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Versus AFI: 10 Top 10 – Sports

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This is the continuation of a series I began in January of this year that examines and remarks on The American Film Institute and its recent propensity to create Top 10 lists. Specifically, the organization’s need to gather publicity by documenting their celebration of cinema’s centennial via a series of TV specials. Each time, the AFI went about giving importance to a set of motion pictures based on criteria and judgments their groups of ‘experts’ determined. It has generated opinions among fans and film aficionados ever since in varying degrees of disagreement. If you’re unaware, the AFI is a non-profit organization created by the National Endowment for the Arts back in the 60s. One of its main charters is the preservation of American film legacy. As they put it,

“Each special honors a different aspect of excellence in American film.”

Unquestionably, their prime purpose was to get people talking about film. So be it. This series on AFI’s Top 10s (out of their 100s lists) for 2012 is my motivated response to compare their picks with a moviegoer (me) per each of their indexes. Naturally, I’m fully aware that readers’ mileage may vary (indeed, we know they will) when it comes to these selections. Fair enough. Either way, it’s going to be painful as picking one above the other always is in such endeavors. You’re invited to add your own and/or disagree all you want in the comments or your blog site (all I ask is that you leave a link so we, the readers, can peruse). Shall we continue?

Sports

AFI defines “sports” as a genre of films with protagonists who play athletics or other games of competition.

  1. Raging Bull
  2. Rocky
  3. The Pride of the Yankees
  4. Hoosiers
  5. Bull Durham
  6. The Hustler
  7. Caddyshack
  8. Breaking Away
  9. National Velvet
  10. Jerry Maguire
My list:
  1. Hoosiers [AFI #4] – this film represents director Anspaugh’s best work (he being a vet of my favorite TV fare like St. Elsewhere, Hill Street Blues, Miami Vice); the real life David vs. Goliath tale of a high school team, it’s quite human and flawed coaching staff (Gene Hackman and Dennis Hopper), as it makes its way to the basketball-crazy state of Indiana’s finals remains an inspiring joy.
  2. Million Dollar Baby – Clint Eastwood’s film keeps rising over the years with me, even though it can be quite devastating emotionally. The performances of Eastwood, Hilary Swank, and Morgan Freeman, and its multi-layered storyline, make it so. The work is now firmly entrenched as my favorite boxing drama (and there are a number of great ones for that sport).
  3. Bull Durham [AFI #5] – I’ll move up Ron Shelton’s own best film a couple of notches from AFI’s ranking because it knows where its heart is. Whether between the baselines on the field, and in the space separating two people, it successfully makes the case that baseball is a metaphor for life.
  4. Raging Bull [AFI #1] – no disrespect intended upon Martin Scorsese’s biopic of the middleweight Jake La Motta with my demotion of the film to fourth on my list; it’s a scorching tale that still induces plenty of head scratching. Everyone and their mother recalls the vaunted Academy picking Ordinary People over it that year (though my friend Jeff would argue otherwise).
  5. Field of Dreams – if the late Nora Ephron’s treatise from Sleepless in Seattle, that An Affair to Remember is a film “men don’t get“, then it’s up to Phil Alden Robinson’s film as the one to reach them (er… us) similarly; it is a work, like Million Dollar Baby, that pivots off of loss, through sport, and grabs hold of us guys like few movies before or since.
  6. The Hustler [AFI #6] – I’ll match up with the AFI only once within this genre on this film; it’s a perfect placement for this Robert Rossen work, at that. Uncompromising and the antithesis of sentimental, it’s filled to the brim with great performances and atmosphere that marked the games we play in the most stark terms.
  7. Miracle – it continues to puzzle me why a sports film as good as this one gets overlooked. Based on the true story of one of the greatest moments in sports, it tells the story of the historic victory of the U.S. hockey team at the 1980 Olympic Games. Gavin O’Connor’s film gathered the context and the passion of it all, anchored by another under appreciated performance by Kurt Russell.
  8. Eight Men Out – John Sayles’ dramatization of the Black Sox scandal, when the underpaid Chicago White Sox accepted bribes to deliberately lose the 1919 World Series, remains, like many of this filmmaker’s movies, an eye-opener. It is a highly underrated film of the national pastime that is baseball, and us as a country, on several levels.
  9. The Longest Yard – if this will be the only football film on this list, I’ll select the one that retained the purest reaction to its time (that of Watergate and Vietnam), and one directed by a supreme anti-authoritarian filmmaker, Robert Aldrich. Stay far and away from the 2005 remake, if you want to enjoy any meaningful frame of reference for what the 70s were all about.
  10. A League of Their Own – Penny Marshall’s film, the fictionalized account of the little-known chapter of American sports and baseball history of the teams in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League that began during WWII, is a gem (even if Madonna is in it). It shed a needed light on women in professional sport when such things went against convention of the time.

Note: the box score for those of you tabulating out there is:

Basketball Baseball Boxing Pool Hockey Football
1 4 2 1 1 1

Yes, it’s clear I seem to have a bias. I didn’t plan it, but there it is. Yet, it is a 50/50 split on fictional vs. true life dramatizations in the stories depicted on my films list. Okay, let’s address the elephant in the room: me dropping both Rocky and The Pride of the Yankees (AFI’s #2 & #3 picks, respectively) from my tensome. I chart it all up to fatigue. They’re always there in lists like these. I certainly appreciate them and don’t disparage the films, but just couldn’t include them here for that reason. I also very much enjoy Caddyshack and Breaking Away, especially since both golf and cycling made up so much of my sporting activity as an adult.

That leaves us with National Velvet and Jerry Maguire. Well, maybe just you. I never got into horse racing movies — well, maybe Seabiscuit, The Black Stallion, or Secretariat — but not this one. I have those three ahead of this Elizabeth Taylor vehicle. And don’t get me started on Jerry Maguire. I don’t like it. I recommend reading this blogger’s piece on why that is, partly — for those who know me, the other issue is Renee Zellweger.


What would be yours?

Next: Western

The Complete Versus AFI: 10 Top 10 Series:

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41 Responses to “Versus AFI: 10 Top 10 – Sports”

  1. ilovethatfilm

    Million Dollar Baby would definitely be in there. I don’t really love sports films so this is difficult. Maybe The Fighter or Ali. Seem to like the boxing ones but still need to see Raging Bull.

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    • le0pard13

      Thank you very kindly, ILTF. If you like boxing, and that was one very good aspect of ‘Million Dollar Baby’, you should check out ‘Raging Bull’. It’s one of Scorsese’s best.

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  2. jackdeth72

    Hi. Michael and company:

    Once again, AFI comes up with a safe, if not too convincing list of films.

    Not a huge sports fan, either. I’d drop ‘Caddyshack’ and include ‘North Dallas Forty’

    Can’t argue with ‘Eight Men Out’, ‘Raging Bull’ or ‘The Hustler’, even though billiards isn’t a real sport in my opinion.

    Might even pull ‘Million Dollar Baby’ and replace it with either ‘Golden Boy’ or ‘Ali’.

    Securing my Soap Box.
    Carry on.

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    • le0pard13

      Always glad to read your comments and see what you’d put on your list, Kevin. ‘North Dallas Forty’ is very underrated and I thought the director’s cut of ‘Ali’ one of Mann’s best. Thanks so much for adding to this, my friend.

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      • jackdeth72

        Hi, Michael:

        Michael Mann’s ‘Ali’, the theatrical release at least, never got the attention it deserved. Mann at the top of his game. Telling the story of a controversial athlete who stuck to his beliefs, religious and otherwise. well keeping them well out of the public eye.

        I should have a guest review of Mann’s ‘Heat’, ‘The Insider’ and ‘Ali’ over at FRC this Friday.

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        • le0pard13

          Ooh, I look forward to reading your thoughts on that triple set of Michael Mann films, Kevin. Thanks for the heads up.

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  3. mummbles

    Interesting list you have made. It’s a shame that Million Dollar Baby isn’t on AFI’s list but even worse that Major League is on either list.

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  4. The Sci-Fi Fanatic

    I enjoy these genre reflections. As usual some good selections on both lists but I think I like yours a bit more. Let’s see what I can come up with here my friend.

    10. Breaking Away – I do really like this film.
    9. Bad News Bears. – It’s hysterical and so politically incorrect. I love it.
    8. A League Of Their Own- such a great movie. I could see it over and over.
    7. Field Of Dreams – a classic. Infinitely rewatchable. Loads of inspiration.
    6. Cinderella Man- Not sure it qualifies but I love Crowe.
    5. Raging Bull
    4. Rocky.
    3. Miracle
    2. We Are Marshall.
    1. The Natural

    i love your mention of Million Dollar Baby. I need to see that one. Someday. I also think Eight Men Out is a good film. I remember finding it a bit slow but maybe I was too young to appreciate it.

    I also liked 61 and Seabiscuit! Both were real good. My selections may not be based on nbest film ever, but more or less films I enjoy and love to see time and again. Not a fan of Renee or Tom that much. Jerry is good but…tiresome.

    And thank you L13 for RR. I received yesterday! I will give it a whirl soon my friend! TKU!

    Best
    sff

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    • le0pard13

      Ooh, ‘Bad New Bears’. Love that film. And yes, ‘Cinderella Man’ surely qualifies and is a great boxing movies. It’s an underrated Russell Crowe vehicle, alright. Yes, be sure to check out ‘Million Dollar Baby’. It has an emotional wallop, though. Excellent list on your part, SFF. Thanks for reading and contributing, my friend.

      p.s., glad to hear it arrived :-).

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  5. Paula

    Thanks for including MIRACLE! I love that movie, I think Kurt Russell’s performance is so underrated. There aren’t enough good hockey movies in general. I’d throw in MONEYBALL (you knew I was going there, right? ;)) but I’m not sure that would count. It is about baseball but you only see the main character playing in flashbacks.

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    • le0pard13

      Isn’t, though? Loved it when it happened (I was clued to the set during that Olympic Games), and this film adaptation. Great that you mentioned ‘Moneyball’. One of the best films (sport or otherwise) from last year. Thanks, Paula.

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  6. Rachel

    I don’t think I could come up with ten but I love A League of Their Own. However, I have very strong negative feelings about Million Dollar Baby. Have you done a post on that one? Can I put in a request if you have not? I always love to see your perspectives (on anything really) on movies I really disliked. You make me see them differently and sometimes give them another chance.

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    • le0pard13

      I’d love to hear (perhaps, in a post of your own) why ‘Million Dollar Baby’ draws that reaction from you, Rachel. You got me very curious now. Maybe then, I’d write up my response ;-). Thanks.

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    • Paula

      Oh my goodness….I should have my hockey fan card revoked for forgetting Slapshot…I own the DVD too. Ay yi yi 😦

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      • le0pard13

        I own it, too. Y’know, given that our L.A. Kings won the cup this year, I should tee it up, once more. Thanks, Paula.

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    • le0pard13

      I came this close to keeping it on my tensome. I hated to drop it (let’s say it’s in the 11th position) — these top 10’s aren’t getting any easier. It is certainly a great one, Naomi. Thanks.

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  7. ruth

    I don’t watch a lot of sports movies for some reason, so I’ve only seen Rocky and Jerry Maguire from your list. I do like the latter, one of Cruise’s best performances IMO. I also like Rudy, a bit sentimental but I remember really liking that one. Great list, Michael.

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    • le0pard13

      That’s quite alright, Ruth. And ‘Rudy’ is a very good one, even if it’s a bit sentimental. Thank you so much for reading and leaving a comment.

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  8. Eric

    You know, for as much as I love sports, there are still quite a few sports films I haven’t seen (including a few embarrassing omissions). For example, I just watched Hoosiers for the first time earlier this month. Can’t believe it took me that long to see it.

    Regardless, I really enjoyed reading your post, Michael. Cool to see Bull Durham get bumped up a couple spots, and I like that you ditched two of the more obvious choices in favor of something different. Nice work!

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  9. Mark Walker

    Raging Bull would still be tops for Michael. I hadn’t heard of Miracle before but I’ll look into that. O’Connor’s most recent one Warrior would probably make my list also. I didnt expect to but I loved that movie

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    • le0pard13

      I’m an unabashed fan of Kurt Russell, and his turn as Coach Brooks in ‘Miracle’ was great. I was pleasantly surprised with ‘Warrior’, too. Thanks, Mark.

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  10. John

    I would like to recommend a real hidden gem Called Running Brave starring Robbie Benson. It is about the Olympic champion, runner Billy Mills. A real great underdog type film. If you liked Rocky you will love Running Brave.

    Also Stallone in Victory combines soccer with WW2 POWS. A riveting film with a great ending. One of Sly’s best!

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    • le0pard13

      Thanks so much for the read, comment, and recommendations, John. I have heard of ‘Running Brave’ and a good many things about it. I really need to give it a screening. And I have seen ‘Victory’ way back when and enjoyed it, too.

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  11. ckckred

    I haven’t seen Ordinary People but I can’t imagine it being better than Raging Bull, it’s a movie no one ever talks about today. And Hoosiers is a great film. Nice list.

    Liked by 1 person

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