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Monday, February 25, 2013

Banshee's Best: 10 Must-See Sports Movies

As Bob Costas once said, "Sports are drama without a script."  So, it should come as no surprise that movies about sports are some of the most beloved in American culture.  On Sunday night, the 85th Academy Awards took place in Hollywood.  To commemorate the event, Banshee Sports decided to put together a list of all-time great sports movies.

This list was a group effort.  I received input from a panel of advisors as well as Facebook and Twitter.  No comedies were considered because that made the task too complicated.  In the end, fifty-nine films were given consideration, and ten were chosen.  I decided not to rank these movies.  Instead, they are presented in alphabetical order.  This is a list of ten movies that all Americans should see ... sports fan or not.

1.  Chariots of Fire:  "Chariots of Fire transcends sports.  It's a sports movie about life."  That's what Dan Chittock told me when I was gathering input for this list.  Chariots of Fire is a true story about two British track stars in their quest for gold at the 1924 Paris Olympics.  Though the two men represent the same country, their drive for excellence comes from very different sources.  One man is driven to succeed by a desire to vindicate his family's place in the upper echelon of British society.  The other is motivated by his love of the sport itself and his recognition that athletic success provides a platform to spread the Word of God.  "God made me for a reason," stated Eric Liddell in the movie.  "But He also made me fast.  When I run, I feel His pleasure."  In addition to being a favorite of sports fans, it also received critical acclaim.  In 1982, it won four Academy Awards, including Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture.

2.  Cinderella Man:  The very nature of boxing makes it an ideal subject for movies.  Although not as famous as many others, Cinderella Man is perhaps the most compelling boxing movie ever made.  It tells the true story of James J. Braddock's struggle to feed and clothe his family during the Great Depression.  After injuries derail a promising career, Braddock is forced to beg for work on New Jersey's docks before getting a second chance in the ring.  At one point Braddock, played by Russell Crowe, states, "Now I know what I'm fighting for.  I'm fighting for milk."  I defy anyone who views this film to tell me that they did not tear up at some point.

3.  Friday Night Lights:  This movie is based on H.G. Bissinger's book by the same name and it has a much different tone than the TV series that starred Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton.  This movie takes a raw and unflinching look at high school football in a small Texas town.  It shows both the greatness of sport and the dangers that can come from deifying teenaged boys.  The theme of the movie is captured succinctly during one of Coach Gary Gaines' pre-game speeches.  Gaines, played by Billy Bob Thornton calmly and truthfully tells his team, "Gentlemen, the hopes and dreams of an entire town are riding on your shoulders.  You may never matter again in your life as much as you do right now."

4.  The Greatest Game Ever Played:  This is possibly the most fun movie on this list.  It's not about the gritty underbelly of anything.  It is about golf.  A noble game played in the beauty of nature.  The Greatest Game Ever Played tells the true story of 20 year-old Frances Ouimet's improbable performance at the 1913 U.S. Open.  Ouimet, a young and poor caddie played by Shia LeBeouf, struggles against societal and cultural pressures during the tournament.  But, true to the sport of golf, Ouimet's primary challenge comes from his own nerves and the course itself.

5.  Hoosiers:  As Grant Habbershon said during the preparation of this list, "This movie perfectly conveys the spirit and history of high school basketball in Indiana."  Gene Hackman plays the outsider who takes over as head coach at Hickory High after his beloved predecessor passed away during the off-season.  The famous final game in the movie was filmed in storied Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.  One of my favorite movie scenes of all time is the part of this film where Coach Dale has his players measure the height of the basket and the length of the lane to show them that it is just the same as in their little gym at home.  The game action in the movie is good, but the overriding message that team is greater than self makes this film an all-time classic.

6.  The Karate Kid:  Let me be very clear.  The movie I am talking about is the 1984 classic starring Ralph Macchio as Daniel and Pat Morita as Mr. Miyagi.  I know this movie might raise some eyebrows as to whether it really is about sports at all.  But, unlike the other movies in this franchise, the original culminates with Daniel facing off against the Cobra Kai dojo at the All Valley Karate Championships.  As Daniel prepares for the tournament, he learns hard lessons about discipline and loyalty from the mysterious and creative Mr. Miyagi.  The character development throughout the movie is very well done, and the final tournament scenes are truly iconic in American pop culture.

7.  The Pride of the Yankees:  This is by far the oldest movie on this list.  But, this is appropriate since no sport values its history more than baseball.  Made in 1942, this classic stars Gary Cooper in the role of Lou Gehrig.  The movie was made just three years after Gehrig's retirement and features Babe Ruth playing himself.  Almost everyone knows that Lou Gehrig was forced into retirement due to contracting the disease that now bears his name.  And most sports fans also know that Gehrig held the record for most consecutive games played until Cal Ripken took that honor in the late 1990's.  But, as Eric Harrison reminded me when we were discussing this list, Gehrig was possibly the greatest first baseman to ever play the game.  Gehrig had a .340 career batting average and 497 home runs in his shortened career.  The historical greatness of this player is reason enough to see this film.

8.  Remember the Titans:  This film ought to be required viewing in high school social studies classes.  This movie is based on the true events at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, VA when it was desegregated in 1971.  Denzel Washington stars as Coach Herman Boone.  His first challenge is getting his newly integrated players to even speak to each other.  Then comes the challenge of competing with opposing teams.  The most interesting aspect of how long ago this seems to take place and how recently 1971 actually was.

9.  Rocky:  This movie could get on the list for its theme song alone.  Seriously, who has not at some point in their lives stood at the top of a staircase and hummed the Rocky theme with their arms raised in the air?  All tolled, there are six movies in this franchise.  But, the original Rocky stands apart from the others.  Sylvester Stallone and Talia Shire earned Academy Award nominations for Best Actor and Best Actress.  Burgess Meredith and Burt Young both received nominations for Best Supporting Actor.  And, Rocky won Best Picture for 1976.

10.  Seabiscuit:  In the early part of the 20th century, horse racing was one of the top three sports on the American landscape.  For this reason alone, it is worth seeing.  But, this film is not just a token homage to the once-great sport.  This true story takes place during the Great Depression and tells the tale of a long-shot horse that captured America's imagination as he rose to greatness.  The most endearing  part of the story is three men who owned, trained and rode this beloved horse.  Seabiscuit was nominated for seven Academy Awards in 2004, including Best Picture.

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