The 5 Best Sports Movies You May Have Missed

Last week, as I watched 3 of my beloved TV series have their season finales […]

5.-Heaven-Can-Wait-1978Last week, as I watched 3 of my beloved TV series have their season finales – “The Good Wife” (the best show not talked about much on Mockingbird–there, I said it) “The Americans” (best 2-season binge watch currently available) and “Survivor” (the original reality show competition, accept no substitute) – it struck me that we’re entering the summer season. It’s the time of year when we go to our blu rays, On Demands, Redboxes, and Netflix to catch up on films we’ve been meaning to see, but have not because we have been too busy just trying to keep up with (let’s face it) a new semi-golden age of television. Springsteen lamented “57 channels and nothing on” 20+ years ago, but now we have 250+ channels and, well, some stuff on. So it’s tough to get to some of those well regarded films we’ve been meaning to see.

If you’ve got some movie viewing bandwidth this summer, here are  the 5 top sports movies you may have missed.

5. Heaven Can Wait (1978)  (Warren Beatty, Julie Christie) – A lot of films from the 70’s don’t hold up to repeat viewing in the new millennium. Those who have tried to make it through Three Days of the Condor in recent years know full well. Heaven Can Wait is an exception. Beatty plays Joe Pendleton, the star quarterback of the Los Angeles Rams who’s “person” is taken from his body by an over-zealous angel just before impact in a fatal crash. The “mistake” results in Joe getting a second chance at life when his person is put into the body of recently murdered millionaire Leo Farnsworth. As a sports-fantasy-romantic-comedy, HCW works on a lot of levels. The endings of films like A.I. (think David and the Blue Fairy) and The Family Man (think snow falling in the background at the airport coffee shop) owe a bit of their magic to the ending of HCW. It’s brimming with hope and possibilities for even the smallest chance of a lasting connection that allows the viewer to speculate about where things go next…..even if the “liver and whey shake” never caught on as a health craze.

secretariat-diane-lane-pic34. Secretariat (2010) (Diane Lane, John Malkovich) – If a horse (this side of Mr. Ed) could talk, it would be Secretariat, and he would channel Eric Liddell (Chariots of Fire) “…God also made me fast, and when I run, I feel his pleasure”. If you see only the re-creation of the last 30 lengths of the 1973 Belmont Stakes (the 3rd race in the Triple Crown) you’ve seen enough to warrant a full price movie ticket at the theater. I sat on my couch and cried like a baby watching a horse run. I hadn’t cried over an animal in a movie since Timmy was burying Lassie’s toys, figuring her for dead. Seabiscuit doubled the box office take of Secretariat, but the latter is the better film, and the better horse. (Sorry all you fans of downward trajectories for horses). Secretariat, the character, is a stunning picture of what it might look like to live as if justification has truly “set us free”.

3. Win Win (2011) (Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan) – Welcome to the wonderful world of Thomas McCarthy (writer/director of Up, The Station Agent, The Visitor, and Win Win). McCarthy writes/directs in the style of Alexander Payne (Sideways, About Schmidt) and Jame L. Brooks (As Good as it Gets). Meaning, McCarthy wants to say something about the human connection and beauty that emerges against backdrops of dysfunction, injustice, and regret. Giamatti plays Mike Flaherty, a small town lawyer trying to make ends meet. He’s also the wrestling coach at the local high school. Flaherty and his wife (Amy Ryan) take in a runaway teen who joins the wrestling team. There are some supercharged redemptive moments that sneak up on the viewer throughout the film. If you enjoy Win Win, you’ll love McCarthy’s other films.

warrior-2011-movie2. Warrior (2011) – (Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, Nick Nolte) – Warrior is the Rocky for the new millennium. It contains all of the underdog themes, and has a more tragic back story. One doesn’t have to have seen a minute of an “Ultimate Fighting” match (let alone know the sport) in order to love this film. If you can have the Jacob and Esau sibling rivalry in the back of your mind going into this film, it helps. The central relationship certainly plays out that way. Warrior has been described as a maddening film by some who feel like so much is left unresolved (did the widow get the money?, did the couple keep their house?, did anyone serve prison time?, were fathers and sons reconciled?). Actually though, everything is resolved in the final scene of the film, as the camera zooms in and fades out on a Jacobian “wound of grace” that answers every question.

1. Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993) -(Joe Mantegna, Laurence Fishburne, Ben Kingsley) Is chess a sport? ESPN thinks so, listing SFBF in it’s top 25 sports films. The reason SFBF is the best sports film ever (IMO) is that it contains all of the elements – mentors and coaches that err on the side of developing the heart over the mind (and visa versa), well meaning parents who nevertheless struggle not to live their sports fantasies vicariously through their child prodigy, and best of all, a tremendously rootable protagonist. Sprinkled throughout the film are narrated black and white flashbacks to the life of Bobby Fischer, the enigmatic, aloof U.S. chess champion from the 1970’s. His story of sacrificing self at the altar of winning and being the best serves as the perfect backdrop over this film about a normal 9 year old kid with a special gift. I’m amazed at how many people I’ve spoken with who have not seen this film. It can not be recommended more highly for a family with kids 10 and up. 


5 responses to “The 5 Best Sports Movies You May Have Missed”

  1. the Old Adam says:

    Chess? A sport?

    I even have trouble with baseball. (at least how the Cubs play it)

  2. David Zahl says:

    What a terrific list, Howie! So glad you included Searching for Bobby Fisher. Max Pomeranc’s performance may be the best child acting I’ve ever seen. And I love how messy the Waitzkin apartment is. My son claims that it’s his favorite movie.

    As for The Good Wife… are you volunteering?! Please say yes.

  3. Howie Espenshied says:

    Thanks DZ, great point about the apartment – just adds to the “every family” aspect. My favorite scene in the film is when Joe Montegna take’s the chess trophies off the living room mantel and puts them in Max’s room.

    I’ll come up with something on The Good Wife – best written show on the 4 major networks.

  4. Carl L. says:

    Win Win is a fantastic movie! One of my favorites of the past few years, and I’m glad you gave it some press here. Great acting and it’s definitely grace-infused, just like The Station Agent.

  5. B.I.C says:

    Warrior has all the great cliches one expects from an underdog sports film AND family drama. On the description alone, I thought the film would be maybe enjoyable but ultimately forgettable. And then I watched it. That was one of the most cathartic films I have watched in the last year. And the final fight and scene (“wound of grace”) is more powerful and resolute than any “happy ending” could be.

    Seen: Heaven Can Wait, Searching for Bobby Fischer
    Need to See: Win Win
    Won’t Ever See: Secretariat

    Something about movies about horses will put me to sleep faster than an overdose of Nyquil.

    Thanks for this post Howie!

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