment for dinner. She knew I couldn’t cook, so I got meals from a fancy restaurant and was going to pretend I made them. Afterwards, we were going to see this. I had it all planned out, including the bags from the restaurant in the car so she could discover it and “bust me.” She sat down, with a sad look on her face, and told me she wanted to break up. As we ate our food, she gave me a few reasons why. In the middle of the meal she said, “I still want to see A League of Their Own, though.” And so, it was the only time I sat next to a woman at a movie that just broke up with me – and – I still loved the movie. But this isn’t about me, it’s about the movie. When you look at this cast on paper (Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell, Jon Lovitz, Lori Petty, and Tom Hanks as a manager that drinks), you figured there was no way this would work. It turned out to be a loving tribute to a forgotten league. Who would’ve thought Laverne…or Richie Cunningham, or Meathead…would go from ‘70s TV to being such great film directors?
- RUSH. Nope, it’s not about the band. A Ron Howard movie about an interesting racing rivalry in the ‘70s between James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl). I brought a race car driver and car collector that knew Hunt and said this was a very accurate film. The racing scenes added a lot of energy.
- MATCH POINT. It’s insane to think a Woody Allen movie would make a sports list. And truth be told, it’s a stretch to call this a sports film. Scarlett Johansson shows some range, and Matthew Goode is good. It involves a tennis instructor, affairs, and murder. Much like lots of later Allen scripts.
- THE BEST OF TIMES. When Robin Williams died, not one person brought up this forgotten Ron Shelton gem. Kurt Russell as the over-the-hill custom car painter who was once a great high school QB…is magical.
- CADDYSHACK. Some might say it’s a comedy, not a “sports film.” Well, go write your own list! It’s a classic, and every golfer’s favorite film. Hell, I’ve never golfed and I quote things from it.
- BRIAN’S SONG. It’s a TV movie, but there aren’t rules to this list. Billy Dee Williams, a year before he’d become the big ‘70s star with Diana Ross. Here he plays running back Gale Sayers, who formed a friendship with Brian Piccolo (James Caan), the less talented player who ends up with a terminal disease. Bring the tissues.
- CHAMPION. When Kirk Douglas died last year, I thought of this movie. In his autobiography, he said it was after seeing this that Joan Crawford called him up and they had sex on her living room floor (and that she had bad breath). It was 1949, and who knew that he’d have such an amazing career in Hollywood. This boxing film noir, got six Oscar nominations. It’s worth seeking out.
- FIELD OF DREAMS. Some might balk (no pun intended) about it being so far down on my list. I loved it. Just upset that Shoeless Joe Jackson is batting right-handed, and looks too evil (Ray Liotta is great in Goodfellas, but creepy in this and the Chantix commercials); also hate that Kevin Costner says “Hey dad, you wanna have a catch?” Nobody says that!! A line like that can completely take you out of the picture (just as the line in the Harry Chapin song about a dad not having time to throw the ball with his kid reduces me to tears. Every. Time.)
- TIN CUP. Another from Shelton. Costner and Rene Russo have great chemistry, as do Costner and his caddy — Cheech Marin. It’s bizarre to think that one half of Cheech & Chong will make my list twice.
- BANG THE DRUM SLOWLY. Before Robert De Niro was a star, he played this simpleminded, slow catcher, who has a terminal illness. Michael Moriarty plays the smart, likeable pitcher who befriends him. I always felt it was like Of Mice and Men on the baseball field instead of a ranch.
- DIGGSTOWN. Horrible title. So bad that, when visiting a friend in Salt Lake City, he refused to watch it when we went to Blockbuster to look for something to rent. I talked him into it, and he declared it the best con movie ever. Lou Gossett, Jr. as a retired boxer, James Woods and Oliver Platt as con men. And a young Heather Graham making her debut. Casting Bruce Dern as the crooked mayor of the town was also brilliant. Also featured the best car ever made — 1960, red and white Corvette. Who wouldn’t want to win that in a rigged bar bet? Also cast former boxer Randall “Tex” Cobb as a prison brawler (you might know him better as the motorcycle goon in Raising Arizona).
- EVERYBODY’S ALL-AMERICAN. I was going to SDSU and saw this at a theatre near campus with a few long-time friends. I thought it was okay, but when I saw it again on HBO, the pathos was so much more powerful. A football player, marrying the beauty queen, but not succeeding in the NFL. And great casting of John Goodman as a big football player/best friend (sorry, he didn’t make the list for The Babe, or playing the football coach in Revenge of the Nerds). Great direction from Taylor Hackford (Ray, An Officer and a Gentleman, Dolores Claiborne), lovely score from James Newton Howard, and I had a crush on Jessica Lange since seeing her in Tootsie six years earlier.
- BEST IN SHOW. Okay, so…a movie about a dog show might not be a sport. I’m not sure. Sue me! I just loved this movie, and Christopher Guest films, so I’m including it.
- NORTH DALLAS FORTY. Nobody played a slimeball better than Dabney Coleman (Tootsie, 9 to 5) in the ‘70s and ‘80s. John Matuszak was a former NFL player that I first saw on screen in Ringo Starr’s movie Caveman in 1981. Cheesy country singer Mac Davis actually worked, and nobody plays a grizzled older dude better than Nick Nolte. He was one of the reasons Blue Chips almost made this list.
- THE BLIND SIDE. Truth be told, as a movie, this is average at best. It still worked for me. Sandra Bullock is a doll, and it’s an interesting “true” story. As a sports nut as a kid, I liked seeing ‘70s pitcher Tug McGraw’s son Tim, who’s actually not bad on screen. I hear he’s also a country singer.
- MURDERBALL. This documentary lost out on the Oscar because voters adored March of the Penguins much more than angry guys that play wheelchair rugby. Documentaries are a hard sell, but this is worth seeking out.
- EIGHT MEN OUT. This is about the Chicago White Sox being paid by gamblers to throw the World Series in 1919. It was back when Charlie Sheen was still known for his acting ability, and also had John Cusack, the underrated David Strathairn, John Mahoney, Michael Rooker, and Christopher Lloyd. One of my biggest regrets was, when I was at a party downtown, I met actor D.B. Sweeney. We spent a lot of time talking movies, and I told him how much I loved his Vietnam movie Gardens of Stone. It wasn’t until I got home that I remembered — he friggin’ played Shoeless Joe Jackson in this!!!
- SLAP SHOT. Paul Newman and the Hansen brothers, what’s not to like? (side note: not to be confused with the brothers from the boy band Hanson).
- THE BAD NEWS BEARS. Casting Walter Mathau as an alcoholic, cranky Little League coach…is brilliant casting; but maybe he was a bad influence on Tatum O’Neal.
- THE GREAT WHITE HOPE. This movie got a few Oscar nominations, but doesn’t hold up as well today. I just love boxing and was obsessed with Jack Johnson’s story. And seeing James Earl Jones play a bad-ass before he was scaring people as Darth Vader…is kinda cool.
- DOWNHILL RACER. This came out the year before, 1969, when I was born. Robert Redford and Gene Hackman — what’s not to like?
- FORD V FERRARI. See my original review for more: https://fox5sandiego.com/entertainment/at-the-movies-blog/ford-v-ferrari/
- WIN WIN. Wrestling is a sport that works well on screen. One of my favorite movies, The World According to Garp, features it prominently. It’s a great story, helped by an amazing cast that includes Margo Martindale, Amy Ryan, Paul Giamatti, Bobby Cannavale, Jeffrey Tambor, and Rocky’s cranky brother-in-law — Burt Young.
- 42. Okay, sure..I liked the optics of putting 42 at #42. I enjoyed this movie, but wanted to like it more. Chadwick Boseman is showing he can play anybody, and it’s cool that Harrison Ford played Branch Rickey. It helped get the movie more attention.
- VICTORY. If you heard that Sylvester Stallone was going to be on this list multiple times, you would’ve guessed various Rocky’s (certainly not his arm wrestling movie Over the Top). But I limited it to one Rocky film (although I do love II and 3, and even the more recent ones, minus the disappointing Creed’s). Here, he plays a goalie during WWII with Pele and Michael Caine as a team of prisoners who take on the guards. I saw this in 6th grade and loved it, but who knows if it will still hold up today. As someone that broke his arms 4 different times, I still cringe when Michael Caine has to break a guy’s arm with his boot, so they can substitute Stallone in in order to make their jailbreak.
- MONEYBALL. I thought it was good, but overrated, but it is an interesting part of baseball history. And who knew Jonah Hill could actually act?
- HE GOT GAME. I hate the title. It reminds me of that former Chargers player who played in the XFL and had “He Hate Me” on the back of his jersey. I also hate Spike Lee, for a number of reasons, but on occasion, he gives us a good movie. This was one of those times. Denzel Washington as the bad father out of prison, and NBA star Ray Allen as his b-ball playing son. Great story, and it’s nice that the basketball scenes looked like they could play (it almost took me out of enjoying The White Shadow as a kid, or Hoosiers; which by the way, Spike Lee hates because it had white kids beating black kids in a basketball game, even though it was a true story).
- KINGPIN. The Farrelly Brothers, before they got huge with There’s Something About Mary. Woody Harrelson as a bowler/gambler, in one of the most bizarre sex scenes ever, that’s a parody of The Graduate. Bill Murray plays the perfect villain.
- COBB. This story on Ty Cobb, one of the most horrific people in sports history, is rather entertaining. Tommy Lee Jones is perfect.
- REMEMBER THE TITANS. Denzel Washington, ‘nuff said.
- THE BOXER. Daniel Day-Lewis, ‘nuff said.
- THE HURRICANE. Isn’t Denzel Washington just amazing? Many people don’t know the story of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter (that even inspired Bob Dylan to write a horrible song about him). Google the story, then watch this Norman Jewison film.
- SOMETHING FOR JOEY. I remember three movies making me bawl my eyes out as a kid. The other two are also on this list, but this is the one most people won’t know. It’s a TV movie about Penn State and Heisman winning running back John Cappelletti (who had a horrible season with the Chargers), and his brother fighting leukemia.
- WHEN WE WERE KINGS. As a boxing fan, I was only 5 when the “Rumble in the Jungle” match took place between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman (decades before he made $200 mil hawking grills). I had read a great Sports Illustrated story on the match, but it was great to see this Oscar-winning documentary on the subject.
- THE SHORT GAME. Best title ever. I caught this at a film festival. Justin Timberlake produced this documentary, which follows a handful of kids that are terrific golfers. Their parents…aren’t so terrific.
- GOON. This wacky hockey comedy was written by Judd Apatow/Seth Rogen guys Jay Baruchel (who is in it), and Evan Goldberg. Seann William Scott stars as an enforcer on a hockey team (nothing like watching him beat up an entire team to Rush’s “Working Man”). He meets his match against the tough Liev Schreiber.
- LITTLE BIG LEAGUE. The dopey critics on Rotten Tomatoes only had this in the 30%. It’s terrific. A premise that could have easily been ruined. A grandfather (the always great, late Jason Robards), leaves the Minnesota Twins team he owns, to his grandson. The problem is, that kid is rather young. But he knows baseball, so he takes over as the GM. Hijinks ensue.
- SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME. Paul Newman plays Italian middleweight boxer Rocky Graziano in this mid-50s, classic black-and-white film. Also stars Sal Mineo, and the first movie roles for Robert Loggia and Steve McQueen (sorry I couldn’t put Le Mans on my list; just wasn’t that good).
- SENNA. I knew nothing about this 3-time Formula One racer out of Brazil, but it was fun to learn about his life.
- THE UPSIDE OF ANGER. So, this isn’t really a baseball movie, per se. Kevin Costner is a former pitcher who now has a talk show. But he’d rather drink with his neighbor, while autographing baseballs to sell online. It’s about as much a baseball film as Back to School is a movie about diving, but I wanted to include it, because it nicely shows the life that former players have (and might show some why Junior Seau suffered bouts of depression once he was gone from the limelight). Writer/director Mike Binder plays the sleazy radio producer, and nice supporting work from Joan Allen, Keri Russell, Alicia Witt, and Evan Rachel Wood.
- MORE THAN A GAME. It’s amazing to think that somebody filmed all of Lebron James’ high school basketball games, and made this interesting documentary that talks about what happened to all those former players. The story about the shortest one being taunted, before draining a bunch of 3-pointers, is worth the price of admission.
- SUGAR. An interesting small picture about Dominic Republican players, trying to make it in minor league baseball.
- 61*. Billy Crystal directed this interesting story, about the home run record Roger Maris got, and why some baseball diehards don’t believe it beats Babe Ruth. It also deals with the much more popular player on the team — Mickey Mantle. Weird fun fact: the record of 61 home runs, happened in the summer of 1961.
- THE FIGHTER. If it weren’t for Christian Bale, this movie might not have made the list. I mean, Mark Wahlberg was okay as Mickey Ward, but…he was no Dirk Diggler. Actresses Amy Adams and Melissa Leo are two of the best in the business, but here’s a fun fact. Look for Conan O’Brien’s sister Kate in a small role as one of Ward’s sisters.
- HARVARD BEATS YALE 29-29. Tommy Lee Jones, known in this business as a tough interview, actually talks about being on this football team. His story at the end, on how his roommate Al Gore had a sense of humor, was hysterical (since it wasn’t actually funny). One of the players also dated Meryl Streep, and another player remembers his big play quite differently than it actually happened.
- VISION QUEST. In the mid-80s I loved this wrestling film, and thought Linda Florentino, making her big screen debut, was beautiful. Where has she been lately? Former Chula Vista resident Matthew Modine (Full Metal Jacket) is great. When I saw it again 10 years ago, I didn’t think it held up so well.
- DAYS OF THUNDER. The director would have bigger success, and a better movie, with Tom Cruise in Top Gun. This movie is a guilty pleasure. It’s the film that brought Nicole Kidman and Cruise together, and maybe it’s what gave John C. Reilly the idea to do his parody picture with Will Ferrell. Robert Duvall has a perfect look as a NASCAR guy, as does Randy Quaid. Remember when he was an interesting character actor and not a nutjob? I just wish they could’ve given Cruise a better name than Cole Trickle. Was Dick Trickle taken? Oh wait, it was.
- BREAKING AWAY. The best movie about cycling ever! Wait, that’s not a strong selling point, is it? The star was Dennis Christopher (Chariots of Fire), but his friends in the film became bigger stars (Dennis Quaid, Daniel Stern, and Jackie Earle Haley).
- THE HAMMER. Not to be confused with the wrestling movie of the same name, this was written, and stars Adam Carolla, as an aging boxing trainer that just might make the Olympic boxing team. The only complaint I had about this movie is, having listened so often to Carolla on the radio, I had heard a handful of the stories he peppers into this story.
- BALLS OF FURY. Some will think this movie is awful. It was 2 a.m. when I was coming off a migraine and couldn’t sleep when I caught it on Comedy Central and couldn’t stop laughing. The story of a former ping pong prodigy (just typing that made me laugh), who the FBI recruits to go underground to infiltrate an underground deathmatch (run by Christopher Walken). Written and directed by two guys from RENO! 911, with a lot of great cameos. It’s the movie you’ll laugh hard at, but won’t admit to loving.
- WARRIOR. Nick Nolte plays a dad who looks like his mug shot. A film about MMA fighters, which is made better by the fact that they’re played by Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton. They play brothers that have to fight each other. Another ultimate fighter movie almost made my list (Redbelt, by David Mamet), but it wasn’t quite good enough.
- TALLADEGA NIGHTS. Shake and bake! Side note: Will Ferrell really needs to stop making sports movies. I watched Blades of Glory on an airplane and it was so bad, I was tempted to D.B. Cooper out of the thing.
- FEVER PITCH. This movie gets a bad rap. Jimmy Fallon was so bad in the few movies he did, his career was basically over; until Lorne Michaels gave him a talk show. This was a Farrell brothers film, from a Nick Hornby story (the man behind High Fidelity and About a Boy), and written by the two guys that gave us A League of Their Own, City Slickers, Splash, Parenthood, and EDtv. So just forget that it has Drew Barrymore in it and try to enjoy yourself. It’s actually fun.
- THE GREAT WHITE HYPE. A Ron Shelton screenplay, which brilliantly casts Samuel Jackson as the Don King character. When Peter Berg was still an actor and not a big time director, he played a boxer that’s the only guy that ever beat the champ (Damon Wayans). Promoters think this makes things ripe for a rematch, despite the champ getting fat and not training. Nice supporting work from Jeff Goldblum, Jamie Foxx, Jon Lovitz, and Corbin Bernsen.
- TOUR DE PHARMACY. From the warped comedic mind of Andy Samberg. And Jeff Goldblum, being the second actor to get two in a row on my list. I can’t begin to describe this wacky movie, but my cigar buddy made me watch this at his house while we puffed some sticks in his garage, and I laughed hard. John Cena as a cyclist who claims he isn’t doping, and Lance Armstrong poking fun at himself. And lots of big stars with interesting parts. This mockumentary was made for HBO, as one of three films Samberg will do for them.
- KICKING & SCREAMING. I so didn’t want to put this movie on my list. But casting Robert Duvall, who plays his Great Santini character as a dad that abused Will Ferrell so much because he wanted a son that was a good athlete; it ruined Ferrell as a coach for his kids’ soccer team mentally. Hiring Mike Ditka, who lives next door, as the perfect ringer. If only he can stop smoking cigars long enough, and dealing with Ferrell’s demands (“Hey, get me a juice box!”).
- SEMI-TOUGH. Kevin Costner could play great baseball players. Burt Reynolds could play great football players. Another Burt, well, Bert…is in this. Game show host Bert Convy plays a shady character. Kris Kristofferson and his beard are in here, as is former SDSU football player and Rocky alumni — Carl Weathers.
Honorable mentions: The Express, Paper Lion, Jim Thorpe: All-American, Strongman, Cool Runnings, The Endless Summer, Pumping Iron, Happy Gilmore, and 7 Days in Hell. And as a tribute to the NBA, which cancelled their season: Coach Carter, Uncle Drew, One on One, and Semi-Pro.
UPDATE. After writing this, I knew I’d get complaints. The most valid one was from a gentleman that told me I got the nationalities wrong of the characters in “Rush”. Another couple of cinephiles gave me a hard time that “Raging Bull” wasn’t in the top spot. I got many people that were bothered that I didn’t care for “Sandlot” (although I do admit, to liking to say the phrase “You’re killing me, Smalls” when one of my friends annoys me). But the one complaint I got that bothered me most, was something I was afraid would happen. Someone mentioning a movie I forgot about and would have had on the list. It was a guy I’ve played racquetball with for 20 years. He said, “You left off one of my favorite comedies ever, which is also a sports movie — Let It Ride.” I was so bummed to forget about this horse racing movie, which is really about a person (Richard Dreyfuss) with a gambling problem, and his nagging wife (Teri Garr), with great supporting work from Jennifer Tilly, Cynthia Nixon, and Harry Potter actor Robbie Coltrane as the sarcastic ticket seller, and musician David Johansen (Buster Poindexter) as the hapless foil. Perhaps at a time when horse racing is having a PR problem with so many horses dying, it’s not the proper time to recommend this movie, but it is really fun.