Yesterday it was Westerns, today the AFI's Top 10 Sports films list goes under the 'Dartscope. But first I need to address a couple of items from the Westerns list. It has been pointed out that after knocking four of AFI's choices off the Top 10 and adding four of my own I now have SIX John Wayne movies in the Top 10. My response to that complaint is, you're right. So, take "Butch and Sundance" off and add "Rio Bravo". There, now I have SEVEN John Wayne movies out of ten on my list. That's better. Also, I assume that AFI excluded films that were made for TV. That's why I followed their lead and didn't put the best Western of all time on my list: "Lonesome Dove". That's right, "Lonesome Dove" is even better than "The Searchers". There. I said it.
Sports movies are far more plentiful than I thought before I started trying to come up with a list. It makes sense, since the conflict inherent in sports leads easily to a dramatic film. However, truly great sports movies are hard to come by-- maybe because the drama of the actual games outdistances what film can do.
Here's the AFI Top 10:
1. "Raging Bull"
3. "Pride of the Yankees"
5. "Bull Durham"
6. "The Hustler"
8. "Breaking Away"
9. "National Velvet"
10. "Jerry Maguire"
"Raging Bull" is a film school masters course. Dissect it frame by frame and learn how to tell a story with film. It belongs in the 10, of course, but "Rocky" is the better entertainment. If you're old enough to have watched "Rocky" in a theater, before anyone knew who Stallone was, you'll probably remember how great the experience was. Many people around today had a perception about Stallone or had seen a parody of "Rocky" before they actually saw it. Plus they saw it on a TV-- not in a theater. Believe me, seeing Rocky in a theater without any idea who this guy was who wrote it and starred in it was a totally different experience. But you had to have been born before 1960 since the movie came out almost 32 years ago!
"Pride of the Yankees" is OK. Gary Cooper just doesn't do it for me though and the thing people remember is his duplication of Gehrig's moving speech at Yankee Stadium. The real speech is on film-- watch it and skip the movie. "Hoosiers" is a tremendous movie and every kid in America should see it before he graduates from high school. "Bull Durham" is constantly at the top of lists like these. When it was first out I thought it was OK. A few years ago I tried watching a bit of it and it no longer amused and delighted. If you have to have Costner in a sports movie, and he's made a few, go with "Field of Dreams". AFI put "...Dreams" in the Fantasy category, not Sports, but it's a better sports movie than "Bull Durham". Better yet, if Costner must be represented, put "Tin Cup" on the list.
"The Hustler" is just simply great stuff. The book it was based on was written by Walter Tevis who was an English professor of mine in college. He invented the character Minnesota Fats by the way. In early drafts I've read of The Hustler the fat pool champion character was from St. Louis. Tevis changed it because Minnesota Fats sounded better to his writer's ear. The guy who you saw playing pool on TV as "Minnesota Fats"? He was a first rate pool hustler who changed his name to "Minnesota Fats" after the movie came out. As I recall, Walter Tevis was not amused since people thought he based the character on this guy. He swore that he had never even heard of the guy when he wrote The Hustler and I believed him then and now. Now you know the rest of the story. Gooooood day.
I was shocked to see "Caddyshack" on the list. I didn't think AFI had a sense of humor. That's a keeper. "Breaking Away" is a nice movie. Top 10? Doubtin' it. "National Velvet"? If you want a horse movie on the list try the recent "Seabiscuit". "NV" is about steeplechase for cryin' out loud! "Jerry Maguire" is a chick flick masquerading as a Sports movie. Get it outta here! So, what to add? The big problem is narrowing a list of Sports movies to put on the list. Basically there are a ton of movies that would be number 10 (or maybe 11) on the list.
Try these on for size: "Bang The Drum Slowly", "Friday Night Lights", "The Great White Hope", "Chariots of Fire", "Slap Shot", "Grand Prix", and "Remember The Titans". Are documentaries allowed? "When We Were Kings" must go on the list then. If "Caddyshack" works then how about a comedy based around college football (Huxley U. vs Darwin U.)-- The Marx Brothers' "Horse Feathers". To me the best baseball movie of all time is "The Natural". How is that not on the AFI list? Even though the knucklehead John Cusack is in it I watch part of "Eight Men Out" every time it shows up on the grid.
But, if there's just one sports movie that you should see it's "Cinderella Man". It's the true story of boxer James J. Braddock. Braddock is played by the great Russell Crowe. Men didn't see it because of the horrible title. Women didn't see it because it was about boxing. Trust me on this, "Cinderella Man" is one of the best movies of the past ten years in any genre. Women will love it for its story of family, faith, forgiveness and virtue. Men will love it for the story of a man who persevered through the worst that life could throw at him and, in his own way, triumphed. And, the boxing scenes are filmed tremendously well. If you rent the DVD of "CM" and don't like it I'll have someone send you your money back.
-That's Marilyn Monroe in the picture above. No, she isn't in any of these movies but she married and divorced a baseball player. Close enough.