Friday, December 19, 2008

Top 5: Scoreboard confessional; sports movies not to be given as gifts

Rogers Sportsnet's Ian Mendes has been known to write something in hope some rube would take the bait.

When Mendes says he's never seen Slap Shot, you don't go on the attack. This might seem like some sports nut equivalent to admitting you did not care for The Godfather, but Mendes is on to something and it's only right to try to capture the spirit of the thing.

Perhaps this could even work as a gift-buying guide -- five so-called sport movie classics that you should not buy on DVD or Blu-Ray for anyone, under any circumstances. Every time a media outlet such as Entertainment Weekly puts together a list of best sports movies, they pop up like distant relatives at Christmastime, but they are not worth seeing any more than 10-15 times.

A nice piece of popular schlock such as Major League, or Remember The Titans, cannot be on this list. Their shortcomings are more obvious, and it would be hypocritical to list them. Whenever one of those movies comes on AMC or City TV at 1 a.m. in the morning, I'm there, even the latter doesn't hold a candle to Varsity Blues. There's a difference between overrated and being both overrated and bad.

All five of these are ranked in Randy Williams' excellent book Sports Cinema. Rankings are in parentheses.


Baseball lets us to indulge our inner pretentious poet (guilty as charged), but Field of Dreams takes it too far. W.P. Kinsella's novel, the source material, was a wonderful piece of fluff, but the film adaptation basically imparts that any obstacle can be overcome with a bunch of easy cliches and that Boomers know what's best for everyone, just ask them. The scene where Annie (Amy Madigan) silences a bunch of townfolk at a meeting is a dead giveaway of the latter; she does it way too easily, because anyone from a small town is obviously too stupid to come up with a counter-argument.

What else? How about depicting Shoeless Joe Jackson as a lefty-throwing, righty-hitting ballplayer? How about the fact that none of the dead baseball greats mentioned in the movie include Josh Gibson or any of the Negro Leagues stars who were denied a chance to play in the maors? Besides, the Black Sox story was told much better in Eight Men Out, which came out one year earlier, and you can't have too many Kevin Costner movies in your library. Someone's going to miss the cut after you squeeze in JFK, The Untouchables, Bull Durham and Tin Cup.


They might as well be listed together, since (a) they're both Great Depression movies that came from the same studio (Universal), about a year apart; (b) they couldn't possibly be worse than Field of Dreams and (c) their stars of each movie are actors whose signature performances came in other movies.

Thankfully, the second count relieves you of any any obligation to see either film, which means I am off the hook. Russell Crowe? Gladiator or Master & Commander. Tobey Maguire? Wonder Boys, Pleasantville. Jeff Bridges? The Big Lebowski, Fat City. Elizabeth Banks? Zack & Miri Make A Porno. Scratch these both off your to-see list.


This classic, so-called, came out during Hollywood's second golden age, the 1970s. What's your point? Anyone not enough to remember those days is allowed to invoke the "I wasn't there" clause, although all bets are off if a more recent movie set in the '70s is on TV.

The movie revolves around a Little League team with a female pitcher and players of mixed racial backgrounds. That might have been grist for some sharp social commentary in the mid-1970s, but to anyone born after Bad New Bears came out, it just seemed dated, especially if you grew up playing boys hockey and always having at least one girl on your team, and having friends of mixed races. Not only that, but in modern eyes, Walter Matthau's character drinking beer in front of his young players isn't funny. It's child abuse, and it reminds us that political correctness isn't all bad.

Stick this back in the time capsule.


The movie that sent the American male -- thankfully not the Canadian one, us and our demons are just fine -- into a downward spiral that's now at a dozen years and counting.

It all started with Jerry Maguire. Somehow, the average guy got duped into liking -- and quoting ad nauseam -- a movie where the hero dumps Kelly Preston for a single mother played by the actress who later played Bridget Jones. Not only that, but he jilted Kelly Preston with red hair, at a time when comedy chedderheads were in -- Julianne Moore, Heather Graham, Lauren Holly.

Brutal. It's clear now that what happened. Someone put a bug in Cameron Crowe's ear and told him he had to make an even-up call after getting carried away with the male fantasy in Fast Times at Ridgemont High and in Say Anything. Thank god for Almost Famous.

Honestly, the only funny part is when the kid in the airport stops Rod Tidwell/Cuba Gooding Jr. (who never did anything worthwhile after this) in the airport and asks, "Are you Hootie?" It was the mid- to late '90s.You had to be there.


EW picked it as the best sports movie of all time, but come on. Bill Simmons no doubt covered this off years ago, but the subplot with Dennis Hopper as the alcoholic assistant coach is tacked on. Gene Hackman's propensity for being a one-note actor is omnipresent. The killjoy female character (played by Barbara Hershey, who was probably right when she refused to do any publicity for the movie) is a sexist stereotype. It works, all right, and you'll get the chill bumps when the Hickory Huskers knock off South Bend Central, but it's a paint-by-numbers movie that's saved by its uplifting musical score and cinematography.

It has its authentic moments, all right, especially coach Norman Dale's line that, "My practices aren't for your enjoyment."
Some time this winter, a few weeks before March Madness, it will be on and you will watch and you'll hate yourself.

Anyway, you have been warned, and here's hoping you don't end up with one of these as a holiday gift.

Sports movies to share with the girlfriend (July 2006)

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