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Genre defining: Sport

TheFlyingScotsman.jpgThis really should have been last week as there was a mountain of sport to be had, Rugby World Cup and Formula 1 World Championships being the most prominent, but that weekend of sport made me think of the next topic for our Genre Defining series at Filmstalker, Sports.

So we're going to discuss the genre defining sports films that you can think of, I've managed a fair few, but I know there are many others, and who's to say you'll agree with mine?

I did think that having a category for each sport would be a little limiting and we'd be here for weeks discussing sports from football, and American football, to synchronised swimming (is there a film about that?) so better to bundle them all together, and then we could even argue which is the best sports film of them all.

Without further ado, here are the list of films I came up with rather quickly when I began thinking about this, these are my Genre Defining sport films.

Cycling: The Flying Scotsman (Filmstalker review)
I fell in love with The Flying Scotsman, a film that really is about more than just sport, it's about triumph over adversity. About no matter how dark and tough life can get there's always a way to get through. It's about the unstoppable drive and self belief that some can find in their darkest hour, that many top sports people have, people like the amazing Graeme Obree.

The story tells of Obree, the multiple word record breaking cyclist who triumphed over great depression to repeatedly break records and win races with a home made bike.

Repeatedly the governing body of the sport changed the rules and excluded him for fear of him bringing ridicule to the sport.

Yet he kept going and kept fighting back, and his achievements are a great story which covers, not just cycling and sport, but the nature of how humans can triumph over anything set in their way and achieve greatness.

Running: Chariots of Fire
I have to say that it's been an absolute age since I saw this film and I can barely remember it apart from some key scenes. The running on the beach, the race around the University square, they are glimpses of scenes that stay with you from this iconic film.

It tells the story of two young British sprinters who are preparing for the 1924 Olympics, the build up to the Olympics is told in flashback from their very first race against each other, through their training and finally to the Olympics themselves.

This has to be the iconic running film, probably for that one scene and the powering music.

Baseball: Bull Durham, Field of Dreams
Although Field of Dreams isn't all about Baseball, it does encapsulate many of the qualities of the human spirit that are apparent throughout the film.

Ray Kinsella hears a voice telling him to start a journey that will have him fulfilling people's dreams, building a baseball park in the middle of his farm, and being visited by some amazing baseball players of all time.

This is a beautiful film which really does manage to get to you. Afterwards you feel that anything is possible and that it might not be that hard to achieve your dreams after all.

Now I'm no baseball follower so someone will have to step in here for me, as a non-fan I would say that Bull Burham is often quoted as the baseball film, although I'm sure the love triangle aspect isn't the part they mean. What's also interesting is that Kevin Costner appears in both choices for the baseball category.

Are these the right choices for baseball?

Motor Racing: Grand Prix, Le Mans
Grand Prix is perhaps the greatest example of motorsport put to dramatic film ever, and that's not because there are so few of them but the film is just so good. It captures the danger and the speed of early motorsport, something which other motorsport films have failed to do.

It also looks at the life off the track, women, money, pressure, and the intense competition. If it isn't really like this then you wish it was. There are many real racing drivers included in the cast and used for the races, James Garner led the film and by all accounts the racing too. He raced his own car and against professional drivers in the "between shots" races they had.

Graham Hill, Jack Brabham, Jim Clark, and Bruce McLaren were among some of the names of the real drivers who appeared and raced in the film. Although Formula 3 cars were used, the Director John Frankenheimer refused to drive them slowly and speed them up on film, resulting in a very realistic film. Added to that was real footage from the Grand Prix races of those years.

Le Mans was Steve McQueen's answer to this film. He was originally up for the title role in Grand Prix but after a meeting with a producer he pulled out and five years later made this film of the legendary twenty-four hours race.

The first thirty-seven minutes of the film doesn't contain any audible dialogue (although I really can't remember that to say for sure) and Steve McQueen was such a fan of racing that he really got involved in the film, to the point that the first director, John Sturges, left the production and Lee H. Katzin took up the honours.

The film looks at the twenty-four hour race with similar plot lines to Grand Prix, a driver competing for the title under the pressure of a terrible crash which he believed he caused and someone close to them was injured or died. It's the dramatic story line addition to the racing, but in both cases they've managed to build both racing and story well and not sacrifice the other, and both manage to deliver the feeling of speed and danger.

Football (Soccer): Escape to Victory, Goal
I'm really not a football (or soccer!) fan so I'm not really sure if my choices will be well received. On one level I'm tempted to say Green Street (Filmstalker review), because that's my view of football sometimes, that and falling over for no reason and crying like a baby to get a free kick or a penalty. So let's get this first choice out of the way.

Although I've never seen it, I'm guessing Goal. The film features some proper actors, some real footballers, and begins the story of a few footballers from around the world who are dreaming of making it to the World Cup. The first film follows the beginnings of their journey, and is probably the definitive football film. Or am I wrong?

Now I'm going to through in another one here, John Huston's Escape to Victory. Yes I know you're laughing at me because it has Sylvester Stallone playing alongside Michael Caine, but it also has real footballers, and not small names either. Pelé, Bobby Moore and Osvaldo Ardiles to name but a few.

Although the story has the teams playing to try and escape a Nazi prisoner of war camp, there's some strong on pitch action which is well filmed and builds tension for the match as well as the escape.

For a non-football follower, I really do think this is one of the best Football films out there. It does what the best sport films throughout this list do, it combines a story with the sport, and it does it well.

American Football: Friday Night Lights
Now I do like American football, but for no discernible reason I've liked the New Orleans Saints since I was much younger. I know, foolhardy. However I've never seen Friday Night Lights, and much as with Goal above, I've heard that this is the definitive American Football film that there is. Certainly there aren't that many, unless we're talking The Longest Yard (Mean Machine) with Burt Reynolds.

So although I'm more of an American football fan than of football (or soccer), I'm really not sure if this is the best example of the sport on film. However, there's a strong cast, Peter Berg is one of the Director's in charge, and it's spawned a television series, so I'm guessing it is. I really need someone to step in here and argue that it most definitely is...or isn't.

Basketball: Hoosiers
This film, like so many other great films here, is not just about sports. It's about redemption, fighting for what you believe in and that quality that is in so many great people, the burning ambition never to give up.

Hoosiers could be about any sport, but the fact it is one of America's most popular makes the film even better. The cast give a huge boost to the film too, Gene Hackman is the coach of the small town team who is trying to hide from his past and ends up rejuvenating an entire town's spirit in the team, Barbara Hershey is the woman who begins to fall for him, and Dennis Hopper plays the drunk assistant coach who breaks through his addiction to find his love once again, basketball.

I'm not a basketball fan and I love this film, and I find that my excitement for the game builds as I watch the film. I'm pulled through the story and these very real people towards the games themselves, and pretty soon you're rooting for the team.

Tennis: Wimbledon
Okay, this is even further away from a sport film than Field of Dreams is, but it is set around the competition at Wimledon, one of the most prestigious tennis championships in the world, so it has to be considered, and I think it probably is the best Tennis film there is.

Despite the romantic comedy storyline, there's also a lot of tennis to be seen, even if the ball is computer generated - something you wouldn't easily recognise. There's been a lot of work done to capture the feel of the competition and make it real, and although the sport element is smaller than most of the other films above, it still has that same combination. It still manages to build the belief and tension in those games as a part of the story.

So do you agree? Are these the defining films of sport? Are there any I've missed out? Well I know I have purposely because I didn't want to do everything. What about golf? Tiger Woods story or Caddyshack! Ice Hockey? Climbing? Horse Racing? Surfing?

I know there's got to be a lot of disagreement on the football, American football and baseball categories, surely. What other sport films are there out there that haven't been mentioned and deserve to be? What's your all time favourite sports film and why?

Other Genre Defining Features:
Political/Conspiracy Thriller



Its been a few years since Ive seen it but my favourite sports movie is about American runner Steve Prefontaine. There are two movies Ive seen about him, Prefontaine and Without Limits. Prefontaine is by far the better movie. Without Limits had an utterly ridiculous sex scene in it which is one reason I didnt like it as much. Just doing some research and Prefontaine was released by Disney so it was more family friendly and more focussed on him and his career or at least from what I can remember, where as Without Limits focussed more on his life and not his running.

Being keen on playing and watching sports I quite like the odd sports inspired film. Hoosiers is probably my favourite sports inspired film, Gene Hackman is great and I always get caught up in it even though I know the ending. Hoop Dreams is another basketball based one but it's a documentary so not sure it counts.

Other than that I'm a big fan of boxing and martial arts films, Rocky being the obvious one. And excluding Bruce Lee I'd have to go for The Karate Kid.

Have to say though as a fanatical football(soccer) fan I've never really seen a film that's done it justice.

Firebug - I've never seen that film, I'll have to add it to my rental list.

Louise - Of course! Boxing, I had forgotten about that one, and Rocky does have that area covered pretty well...although I'd say Blue Blood does a great job too - and that means documentaries are in consideration.

Martial arts...well Bruce Lee has that covered, but Karate Kid? Oh dear lord, come on!

What about Escape to Victory then? Not a good one for football?

Well you see The Karate Kid used it in a sporting/competition fashion. And although I don't like the others I maintain the first one is good! Better than S.W.A.T. by a mile!

Escape to Victory is a good one but as far as the passion and excitment of professional football I've never seen it done well. Perhaps I should start writing a screenplay...

Wax on wax off....

Ok so it didnt really have anything to do with actual soccer (thats what I still call it!) games instead the violence associated with it, it did have the word football in the title and I liked it so yeah :P. Oops almost forgot to say the movie is The Football Factory ha ha.

Even though I dislike baseball (as both participant and viewer), I do enjoy baseball movies for some weird reason. Your list should probably include The Natural, and, dare I say, Major League. I'd probably even take Kevin Costner's most recent baseball movie over his older ones.

As for football...well...I think you have to go with Water Boy, Wildcats, and Necessary Roughness. :) And I'd add Varsity Blues for a few of the subplots that are all too real in U.S. high school football.


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