We asked our writers to fight the corner of their favourite sports-flicks. The response was varied and includes some big names, here’s what they came up with…
Senna– Arran Byers
A standout film of 2010 and accredited with reinvigorating the genre of film documentary by taking footage and interviews from the stellar and inspiring life of Formula One legend Ayrton Senna to craft a story that feels alive; rather than simply being a posthumous review of his achievements. The film does not take any interviews or footage from the present day, choosing to embed itself in the narrative of his career from 1984 to the San Marino incident in 1994. The whole production team received acclaim for this dedication to the original material and managing to show not just the extravagant lifestyle expected of Formula One drivers but also the deeply humble, religious streak running through Senna that made him such a Brazilian hero.
What this film does then is transport you back to the late 1980s and through masterful editing and an engaging music accompaniment puts you in the head of a small boy at the time, enamoured with Senna and in awe of him. Those sceptical of Formula One have remarked after seeing this film that if all drivers were like Senna the sport would rival football in character. That is a key aspect of a good sport film- to intrigue those not usually interested in the sport and open people’s eyes to characters such as the amazing and sorely missed, Ayrton Senna.
The Wrestler– Jeremie Sabourin
The Wrestler is not your usual “sports” film. It’s less about actual professional wrestling and more about the toll that the sport takes on a person’s life.
Mickey Rourke stars as Randy “The Ram” Robinson; a pro wrestler from the 1980’s who struggles to acclimatise to everyday life following the height of his popularity. After an indie wrestling event, Randy suffers a heart attack and must give up his profession or potentially die if he chooses to continue.
Following the heart attack, viewers see life through Randy’s eyes as he tries to piece his life back together without wrestling. Living in a shoebox sized trailer, and grappling with a rocky relationship with his daughter (Evan Rachel Wood). The only person he confides in is a middle aged stripper named Cassidy (Marisa Tomei). Throughout all of Randy’s trials and tribulations, his true love is still pro wrestling.
While the majority of people know that the presentation aspect of wrestling is fake, The Wrestler goes beyond and shows the real life after wrestling. Many of the big stars of the 1980’s have been in a similar position as “The Ram” and there are also plenty of them that have passed away from things like heart disease. Look no further than Jake “The Snake” Roberts as a real life counterpart of Randy- drugs, money, and fame cost them both their lives outside of pro wrestling.
The Wrestler is an emotional snapshot of someone that leaves everything they have in the ring and is one of the most underrated sports movies ever.
Rocky- Anna Whealing
The first film in Silvestre Stallone’s homage to boxing and the underdog, Rocky pulls no punches as one of the best sport dramas of all time. Even without the knowledge that this 1976 masterpiece was nominated for ten Oscars and won three, including best picture, anyone could recognise this film as just that: a masterpiece.
Set in the slums of Philadelphia where the journeyman boxer Rocky Balboa works as a debt collector for loan shark Tony Gazzo. The cinematography uses dark long shots and a lot of close distance camera work, reflecting both the gruelling life of working class Philadelphia and the original situation and mentality of Rocky himself.
This film is a story of sporting rags to riches but it is also, and primarily, a film about mental strength. Rocky is a persistent personality; both in love and boxing. But before he is given the chance at glory, he is a nobody, growing old and alone wasting time and talent. Rocky shows that it takes persistence and belief to make it big in sport, and that anyone with the right mentality and a little talent can do it. Apart from this underlying message the film also includes some incredible, authentic boxing. Starting and ending with a fight, Rocky’s mental and physically transformation is stylishly evident. The film has been dubbed a classic and left behind a hefty legacy with pop culture frequently parodying its, now iconic, training montage. Rocky has earned its title of champion of the sport film genre.
Gregory’s Girl– Delilah Niel
Gregory’s Girl, directed by Bill Forsyth in 1981, is a Scottish classic. It follows the story of Gregory (John Gordon Sinclair) as he falls hard for Dorothy (Dee Hepburn), who has just replaced him as striker on the school football team, (don’t worry he still gets to be goal keeper).
Gregory’s Girl is particularly touching for a Bill Forsyth film, as it explores youth and love. The footballers are not particularly skilled, played by actual members of the Cumbernauld high school football team – which adds to its relatable charm. As someone who was never good at sports it is always comforting to see other people who are likewise unskilled. It is also fitting for football to be the sport which Gregory’s girl (or the one he thinks is his girl) plays, as not only does she represent the typical Scottish Beauty – Blonde, buxom and bonnie – but she is also acutely skilled at one of the other most important things in a young boy’s life – football. Dorothy is a brilliant character as she seems to be an amalgamation of any young boy’s desires.
But the true reason Gregory’s Girl is my favourite sports film is Gregory who is charming, gangly and warm. Often the heroes in sports films seem unreachable, in a way almost god like, but Gregory is an equal, one of us, so in a way you are closer to this film not only because of its sentimental quality but because anyone can easily connect to the characters.
Rush– Joel Durston
Formula 1 is, in many respects, a bit of an anorak’s sport; fans getting up at ungodly hours to stream a race from the other side of the world, the forensic examination of miniscule differences in how drivers take corners; and talk of such things as rear diffusers, drag reduction systems and energy recovery systems. So it’s a testament to the quality of Ron Howard’s Rush that it achieved such success, at the box office (having taken $90 million) and from the critics (89% Rotten Tomatoes rating) …even receiving a glowing review from my mum, who thinks F1 is stupid and irresponsible.
It tells the story of the rivalry between racers James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl), focusing on the 1976 season, regarded as one of the best in the sport. Hunt is the brash, charismatic English playboy, rarely without a model or air hostess (or several) draped around him, whereas Lauda is a cool, calculating Austrian, with a dedication and respect for racing matching that of a chess grandmaster. The action sequences are all superb, but what makes the film is the complex, changing relationship between the two and their debates on life and death in a time where you took your life into your own hands every time you stepped into the racing car.
Raging Bull– George Storr
In the pantheon of sports films Raging Bull is my favourite, but more importantly it’s also arguably the best there’s ever been.
Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci, (the ‘holy trinity’ who would also unite to make Goodfellas ten years later,) came together to tell the story of destructive and animalistic boxer, Jake LaMotta. Released in 1980 the films was loved by critics who heralded it as a massive step forward for Scorsese, De Niro notably won 1980’s Best Actor Oscar for his role in the film. He gained roughly 60 pounds to portray an ageing LaMotta later in the film. De Niro’s dedication to his role, as well as Scorsese’s expert directorial influence, was a match made in heaven. Interestingly he chose to shoot the film in black and white, giving it a fairly unique aesthetic.
Raging Bull isn’t just about LaMotta’s exploits in the ring- it tells the gripping story of his self-destructive tendencies, his inner demons, his infidelity and his struggle with life after boxing. De Niro shines in Raging Bull and his performance is a stand-out one in his filmography. It’s especially notable because the performance has a different feel about it to his usual on-screen persona, as seen in Goodfellas and The Godfather Part II.
Raging Bull is a great sports film because it escapes the trap so many others fall into- it’s not a simple, predictable trip to glory. The plot outside the ring doesn’t feel like an after-thought, instead the film is gripping from top to toe, and very bleak. It portrays an immensely flawed man and all of his complexities, rather than offering a quick hit of sporting thrills wrapped in a tale of redemption or happy endings.
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