The best in sports cinema

Last Sunday night, the Oscars were on television and like always, there were some intense debates after the awards were handed out.

The best performances didn’t win and the Best Picture winner was, let’s just say, controversial. Some have even called it worst winner in years, which says a lot.

Still, that got me thinking. Since there’s no such thing as a sports version of the Oscars, why not create one? The only problem with that is there’s not very many sports movies that come out each year unless you want to count ESPN’s “30 for 30” series, but those are documentaries and aren’t mainstream cinema.

So for my awards, I’m looking for the best ones produced so far and I’m splitting them into categories. I’m sure these will generate some debate with some of you, but that’s what makes column topics like these entertaining.

Without further ado, here are my choices for the Sportsters (that’s the best name I could come up with):

For Best Baseball Movie, the nominees are “Field of Dreams,” “Major League,” “Bull Durham,” “A League of Their Own” and “The Sandlot.”

This is a tough category because there’s been a lot of good baseball movies over the years, and strangely, some of the best are comedies like three of those listed above.

Two of them made my list because they have many quotable lines like Harry Doyle in “Major League”, played by Bob Uecker, saying “Just a bit outside!” or Hamilton Porter in “The Sandlot” exclaiming “You’re killing me Smalls!”

However, as hilarious as they can be, humor can only take you so far when it comes to quality baseball flicks. So that leaves three.

“Bull Durham” is a flick that is either loved or shrugged off by some people. Some viewers think it’s the best sports movie ever and some think it’s highly overrated. I’m in the latter. I’ve seen it a few times and I’ll admit that it’s one of the better baseball movies, but I wasn’t enthralled by it.

“A League of Their Own” is a comedy with a compelling story about the first women’s professional baseball league. It also has famous lines such as Jimmy Dugan’s “There’s no crying in baseball!” and the relationship and rivalry between sisters Dottie and Kit. It’s really good at telling a probably unknown story in baseball history and it has several hilarious moments that will stick with you.

However, “Field of Dreams” captures the spirit of the sport just a little bit better and it leaves you in awe about how a simple game became so unbelievably popular.

For Best Football Movie, the nominees are “Remember the Titans,” “Rudy,” “We Are Marshall,” “Any Given Sunday” and “Invincible.”

Unlike baseball movies, there aren’t a lot of truly memorable football movies. At least not ones that can be embraced by non-sports fans.

“Any Given Sunday” is an interesting look at professional football, but at times can veer into the absurd and it’s about where Al Pacino decided to veer from Oscar-winning actor into a caricature. However, it’s not a great movie.

“Invincible” is a fun look at how underdog Vince Papale went from semi-unemployment to a spot on the Philadelphia Eagles roster, but it’s not a movie that people instantly remember.

“We are Marshall” covers the real-life tragedy of the 1970 Marshall University football team and how almost the entire roster died in a plane crash. The first third of the movie is so heartbreaking and sad that it makes you almost not want to continue watching, even though it’s nice to see how the school and the town of Huntington, West Virginia, overcame that loss to become a good mid-major program.

“Rudy” is a far more positive look on how Rudy Ruettiger managed to go from blue-collar neighborhood to Notre Dame walk-on and it is inspiring in its own way, but unless you really like the Fighting Irish, it’s hard to connect to it.

The best football movie out there is “Remember the Titans” in how it shows how football can bring a team together that is racially divided and it has some quotable lines and a great ending that will stay with you just as much as the movie will.

For Best Basketball Movie, the nominees are “Hoosiers,” “Space Jam,” “Blue Chips,” “Glory Road” and “Semi Pro.”

If there aren’t many memorable football movies, there are even fewer basketball ones. As you can see from the list, I doubt many of you have seen all five, and if so, kudos to you because they’re all flawed.

“Semi Pro” can be funny at times as a comedic profile about the wacky days of the American Basketball Association in the 1970s, and “Space Jam” is even more absurd with the Looney Tunes characters playing basketball with Michael Jordan while Bill Murray makes the most of his limited screen time. Hey, if it wasn’t good, they wouldn’t be making a sequel with LeBron James, right?

“Glory Road” is a solid inspirational venture about how the all-black starting Texas Western (now Texas-El Paso) lineup upset the all-white Kentucky squad in the 1966 national championship game, but it’s not a movie that you’ll necessarily remember.

“Blue Chips” is a good look at the corrupt world of college basketball recruiting and how the shady behind-the-scenes deals can taint the game and make coaches do illegal things to win. However, it’s not that great of a film and it launched Shaquille O’Neal’s film career, so that’s another strike.

The crown goes to “Hoosiers,” a film I have mixed feelings about, mostly because I can’t stand head coach Norman Dale. However, after covering high school basketball in Indiana, it is an accurate portrayal of how much the sport means to small towns and the theme song makes you want to root for the Hickory Huskers.

Somewhat based on a true story, the ending is great and it’s a film that’s worth watching, even though it’s not perfect.

For Best Hockey Movie, the nominees are “Miracle,” “Slap Shot,” “The Mighty Ducks,” “Goon” and “Mystery, Alaska.”

Hockey movies are the rarest of the major four sports and it’s hard to find a really good one.

“Mystery, Alaska” has an interesting concept of having the New York Rangers play a game in small-town Alaska, but there’s no memorable moments.

“Goon” is a comedy that showcases what life is like for hockey players whose sole purpose is to get into fights, and it has its moments, but there’s a reason it’s usually in the discount bin at Target.

“The Mighty Ducks” is a crazy look at peewee hockey in Minnesota, and as a former Minnesotan, it warms my heart to see how much hockey is loved there and even non-hockey fans enjoy it. But it’s just a simple sports comedy and the last time Emilio Estevez was relevant in show business. It’s kind of sad in that way.

“Slap Shot” is seen by many as the “hockey movie” as it portrays the violent world of minor league hockey and there’s some classic moments thanks to the antics of the Hanson Brothers. And Paul Newman is at his best.

The thing that holds it back is that it’s dated and that’s what puts “Miracle” past it. “Miracle” is about the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team and its upset over the Soviet Union, and although it takes place in the same time period as “Slap Shot,” it has the benefit of newer technology and better filmmaking. Plus Kurt Russell’s performance and lines really make the movie and makes the climax even more special.

So there’s four finalists and I have one more spot to fill. After careful consideration, I’m throwing in the original “Rocky” to fill the final spot, edging out “Caddyshack” (one of the best comedies ever), “Moneyball” and “The Karate Kid” (the one with Pat Morita, not the dreadful one with Will Smith’s kid).

Looking at the finalists, I think there’s a good group there, but only one can finish on top. “Remember the Titans” and “Miracle” are great in their own ways, but the other three are critically acclaimed classics and it’s hard for them to keep up.

“Hoosiers” may be the best basketball movie, but its flaws and Norman Dale’s straight-up idiocy prevent it from earning the big award.

That leaves “Rocky” and “Field of Dreams.” “Rocky” is the classic underdog story where a struggling Philadelphia boxer gets a dream title shot against the heavyweight champion and holds his own till the very end before ultimately losing via judges’ decision.

“Field of Dreams” is about an Iowa farmer who hears a voice that convinces him to build a baseball field in the middle of his corn crop. Along the way, he goes on a journey that helps a famous author “ease his pain,” a former ballplayer “go the distance” and achieve his dream of a major league at-bat, and then at the end, make peace with his father.

They’re two films that still stand up 30 and 42 years later and ones that will continue to do so many years from now. It’s a tough choice, but there’s one thing that puts one over the top — that’s relationships. Not the romantic kind, but the relationships between family members, friends and above all, the sport of baseball.

I know several people who have some sort of a connection to “Field of Dreams,” but unless you love boxing, it’s hard to have that with “Rocky,” even though it’s a phenomenal movie.

One of the famous quotes in “Field of Dreams” is “Is this heaven?” The response is “No, it’s Iowa.” That part is up for debate, but every time I watch it, I’m entranced and it stays with me even a few minutes after it ends.

To me, that’s as close to cinematic heaven as you can get.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.


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