In the words of the great Sanka Coffie; I am feeling very Olympic today.
The nation has been in the grasp of Olympics fever before Danny Boyle’s amazing opening ceremony graced the BBC. Even though I am one of the least co-ordinated, least sporty people around (saying that I did dust off my Jubilee-esque firework patterned roller skates the other day; I’m not sure if this is a good thing or not); I am never one to miss out on a themed list, so in true Movie Writing style here are my top ten favourite sports related films.
RELEASED: September 9, 2011 | DIRECTOR: Gavin O’Connor | CERTIFICATE: 12 | RUN TIME: 140 minutes | CAST: Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, Nick Nolte, Jennifer Morrison, Noah Emmerich, Kevin Dunn
When Warrior came out last year, critics and audiences alike went crazy for Gavin O’Connor’s latest cinematic offering. Maybe because it was the second fighting film released recently, or maybe it was just because only a short time ago I completely wrote off sporting movies as utterly uninteresting. Either way, I didn’t catch Warrior at the cinema; something I sincerely regret now.
Staring Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton as sparing brothers, Warrior avoids sporting cliches and focuses more on the emotion of the sport; resulting in an honest, powerful story combined with some serious action shots. O’Connor’s fusion of brutality with the dramatic, heartfelt story line is certainly a winning combination making Warrior one of the best fighting movies around.
A League of Their Own
RELEASED: July 1, 1992 | DIRECTOR: Penny Marshall | CERTIFICATE: PG | RUN TIME: 128 minutes | CAST: Geena Davis, Lori Petty, Tom Hanks, Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell
Any film staring Madonna is instantly pooh-poohed by me, no more so than A League of their Own; the story of the All-American Girls’ Professional Baseball League set in war time America. Despite one of her songs forming the soundtrack to the credits (thankfully it’s not in the same league as W.E), the film is in no way hindered by Madge’s presence.
A fantastic ensemble cast consisting of but not limited to Tom Hanks, Geena Davis and Bill Pullman; A League of their Owen is incredibly light hearted and surprisingly charming. A lot cheesier than more contemporary takes on women in sport (I’m thinking of Million Dollar Baby in particular, which I saw after formulating this list), it still holds its own in any top sporting film list; largely because of the chemistry between the solid, impressive troupe.
Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story
RELEASED: June 18, 2004 | DIRECTOR: Rawson Marshall Thurber | CERTIFICATE: 12 | RUN TIME: 92 minutes | CAST: Vince Vaughn, Ben Stiller, Christine Taylor, Rip Torn, Justin Long, Stephen Root, Alan Tudyk
No list is complete without a bit of carefree stupidity, and Dodgeball provides enough silliness for the whole article. Far preferable than BASEketball, which after a recent re-watch I didn’t find funny in the slightest (perhaps a worrying sign that I am finally growing up), and much more entertaining than the overrated (in my household at least) The Benchwarmers; Dodgeball is a daft delight.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I enjoy Ben Stiller’s films. The Royal Tenenbaums is one of my favourites, and I will readily profess my adoration for Zoolander (it’s no David Lynch but hey, give me a break). Whilst Chas Tenenbaum will always be Stiller’s best performance, his role of egomaniacal fitness Goliath White Goodman is one of his most iconic parts to date. Although Dodgeball isn’t quite the film that Rawson Marshall Thurber initially intended to create, the post test-audience changes certainly make the movie much better; after all, everyone loves an underdog.
RELEASED: December 10, 2010 | DIRECTOR: David O. Russell | CERTIFICATE: 15 | RUN TIME: 115 minutes | CAST: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo
The second fighting film in the list so far, The Fighter is one of the finest films of 2011. Amy Adams shone as the role of Charlene; boxer “Irish” Mickey Ward (Wahlberg)’s girlfriend. Incredibly different to previous roles in Enchanted and Julie and Julia, this is her most notable role since Sister James in the magnificent Doubt. However credit cannot only go to Adams, as Wahlberg gives one of the greatest performances of his career to date, whilst Bale once again lost a considerable amount of weight to fit his part; it is a role that he is perfect for.
It was The Fighter that really changed my opinions on sports films. Only seeing it on Valentine’s Day because Paul had sold out, I was certain I would not enjoy; writing it off as a “boy’s film”. Not only was I completely engrossed from opening to ending credits, I adored every moment of it. The Fighter provided an edge-of-your-seat form of entertainment I hadn’t experienced in quite some time.
RELEASED: July 1, 1992 | DIRECTOR: Bill Forsyth | CERTIFICATE: 12 | RUN TIME: 91 minutes | CAST: John Gordon Sinclair, Dee Hepburn, Clare Grogan
I couldn’t possibly write a film about sports and not include Gregory’s Girl; not only is it a wonderful movie, it also briefly featured in the opening ceremony (the thick Scottish “she’s gorgeous!”, good old Danny Boyle). The oldest film featured in this list, director Bill Forsyth’s first international hit features some excellent hairstyles and questionable eighties fashions. Winning a BAFTA for Best Screenplay in ’82, the recognition goes further than just the aesthetic of the film; and rightly so.
Endearing, quirky and wonderfully British; Gregory’s Girl is one of the best movies about football around. Featuring a strong female with a love of the beautiful game long before Bend it Like Beckham; Forsyth’s film is wonderfully refreshing, especially as football is often associated with boys. A coming of age film with a whimsical portrayal of teenage angst and unrequited love set against the backdrop of a school football pitch; Gregory’s Girl has something relatable to all. Let’s just hope that today’s viewers don’t share quite the same fashion sense.
The Damned United
RELEASED: March 27, 2009 | DIRECTOR: Tom Hooper | CERTIFICATE: 15 | RUN TIME: 97 minutes | CAST: Michael Sheen, Timothy Spall, Colm Meaney, Jim Broadbent
As discussed on the Movie Talking Biopic Podcast; The Damned United is a firm favourite over at Movie Writing HQ. Directed by the great Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech, the forthcoming Les Miserables), and based on the novel by David Peace; The Damned United takes a look at Brian Clough, previous Derby County manager, as he takes over Leeds United. With a fantastically British cast (Timothy Spall, Jim Broadbent, Stephen Graham) providing faultless performances all around; it’s not just a film about sport. It’s about friendship, loyalty and disappointment.
Despite knowing nothing about Brian Clough (played brilliantly by the great Michael Sheen) and even less about football; The Damned United is proof that you don’t need to have a prior knowledge of the sport to enjoy one of the finest biopics to come out of this country.
TT: Closer to the Edge
RELEASED: April 22, 2011 | DIRECTOR: Richard De Aragues | CERTIFICATE: 15 | RUN TIME: 104 minutes | CAST: Guy Martin, Ian Hutchinson
Released close to the Formula One documentary Senna, it was difficult to decide which of the two excellent films to place in the list. Thanks to the likability of Guy Martin and Ian Hutchinson, the leading riders in 2010’s race; TT: Closer to the Edge (shot and screened in 3D) is an entertaining, exhilarating and emotional account of the world famous Isle of Man TT motorcycle race that takes place, and takes lives, every year made the final cut.
In the way that The Damned United isn’t just about football; TT: Closer to the Edge isn’t just about racing. Honest, hilarious and at times horrendous; it explores the lives and families of the participants with some stories significantly sadder than others.
RELEASED: September 13, 2009 | DIRECTOR: Drew Barrymore | CERTIFICATE: 12 | RUN TIME: 111 minutes | CAST: Ellen Page, Alia Shawkat, Marcia Gay Harden, Kristen Wiig, Drew Barrymore, Juliette Lewis, Jimmy Fallon, Daniel Stern
I hold this film entirely accountable for my ludicrous urge to get my roller skates out. Since I first saw Whip It in 2009 when it was released, I have been eyeing up skates and blades without knowing a thing about the sport other than it looks cool. When my parents had a bit of a clean out, they found some roller skates I had since I was younger. Unfortunately for the world they still fit, and I discovered (in the kitchen, might I add) that I cannot skate. At all. Still, I’d like to think that I one day may be as cool as Ellen Page is as Bliss Cavendar in Whip It.
Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut Whip It is the perfect indie sports film. A fantastic female cast teamed with a brilliant soundtrack consisting of Tilly and the Wall, Ramones and The Go! Team; Whip It ticks pretty much all the boxes and only adds further fuel to my girl crush on Ellen Page. Despite its many charms, the film often misses the mark; the portrayal of Cavendar’s relationships in particular. I love it nevertheless.
RELEASED: September 23, 2011 | DIRECTOR: Bennett Miller | CERTIFICATE: 12 | RUN TIME: 133 minutes | CAST: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Chris Pratt
Prior to seeing Moneyball only recently, the structure of my favourite sporting films was a little different. Thanks to the limited release of Bennett Miller’s baseball hit based on a true story, it missed our local cinemas and has been on my To Watch list for some time. It was certainly worth the wait.
Brad Pitt’s roles seem to age like a fine wine or good cheese; whenever he gives an excellent performance there’s always another one around the corner to top the previous. This sentiment applies wholeheartedly to the character of Billy Beane; a former professional baseball player turned general manager. Pitt plays Beane with such emotion and conviction; if the game isn’t enough to keep you enthralled, his performance undoubtedly will. Johan Hill as Yale economics graduate Peter, his right hand man who helps Beane challenge the system, is equally as impressive. The surprise appearance of Chris Pratt only encouraged my love for this film. Although I still know nothing about baseball.
RELEASED: December 17, 2008 | DIRECTOR: Darren Aronofsky | CERTIFICATE: 15 | RUN TIME: 109 minutes | CAST: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood
Perhaps predictably, Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler is my number one sports related film. Featuring a perfect performance from Mickey Rourke as Randy “The Ram” Robinson, The Wrestler has certainly grown on me since I saw it last September. It is easily the best fighting film out there (sorry Sly fans), and balances the extremes of emotion; from violence to tenderness to loneliness, Rourke’s figurative and literal scars shine on screen.
Not one for the squeamish as there are some choice scenes, but don’t mistake this as one just for the boys. Aronofsky’s unique talent turns Randy’s career into an art form. A beautiful film with a beautiful score; I haven’t seen Rourke quite as exposed as he is in The Wrestler. I only hope he is able to tap into the same talent for his future roles.