Rushmore: Sports Movies

“You blitz all night!”

“Yo, Adrian!”

“You know most people would kill to be treated like a god, for just a few moments.”

“Show me the monnneeeyy!”

“Is this heaven?” “It’s Iowa.”

“Sweep the leg!”

The lines are iconic. The characters have seeped into our consciousness. They are the sports movies we know and love.

With hundreds to choose from, how do you begin to narrow it down to the Top 4 sports movies of all-time? The Blind Side, Field of Dreams, Jerry Maguire, Rudy, The Natural, The Karate Kid, Blue Chips…all of these movies could be considered contenders, no doubt.

Then you think about sports movies that fly under the radar, like Days of Thunder and White Men Can’t Jump.

What about comedies? Major League? Caddyshack? Happy Gilmore? Kingpin?

There are others worth mentioning. I really liked Moneyball. My wife recently forced me to watch For Love of the Game, and I really liked it, too. Heck, I enjoyed Draft Day with Kevin Costner (perhaps we could follow up with a Rushmore of Kevin Costner sports movies). I thought The Fighter was good (Christian Bale’s performance was outstanding), but I have little interest in watching it again. The Wrestler with Mickey Rourke was incredible, but not one I’m going to watch as frequently as, say, Over the Top with Sylvester Stallone. Perhaps watchability is a factor I greatly considered in compiling my rankings.

Embarrassingly, I’ve never seen Bull Durham, never seen The Pride of the Yankees, and—gasp!—don’t care for Raging Bull. I think Woodlawn is a movie with great worth, and I get misty-eyed in the montage scene in Rocky IV.

I haven’t seen every sports movie under the sun, so I don’t profess to be an authority on the subject; nevertheless I charge on and brazenly pick my Rushmore of Sports Movies:

Remember the Titans

Director: Boaz Yakin

Writer: Gregory Allen Howard

Music: Trevor Rabin

Starring: Denzel Washington, Will Patton, Wood Harris, Ryan Hurst

 

“Sunshine? Sunshiiiine?

That’s my first thought after the words “Remember the Titans” are spoken.

It’s hard to believe this movie came out in theaters almost two decades ago. Strong characters dominate this period flick framed with enough tunes from 1970s to inspire a beaded entrance. Denzel cranks out a splendid performance of the tough-but-somewhat-tender coach, Herman Boone. Kip Pardue is more than solid as the irrepressible Ronnie “Sunshine” Bass. And Will Patton has several lines as Coach Bill Yoast that will make your arm hair tingle.

Young stars, now uber-famous, make some of their first appearances in RTT. See a younger Hayden Panettiere and Kate Bosworth, a spindlier Ryan Gosling, and a scrubs-less Donald Faison.

But the most profound aspect of the movie is the message. Remember the Titans gets to the heart of race.

 

Rocky

Director: John Avildsen

Writer: Sylvester Stallone

Music: Bill Conti

Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Burgess Meredith

 

As much as I am inclined to put the fourth installment of the Rocky series on my list, the original Rocky is simply the better movie. Stallone isn’t as chiseled or tan, his nose is more sloped, and he’s a bit more disoriented, generally. But the score, the story, and the scenes of Philadelphia put this Rocky movie at the top.

This is a movie that appeals to the senses. You can literally feel the cold as Rocky, in his cheap togs, hits the pavement to train that dark morning. Your hands ache as he pounds unceasingly the slab of meat hanging in Paulie’s workspace. You can taste the punches delivered by Rocky and Apollo in the last scene. You can hear the harmony of the pop-up choir singing Take Me Back around the burning trash can. 

And it’s the love story between Rocky and Adrian. Two rubes who meet in a corner pet shop. What greater love story is there, honestly?

 

Cinderella Man

Director: Ron Howard

Writer: Cliff Hollingsworth, Akiva Goldsman

Music: Thomas Newman

Starring: Russell Crowe, Renee Zellweger, Paul Giamatti, Craig Bierko

 

I’ll have to admit, Cinderella Man was a bit of a disappointment for me at the movie theaters. I suppose that’s because when it was advertised, it was hailed as one of the greatest movies of all time. So my expectations going in were out the roof. Don’t get me wrong—I thought it was good—just not the best movie I’d ever seen.

Since then, as I’ve watched the film several more times, I have begun to appreciate it more and more. This film is important for two reasons: story and the integrity of the main character. This is the story of a man’s man. A man of humility, integrity, and courage. The life of Jim Braddock is portrayed admirably by Russell Crowe.

There are times I almost feel that Braddock’s struggle is over-dramatized and Howard invests too much time in the valley rather than the mountain. Indeed, I do enjoy the scenes of Braddock’s boxing rise as much as any in the entire film. But without the struggle, the victory just isn’t as sweet.

As always, composer Thomas Newman adds a score to the film that, in this instance, is majestic, emotive, and completely unforgettable.

 

Hoosiers

Director: David Anspaugh

Writer: Angelo Pizzo

Music: Jerry Goldsmith

Starring: Gene Hackman, Barbara Hershey, Dennis Hopper

 

This film is just a classic. Call me crazy, but my favorite scene is the opening credits scene. You hear that quintessential ‘80s movie music almost tiptoeing at you, followed by Gene Hackman’s morning drive through America’s heartland. That cold-feeling scene perfectly sets the stage for Indiana basketball in the 1950s. It is a scene of hope and promise. A new day. A new start. We ride with the new coach and share a coffee with him as he begins a new life.

In Hoosiers, Hackman is remarkable as the embattled coach Norman Dale, and Dennis Hopper, who plays the lovable drunk, Shooter, is purely outstanding. Finally, Barbara Hershey plays fiercely the hard-but-desirable Myra Fleener. Most of the actors who play players on the team look like they have never seen a basketball, but somehow we are convinced enough. And the cast of rustic characters, played by men like Sheb Wooley, Chelcie Ross, and Michael Sassone, lends more credibility to the film.

This ode to the underdog will live in America’s hearts forever, and I will continue watching it on lazy Sundays when I feel like experiencing the full chill of a Midwest winter.

Now, as I finish my Rushmore and step back from my list, I wonder how Field of Dreams didn’t make it. H&A

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