The other day I was talking with a sports professional and naturally the conversation veered to the best sports movies. Naturally every sport divides the genre with multiple examples of films that mirror the variety of athletic disciplines. Take baseball; is The Natural a supernatural baseball film, not unlike Field of Dreams? The first Major League had Wesley Snipes and lots of laughs, a solid entertainer. But does it have the social relevance as well as the rock hard realism of Eight Men Out?
A recent series of DVD releases cover the top ten baseball championship games, Baseball’s Greatest Games. The series comes with a second audio track that consists of the radio broadcast of same. In BGG 1960 World Series Game 7 we witness the first series that was won in the bottom of the ninth inning by a game winning home run (Bill Mazeroski). Plus it’s the 60s, so we have lovely restored black-and-white images of bygone heroics. By the way this particular release also has a double disc edition with the second disc covering color film excerpts of that year, newsreels and interviews with actual participants like Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford to just name two.
Another entry in this series is BGG 1986 World Series Game 6. If you will recall this is the year that the Met took the Astros in the most exciting end-of-the-season pennant race in Space City history (the Astros had clinched the spot with a Mike Scott no-hitter). The Mets proceeded to prove the curse of the Bambino against the Red Sox. The thing about these Major League Baseball and A&E DVD releases is that they are as suspenseful and edge-of-your-seat thrilling as a good movie. Each inning jacks the tension another notch like the click of a torque wrench. In Game 6 we see a free-lance performance terrorist parachute softly onto the playing field in the first inning. The Reds have Roger Clemens on the mound in his third pro year. The Mets have Darryl Strawberry and Mookie Wilson. You cannot believe how many safe-on-a-steal slides and just-missed-it throws this game contains. Oddly enough watching this extra innings extravaganza led me to find the existence of a film (direct to video) called Game 6 (2005) that pits a playwright (Michael Keaton) who blows off opening night of his latest play to watch, yes you guessed it game six. Meanwhile he plots the destruction of a nasty theater critic (Robert Downey, Jr.) who will certainly pan the play. After all is said and done they stop trying to kill each other long enough to break drink and watch this exciting game.
And don’t even get me started on football films because North Dallas Forty is hands down the best gridiron film ever made. Actually it’s more of a dramedy, and starring Nick Nolte in one of his pivotal early film roles. Maybe Paper Lion, the original The Longest Yard and Any Given Sunday rank but nowhere close. Don’t even bring up Knute Rockne All American (1940), a film that had a minor yet memorable supporting role for Ronald Raygun as the dying Gipper. I’d be like in 25 years Alan Covert is elected President of the United States and he’s remembered for his humorous role as Adam Sandler’s sidekick in The Wedding Singer.
But not ironically the boxing film is the genre that defines American society. From the Wallace Beery boxing films of the 30s, to the fictional Barton Fink script (set in the 40s) where Fink’s writing a boxing movie, to Paul Newman as Rocky Graziano in Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956), a role that shot Newman to stardom and that was originally meant for the late James Dean. Rocky (1976) and Raging Bull (1980) and last year’s The Fighter, as well as the current Warrior are some other pugilistic titles that deserve a look.
— Michael Bergeron