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?
AFI defines “sports” as a genre of films with protagonists who play athletics or other games of competition.
- Raging Bull
- The Pride of the Yankees
- Bull Durham
- The Hustler
- Breaking Away
- National Velvet
- Jerry Maguire
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
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?
The Complete Versus AFI: 10 Top 10 Series: