Revisiting a tired question.
Welcome to SportsNation! On Friday, we’re chatting sports movies with Ray Didinger, co-author of the new book “The Ultimate Book of Sports Movies.”
Didinger, along with Glen Macnow, tried to answer the question of which movie is better, “Field of Dreams,” “Bull Durham,” “Hoosiers,” “Raging Bull” or “Rocky”? Those last three were their top three, in alphabetical order (they reveal their ranking in their book). The duo watched over 300 movies, grading them and coming up with a top 100
Actually, none of these is in my Top Ten. Didinger/MacNow believe somehow that Rocky is the best sports movie ever made. Total bullcrap. It’s not even close to being the best boxing movie ever made. (In fact, it may be the worst of the genre.) There’s nothing realistic about the ring scenes at all. Both fighters would have been dead by the end of the fifth round.
Field of Dreams and Bull Durham also don’t belong on any list of good movies, let alone great sports movies. Costner’s overwritten, artificially inserted soliloquy citing the crack of the bat and the smell of pussy kills Bull Durham dead the moment it occurs. And Field of Dreams in its static nostalgia is more a cremation than a celebration of baseball.
Truth is, there aren’t a hundred great sports movies. There are just a few. Here are ten:
10. The Replacements. Almost all football movies are sentimental, inaccurate garbage pretending to be truth. This one is just fun. I’d probably have put Major League in this spot, but there’s no other football movie worth mentioning.
9. Stroke of Genius. The story of Bobby Jones, played by Jim Caviezel. A man pitted against himself. Insight into genius and its penalties.
8. Mystery, Alaska. Yeah, I know. Everybody loves Slap Shot as best hockey movie. Sorry. This one is less slap stick and more hockey.
7. Sea Biscuit. Great history, great performances by everyone involved. Only a couple of inaccuracies. (War Admiral wasn’t huge, and Sea Biscuit had a fine thoroughbred pedigree.) Still, a stirring movie you can watch more than once.
6. Coach Carter. Not about winning the championship. About winning in life. No other movie about basketball compares.
5. Pastime. It’s about baseball and baseball players. The best ever. Proof? The real-life major leaguers who played cameo roles. Nothing splashy. Just true.
4. The Greatest Game Ever Played. Yeah, golf is a sport. And one American finally put our country on a map that used to be limited to the British Isles. Excellent movie.
3. Senna. Formula 1 car racing. A documentary. Riveting as any fictional drama you’ve ever seen.
2. Secretariat. More history, well told. One of the greatest sporting achievements ever.
1. Ali. Boxing should be easier to get right than baseball, football, hockey, or basketball. Turns out it isn’t. The only movie ever that got it right. The Liston, Terrell, and Foreman fights are not only accurate historically, they’re viscerally, violently compelling. The rest of the movie is absorbing too, as befits its landmark subject.
I’d do Honorable Mentions, but I think I’ll leave that to you all. Have fun with your sharpshooting.
P.S. In the interest of full disclosure, an excerpt from a text message I sent to my good friend Josh today:
All I have to do is battle through the fatigue… Saw the movie Ali today. Like a time machine for me and the sensual realization of the only Mailer book I ever liked. He was ringside at Ali-Foreman in Zaire (which I watched live on HBO in B school after an exam and have written about). Mailer said the sheer sound of Foreman’s body punches in the first round was terrifying. He didn’t believe Ali could survive the round or if he did survive the round he might not survive the fight with his life. The movie captured that terror perfectly. It was torture watching round after round of rope a dope: body blow, body blow, body blow, body blow… with everyone in Ali’s corner screaming, “Get off the ropes!” Because nobody can take that prolonged a beating from such a punching machine. And then, suddenly, the lights that had seemed doused in Ali’s eyes flashed back on and here he came, off the ropes, resurrected, dancing (dancing!) and slugging like a predator who’s finally seen the opening he was waiting for. It took only a few moments and the best punch was the one not thrown, which Ali pulled back as Foreman was hitting the canvas. I will never forget it. Me and my B-school buddies practically cheered the roof off the apartment we were in. But the neighbors didn’t complain. They were cheering too.
All I have to do is battle through the fatigue. What Michael Mann was saying in his movie. For years, Ali had to stand against the ropes and just take it from the U.S. government AND the Nation of Islam. No wonder he won the Rumble in the Jungle. He’d had all the training anyone could ever expect to get.
P.P.S. The missus watched the Ali-Foreman fight in the movie before the On-Demand timing expired. What did she say? “Good God. I get it.” Meaning everything I’ve said about Ali over the years. Just as she’s gradually gotten my love of the Stones. Slowly but surely, she begins to understand that I’m not arbitrary (or wrong) in my admirations.