Several films about sports have been made over the years. Some underlined the dramatic aspect of the various sporting events, others laughed at it. Some followed the path to victory for a team that did not seem to have any credentials to be able to do it, others showed the crises and difficulties of the already established champions.
Among all these, however, there are films that emerge with particular force. Films that, while talking about a very specific sport, almost take on a universal tone, transcending the rules of the single-game and talking about the struggle between man and himself. Think of films like Million Dollar Baby or The Wrestler, or irreverent films like Major League – The worst team in the league. Even the Italian coach in the ball, despite all his flaws, could perhaps fall into this category.
It seems to us that the five films we have chosen for our list also belong to this trend. The first three, the oldest ones, focus on non-team sports, such as billiards and boxing. The latest ones, the most recent ones, instead investigate the dynamics of the team and the relationship between athletes – increasingly paid professionals – and their agents. Here they are.
The Bully (1961)
Paul Newman and billiards
The sports film genre was one of the first to emerge. In fact, Hollywood very early showed an interest in the stories that told the rise, and eventually fall, of great champions. Just to mention a few examples, one can cite King Vidor’s Champion, who won two Oscars in 1931, or The Idol of Crowds of 1942, dedicated to baseball star Lou Gehrig.
However, it was only after World War II, when the golden age of Hollywood arrived, that these films began to travel around the world. And one of the most beautiful and most famous of those years was undoubtedly Lo spaccone. Released in 1961, it featured Robert Rossen behind the camera. That is a director who had already gained experience in the sector thanks to Anima e Corpo, a beautiful film set in the world of boxing.
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The real star of Lo braggart, however, was its protagonist, Paul Newman. The actor was then at the top of his career. In 1957 he had earned a Golden Globe for best rookie. In 1959 the first Oscar nomination arrived with Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. The braggart allowed him to unleash the most arrogant but at the same time fragile side of him, and win the hearts of spectators all over the world.
ARROGANT AND FRAGILE
The story was that of Eddy Felson, a prodigious pool player with a stormy character. After racking up money in low-level matches, the player came up against a champion, Minnesota Fats. And he was defeated by it precisely because of his own weakness of character. But the young man was not long in taking revenge.
The film was a resounding success and received 9 Academy Award nominations, however, bringing home only two statuettes. The story of Lo Spaccone, however, entered the imagination, so much so that 25 years later, in 1986, Martin Scorsese decided to direct a sequel. So he came out with The Color of Money, another good film in which a more mature Newman confronted himself with a young Tom Cruise.
An Italian American boxer looking for a future
Boxing has always fascinated filmmakers. It is a noble and at the same time brutal sport, in which individual value is measured by punching. And it is a sport full, especially in its glory years, of stories of defeat and redemption. As also told by Rocky, the film that, in 1976, revived the cinema’s passion for this sport.
The genesis of the film has a very particular history. Sylvester Stallone was, at the time, a penniless young actor. He had appeared in various films, but always with extremely secondary roles, and often not even being credited in the credits. However, he participated in numerous auditions. During one of these, he took the opportunity to propose a script he had written to two producers. The story that was being told was that of an Italian-American boxer who couldn’t make it, vaguely inspired by the life of Stallone himself.
SYLVESTER STALLONE, ACTOR AND SCREENWRITER
The producers liked the script and were already beginning to imagine Robert Redford or Burt Reynolds in the lead role. Stallone, however, refused to sell the script unless he was the protagonist himself. Eventually, the producers gave in to the actor’s demands. However, they imposed an extremely limited budget, unconvinced that the film would breakthrough. In reality, exactly the opposite happened. Costing $ 1 million, it earned 225. It also won three Oscars, including Best Picture (ahead of Taxi Driver and All the President’s Men ).
In the film, Rocky is offered the opportunity to challenge Apollo Creed, world heavyweight champion. Although it is an exhibition match, the outcome of which is taken for granted in favor of the champion, Rocky trains madly and manages to engage the opponent hard. Eventually, he loses points but manages to make a name for himself.
Raging Bull (1980)
Rise and Fall of Jake LaMotta
When we started this list, speaking of Lo Spaccone, we mentioned Martin Scorsese. The Italian-American director has in fact throughout his career often dealt with stories of “out of line” winners. Whether they were mobsters or scammers, crazy or drug addicts, Scorsese has often investigated the mechanisms that raise a man to the altars and immediately throw him in the dust. For this reason, in the late 80s, he decided to direct a sequel to The Space. But always, for this reason, a few years earlier, he had created Raging Bull.
The film focused, among other things, on a sportsman who later became an actor, and who had made a brief appearance in Lo spaccone. It was the Italian-American boxer Jake LaMotta, world middleweight champion in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Based on his autobiography, Scorsese reconstructed the story together with screenwriters Mardik Martin and Paul Schrader (the latter director of American Gigolò and screenwriter of Taxi Driver ).
ROBERT DE NIRO AND JOE PESCI
Above all, he wanted two exceptional performers. The first, in the role of LaMotta, was Robert De Niro, capable of providing an interpretation so convincing that it won an Oscar. The second was Joe Pesci, who failed to convert his nomination but also convinced the critics.
The history of LaMotta, on the other hand, is full of ups and downs, triumphs and falls. While he was winning the world title, his private life was falling apart, undermined by his crazy jealousy and the violence that he also manifested towards his brother-manager. Protected by the mafia and at the same time sold to it, full of debt and entangled with justice, he ended up being deeply alone, but still, in a sense, eager for greatness, as shown by the monologues in the dressing room waiting to perform on stage, during old age.
Bull Durham – A Three-Hand Game (1988)
Kevin Costner, Tim Robbins, and Susan Sarandon
Let’s now pass, as announced, to team sports. We will see two, which in America – home of films and a certain taste for competition – are particularly loved, baseball and American football. As for the first, there are several films that deserve to be on this list. Think for example of The Best with Robert Redford. Or the aforementioned Major League. Or female Winning girls. However, what seems to us most representative of the sport, in general, is Bull Durham – A three-handed game.
The film was written and directed in 1988 by Ron Shelton, then made his debut behind the camera. A director who, however, would from then on specialized in sports films, as demonstrated by the following Chi Consulta Bianco è, on basketball, and Tin Cup, on golf. But Bull Durham, for fun and understanding of the cast, is likely superior to these other two tests.
Also Read: FIVE HISTORICAL ANECDOTES ABOUT FOOTBALL
The story is set in Durham, a town that has a baseball team that plays in the minor leagues. This team hires seasoned player Crash Davis to act as “hen” for a seemingly talented young pitcher, Ebby Calvin LaLoosh. Between the two then a woman intervenes, the teacher Annie Savoy, a fanatic of the game and the team. A team that, after the initial difficulties, begins to rack up victories and interest some observers.
The three main roles are entrusted to actors who were in part already famous, but who from then on would have achieved great success. The youngest is Tim Robbins, in his first leading role. His mentor, then, is Kevin Costner, actually older than his colleague by just 3 years. The Californian actor had just starred in The Untouchables – The Untouchables and was preparing to make his directorial debut with Dances with Wolves. Finally, the triptych was closed by Susan Sarandon, who just appeared in The Witches of Eastwick and shortly after the protagonist of Thelma & Louise.
Jerry Maguire (1996)
The story of a sports attorney
As mentioned, we close our list with a film dedicated to American football. Not so much – or, better: not only – to what is played, but also to what you live off the pitch. The protagonist of Jerry Maguire is in fact a prosecutor, a role that has assumed increasing weight in professional sports in recent decades.
However, Maguire’s decision to change his life starts the film. Instead of continuing to follow many players with a relationship-focused only on profit, he decides to limit the customers but practice a more ethical approach. This costs him the job in the solicitor’s agency he works for and forces him to go on his own. With, for the moment, only one client: the eccentric Rod Tidwell, with a raw talent yet to be confirmed.
A THEME DEAR TO CAMERON CROWE
The story, in short, becomes that of a man who tries to find himself and establish deeper relationships, both with the boy he is the attorney for and with his main collaborator, Dorothy. A theme dear, among other things, to the director and author of the screenplay, Cameron Crowe. That a similar theme, outside the sports field, would in fact have also been addressed in Almost Famous and Elizabethtown.
Jerry Maguire, however, had extraordinary success, both at the box office and for his ability to enter the collective imagination. Suffice it to say that two sentences spoken in the film have become almost proverbial. We are talking about the “Show me the money” that the character of Cuba Gooding jr. he says to Tom Cruise, and “You already convinced me to” hello “by Renée Zellweger.
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