Listen to Alison Cuddy talk sports movies on Eight Forty-Eight
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It’s no surprise that sports and movies go together like high tops and hardwood - each relies heavily on story lines involving underdogs, unlikely heroes, falls from grace and second chances (frequently in sudden death overtime situations - so tense!).
But sorting out the bad from the good sports movies is kind of hard - even the ones I like rarely rise above formula.
There are exceptions. Goon, which opens in Chicago this weekend, pays homage to (wait for it!) an unlikely hero - the hockey enforcer - and is an odd mix of the angsty interpersonal interests of Judd Apatow and the ultra-violent obsessions of Sam Peckinpah (Straw Dogs meets Knocked Up, on ice?).
Sports films I admire (and reliably cry over, because what’s sports without tears?): Hoop Dreams, North Dallas Forty, Slap Shot, Brian’s Song, and Love and Basketball. A good friend’s review has me itching to see Zidane, A 21st-Century Portrait - a real-time take on the French footballer over the course of one game, made by a couple of conceptual artists and 17 synchronized cameras.
What follows (in no particular order) is a list of sports films I love to hate - or at least think are bad enough to merit mention:
1. Cool Runnings. A comedy inspired by the real-life Jamaican bobsled team, whose efforts at the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics won the hearts and minds of many. Despite the affable presences of John Candy, Doug E. Doug and Leon Robinson, the ultra-formulaic approach misses an opportunity to tap into the anarchic power of amateur sports. Kind of more disappointing than flat-out bad.
2. The Air Up There. Kevin Bacon tries to recruit a Kenyan talent for his college basketball team and winds up saving the heart of Africa. Really? The white man’s burden is no better fit for Bacon than any of the other film roles he tried on through much of the mid-’90s. Racist and just plain ugh!
3. Space Jam. Michael Jordan agrees to help a Looney Tunes crew out! As a Chicago Bulls fan maybe I should be more appreciative of this mash-up of live-action and animated play. But to me this ode to Air Jordan makes the “I’m going to Miami!” infomercial ESPN put together with LeBron James look positively humble brag. There’s a reason Derrick Rose declines to dance at the All Stars and I think it’s Space Jam.
4. The Main Event. Barbara Streisand hopes to recoup her financial misfortunes through the faded talents of boxer Ryan O’Neal. Streisand made this film with both her current boyfriend (Jon Peters) and ex-flame (O’Neal) which may explain why, like Jordan’s folly, it’s a star vehicle with zero substance. Now if Streisand and Clint Eastwood had collaborated on a boxing flick…
5. Men With Brooms. A rom-com plot complicates an already little understood and frequently maligned sport: curling. With the late great Leslie Nielsen and Paul Gross, the guy whose TV show Due South brought mounties to Chicago. Which when you think about it seems a far more head scratching scenario than a sport involving rocks, brooms and briars.
Okay, hit me with your best shot - weigh in below with your favorite bad (or good) sports movies!