Top Fives: Sports Movies (That Aren't Really About Sports)

Posted by: Tony Hinds  //  August 1, 2012 @ 12:44pm

Filed under: Top Fives

As you've probably heard- it's summer right now. So, what better way to spend a few hours of a lovely summer's day then by hanging out indoors? Why not crash on a couch in a dark room, and pop in a DVD or two? Seriously, why play tackle football with your friends when you could watch footage of actors pretending to play tackle football on your TV?

I'm making a lot of sense, aren't I?

So, before winter rolls in, let's take a look at the Top Five Sports Movies (That Aren't Really About Sports).

5. Big Fan

This could be the darkest film on the list. The brilliant comedian Patton Oswalt plays Paul, a die hard NY Giants fan (his favorite player is fictional star QB Quantrell Bishop) who works in a shabby parking garage on Staten Island. When he is not at work, he has his ear glued to his speakers, listening to the Sports Dog Radio Show, to which he is a frequent caller. Hours are spent writing down everything he plans to say when he calls in, always preparing for the perfect call. Yes, Paul is an uber-fan. But this is not a crudely depicted white-trash stereotype... Despite the appearance of a 50 Cent birthday cake at a child's birthday party. (And by 50 Cent, I mean the rapper, not the amount of money.)

Writer/ director Robert D Siegel evokes real love of the sport shared by the (I hate to say it) normal fans. They paint their faces blue, grab a hot dog and cheer their hearts out. But Paul on the other hand, watches the game from a crappy TV hooked up to his car battery in the parking lot of Giants Stadium. He rants to his friend (Kevin Corrigan), meaningless thoughts and opinions. Paul cares so dearly about the game that he forgets that he is powerless to affect its outcome. He is just a fan, albeit, a big one. Also: Paul's one attempt at athleticism proves he would be utterly useless on a football field.

This is a very lonely, unhappy person and Oswalt plays him perfectly. Note the scene in which he rudely insults his friend for ordering pineapple on his pizza. Who gives a crap what other people order on their pizza? Why do you care, Paul? The NY Giants are his lone source of happiness and when he spoils the Giants for himself (one of the films most disturbing scenes) he takes it out on everyone around him. Tragically, Paul does not learn from his mistakes. Instead, he goes out and makes other mistakes. And these mistakes are far worse, leading Paul down a very Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver type of path. This isn't gonna end well. Paul is a man without a hint of self-awareness. Thankfully (for the audience), the movie surrounding Paul is spectacular.

4. He Got Game

No, it's not just about basketball. The main character, Jesus Shuttlesworth could just as easily have been a musician or a fashion designer or a dancer. What He Got Game dramatizes for us is-- the difference in levels of skill between the pro's and the wannabes. The sad truth: Most people are not driven enough to actually put in the work it would take to cultivate whatever their perceived skill may be -- up to the professional level. And that's the challenge Jake Shuttlesworth (Denzel Washington) throws in front of his only son, Jesus (Ray Allen). It's not just about the game.

Don't let that dissuade you. This is one of director Spike Lee's best films. The set-up: Jake is released from prison –for one week- on the condition that he must convince his estranged son, Jesus to sign a letter of intent to attend Big State University, the warden's (the great Ned Beatty) alma mater. If he does, Jake gets a full pardon and becomes a free man. If not, back to jail he goes!

In the end, Jake and Jesus face off in a game of one on one to determine whether or not the contract with Big State will be signed. I obviously won't spoil the results but, when it is all said and done, we hold on a shot of Jesus-- alone on the court, ball held at his side, the omnipresent letter of intent lies on the ground before him. He hears the disembodied voice of his mother –long since dead- calling him home for supper-- a voice that gets quieter with each passing year. Soon, he won't hear her at all. His childhood is gone. Jesus Shuttlesworth is now an adult who must make the most important decision of his life. Only, that decision isn't the same one all those college scouts were talking about. No... it's not about basketball. It's about forgiveness. But admittedly, basketball is a much better marketing angle.

Jake pushed and challenged and insulted his beloved son into becoming one of the greatest (fictional) basketball prodigies in the history of the game. I've seen those awful over-zealous sports parents up-close (it's usually just the father). They're all miserable: Both the parents and the kids. That behavior doesn't breed happy families but sadly, it does breed amazingly gifted athletes.

3. Bad News Bears

This is the flip side of the coin. If He Got Game is heads, then The Bad News Bears is tails. Allow me to explain.

What's great about the film (amongst many things) is it's ending, and it's perhaps not so subtle message. (Sorry to pull a spoiler but, the flick has been out for more than 30 years.) The Bears lose the big game and as their rivals gloat, holding the trophy over their heads, what do the Bears do? They tell the winning team to stick the trophy up their asses, and then they crack some beers and drive off, middle fingers waving.

In the end, it didn't matter that these kids were not the best athletes on the field. (Ouch. Far from it.) But they were friends and they had fun that day, as did their coach (the always genius Walter Matthau). In a modern world, where sickeningly every kid is a winner, Bad News Bears is a refreshing yet comforting dose of reality. The message is that: win or lose, having fun is the important part. Remember when people actually said that with regards to sports? It's been a while. This is the polar opposite of He Got Game.

They really don't make 'em like this anymore. Every now and then you see a movie that came out years ago-- something from your childhood. Watch it again as an adult and you find yourself shocked by the rating. This is rated PG? Seriously? If Bad News Bears came out today, it would be almost rated R. The only way to do the film justice today would be to cut out all the swearing, underage drinking and shockingly casual racism. (Meaning: The best parts.) Make it a kid's movie, in the modern sense of the term. Make the children cuter and less offensive. Maybe cast someone financially safe (box office wise) like Billy Bob Thornton in the lead... oh wait... oh.

Bad News Bears is one of the funniest films of the 1970's. It's not about sports. It's about beer. (Eh, sort of.)

2. CaddyShack

CaddyShack is probably the slightest, most lightweight film on the list. But that is why I love it so much. It's a formula that Hollywood has tried to repeat countless times over the years, as the raucous, screwball comedy came into its glory in the 1980s. But the imitators failed because they didn't have certain essential elements. Like? Chevy Chase, right off of SNL. Not enough for ya? How about Ted Knight, playing the greatest over-privileged horse's ass in film history. Don't even get me started on the genius that is Rodney Dangerfield or Bill Murray. CaddyShack is a film that exists in a singular place in time, a perfectly unrepeatable formula. This will never happen again.

The plot isn't anything groundbreaking. The themes, the blue collar working-class getting back at the wealthy upper-class, have been done a million times before. In fact, the movie isn't even shot all that well. It's the screenplay, in its endlessly inventive and refreshingly dialogue driven ways, that keeps the film afloat. CaddyShack is wall to wall quotable lines that would make Preston Sturges proud.

The script has wonderfully bizarre deviations, like the main characters insanely large family. He appears to be one of like 12 siblings but, these characters never pop back up in the movie. Why was that scene in there? It's the little details like this that make the characters and their world so memorable. Screenwriters Harold Ramis, Doug Kenney and Brian Doyle-Murray (Yep, Bill Murray's brother who also cameos) wrote themselves a small classic, all the while including the obligatory nudity and drug use that even today pervades this genre. CaddyShack is a script that proves that you can play by the rules in Hollywood and still make something very cool.

1. The Last Boy Scout

Yes, The Last Boy Scout is number one, on this list AND in my heart.

Overlooking the horribly 90's opening credit sequence, the film begins with a huge bang. Before the 4th quarter, QB Billy Cole stands in the locker room-- on the phone. The voice on the other end of the line tells him, he better play well tonight... or else. Cole nervously hangs up and pops a pill. On the field, Cole is tense as rain pours down on the stadium. He receives a pass and as he charges up towards the end zone, he eyes the opposing defense. Four, maybe five men ready to tackle him. So what does Cole do? He pulls out a gun and fires, killing all five players. He reaches the end zone and, after uttering the immortal line: "Ain't life a bitch." Billy Cole –in front of thousands of screaming fans- puts the gun to his own head and pulls the trigger. As you can probably guess, it's not just about football.

The world of football is just the window-dressing. The true core of this film lies in one of the best spec screenplays ever written. (And most expensive too. $1.75 million -- in 1991 money. That's a lot, even for Hollywood.) In fact, it is one of the only scripts I would ever recommend as casual reading material. Writer Shane Black's script at times reads like a modernist Raymond Chandler novel. Other times, his sheer honesty as a writer proves to be quite funny. Example? He carefully avoids describing the sex scene in depth. His reasoning? His mother reads all of his scripts. No joke. That information is actually written into the screenplay.

The plot (Thanks Wikipedia!) follows "Joe Hallenbeck (Bruce Willis), a former Secret Service agent, now working as a private detective, and Damon Wayans, a retired professional football player. The two join forces to solve the murder of Wayans' character's girlfriend (Halle Berry)." How that connects to Cole's suicide, you'll have to wait and see. Director Tony Scott's next film would be the masterpiece that is True Romance (the debut work of young, up-and-coming scribe Quentin Tarantino). This is a filmmaker (Scott) at the top of his game, having fun, toying around with genre-- and the results are fantastic. The Last Boy Scout is a woefully underrated yet, classic example of the action genre.

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Tags: Patton Oswalt, Bill Murray, Walter Matthau, Shane Black, Tony Scott, Spike Lee, Denzel Washington, Harold Ramis, Bruce Willis

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Tony Hinds is a Canadian writer who studied film at the University of Winnipeg. In addition to ShowbizMonkeys.com, Tony has reviewed films for Step On Magazine and The Uniter. You can find Tony on Twitter.

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