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Morning Sun
  • Sisney, At the Movies Part II

  • Last week, I wrote on five of my favorite sports movies and now return this week to ramble on about the final five selections of my top 10.

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  • Last week, I wrote on five of my favorite sports movies and now return this week to ramble on about the final five selections of my top 10.
    I preface today’s list with the proviso that it’s a personal list and subjective, not objective.
    This is not a greatest sports movies list because declaring anything the greatest always reeks of the worst pretension; I have not seen every sports movie ever made, so I would not claim to make the authoritative statement on sports movies.
    Favorite conversational moments always include others’ declarations like “‘Dirty Dancing’ is the greatest movie ever made” or “‘Saving Private Ryan’ is the only war movie to ever care about its characters.” Who can prove or refute either statement?
    Anyway, on to the list.
    "Hoop Dreams" (1994; directed by Steve James)
    "Hoosiers" (1986; directed by David Anspaugh)
    Most sports fans love an underdog, just as long as it's not their favorite team on the receiving end of an upset.
    We root for the Florida Marlins to beat the New York Yankees in the 2003 World Series, we cheer for the North Carolina State Wolfpack or the Kansas Jayhawks to upend the Houston Cougars or the Oklahoma Sooners in the 1983 and 1988 NCAA Tournament, respectively, and we keep watching “March Madness” every year partly because we crave upsets.
    "Hoosiers" derives some of its power from our instinctive nature to root for the underdog, like the small town of Hickory, Ind. (a fictional Indiana town), going up against a powerful squad from the big city of South Bend in the state championship game, back in the days when tiny schools and huge schools competed for the same title. We want David to beat Goliath.
    I first saw "Hoosiers" when I was developing a basketball obsession; I grew up during a grand era of basketball and fondly remember watching the Lakers and Celtics, the Lakers and Pistons, the Pistons and Celtics, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, etc., as well as Danny Manning and Kansas, every chance I could get in a town without cable television until 1989. I looked forward to Raycom Sports broadcasting the Big 8 on Saturday and CBS Sports NBA doubleheaders on Sunday.
    An old friend asked why I liked "Hoop Dreams" - "I empathized with their dreams of being an NBA superstar," my short answer. Of course, I was nowhere as good as William Gates or Arthur Agee, the protagonists of "Hoop Dreams," but I understood their dreams.
    "Hoop Dreams" follows Gates and Agee — two inner-city Chicago kids recruited by St. Joseph's High School, a suburban basketball powerhouse, to possibly be the "next Isiah Thomas" — for six years of their lives, from right before high school to their first year of college.
    Page 2 of 3 - Their lives take many twists and turns, filling up a three-hour movie; for example, Agee ended back at his neighborhood high school because St. Joseph's refused to foot the tuition bill after deeming Agee a basketball bust and Gates became a highly-recruited guard at St. Joseph's before he struggled with knee problems and the ACT his final two years of high school.
    We not only see Gates and Agee, we see their families and their dramas, like Gates' older brother Curtis and Agee's mother, who asks the filmmakers, "Do you ever ask yourself how I get by on $268 a month and keep this house and feed these children? Do you ever ask yourself that question?"
    Hard work and sacrifice are behind every dream coming true, but it's the dream that gets a person through the hard work and sacrifice. “Hoop Dreams” is a rare American film that shows what it’s like for what Sly Stone called “everyday people.”
    I never made it to the NBA . . . but I am glad I had the dream.
    “The Hustler” (1961; directed by Robert Rossen)
    Sometimes it’s only a matter of style that separates two movies in our minds. I’ll take “The Hustler” over its 1986 big money sequel directed by Martin Scorsese, “The Color of Money.”
    Black & white cinematography fits the world of pool halls and the underworld so much better than color; cigarette smoke, boozing and scheming are meant for black & white.
    Black & white movies retain a longevity because they’re not victim to fashion trends and styles; for instance, take one look at Tom Cruise’s bad hairdo in “The Color of Money” and just try and take him seriously against Paul Newman. Black & white adds mystery, shadowplay, dreamlike elements — “The Hustler” makes “The Color of Money” look as gritty as pool on ESPN.
    Plus, in “The Hustler,” we have Newman’s Fast Eddie Felson up against Jackie Gleason’s Minnesota Fats, as well as George C. Scott’s Bert — three great actors near the very top of their form. Scott played a convincing villain and Gleason proved himself a great dramatic actor in addition to his comedic gifts; Newman rises up to their challenge.
    In “The Color of Money,” Cruise falls short of Newman and Cruise’s Vincent fails to convince us he could ever outsmart Fast Eddie Felson.
    I remember the mutual respect exchange (dialogue worth its weight in gold) between Fast Eddie and Minnesota Fats — Fast Eddie: Fat man, you shoot a great game of pool. Minnesota Fats: So do you, Fast Eddie.
    “The Hustler” takes a tough look at winning and losing, and what both can do to a man’s soul, as well as the impact on their friends and relationships.
    Page 3 of 3 - “Kingpin” (1996; directed by Bobby and Peter Farrelly)
    This is a borderline sports movie selection because it’s more a gross-out comedy than a sports movie, but I argue that it’s every bit the sports movie as “Caddyshack” and does for bowling what “Caddyshack” did for golf.
    “Caddyshack” and “Kingpin” not only share a broad, sometimes juvenile, sometimes satirical humor, but one important comic actor: Bill Murray, an American treasure.
    Murray plays Ernie “Big Ern” McCracken, a two-bit hustler trapped in the body of a professional bowler; he almost singlehandedly steals this movie with limited screen time, eventually sporting a most ridiculous combover. Murray and Woody Harrelson are not only playing characters who bowl against each other, but display two actors in competition for the worst combover.
    Murray’s performance here belongs alongside his work in “Caddyshack.” He gets away with rudeness more than any other performer since Groucho Marx.
    The Farrelly Brothers had a comedy style beyond the rather tame Adam Sandler, Pauly Shore, etc., and will go anywhere for a joke, including crass parodies of “The Graduate” and “Witness” in “Kingpin.” I laughed, so I am not offended. Had I not laughed, I would have been offended.
    Friendly word of consumer advice: Watch “Kingpin” in tandem with “The Big Lebowski,” another transcendent bowling movie.
    “Rocky” (1976; directed by John Avildsen)
    At one point in my life, during a period when I thought Martin Scorsese was the best American director, I would have picked “Raging Bull” over “Rocky.”
    I admire “Raging Bull” for its virtuoso elements — Scorsese’s direction, DeNiro and Pesci’s acting, Chapman’s black & white cinematography and Thelma Schoonmaker’s editing — but have trouble watching it now because it’s so unrelenting in unpleasantness.
    On the other hand, “Rocky” will always be a crowd pleaser, with an underdog storyline, boxing filmed like violent dance, romance and redemption, as well as strong performances by Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burgess Meredith, Burt Young and Carl Weathers.
    Stallone based his screenplay on Chuck Wepner and Muhammad Ali going 15 rounds in a 1975 heavyweight title fight — Rocky Balboa (Stallone) based on Wepner and Apollo Creed (Weathers) based on the flamboyant but great Ali.
    On a side note, “Rocky” institutionalized the sports movie use of the “montage” . . . Rocky in training, scored by the booming notes of a rock song (Bill Conti’s “Gonna Fly Now”) that reaches a crescendo when Rocky makes it up all 72 steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and holds both arms up high. Montages later became a monster — “The Karate Kid” seemingly contains a montage every 5 minutes.
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