Movies take us back to another time. For a brief second we may be transported back in time, we can become someone other than ourselves. Nothing does this better than sports movies. Mostly biographical in nature, they still leave us on the edge of our seats despite usually knowing the ending. I choose to rank the top ten sports movies of the new millennium. It is tough to rank the best of all time, but also I think as time moves on, these are the movies that this generation will sit their kids down to watch. These are the new “Hoosiers,” “Rudy” and “Rocky” of the world.
10. The Blindside (2009)
Based again on a book of the same name by Michael Lewis, it’s a feel good story about a well-off Caucasian family that takes in high school student Michael Oher, who needs a place to stay and never had his own bed. In my opinion, the film takes one too many dramatic liberties. For example, every school in the Southeastern Conference wants Oher after only seeing one play on one recruiting tape. Another flaw is that Oher somehow has a complete lack of football knowledge when he tries to begin to play.
Regardless, it’s still a solid movie with lots of laughs and drama along the way, but unfortunately censored behind the Disney façade. “The Blindside” gets into my top ten because of Sandra Bullock’s performance as a southern woman with a big heart. The film earned an Academy Award for Best Picture and Bullock took home the Oscar and Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Leading Role.
9. Coach Carter (2005)
Although it has a bit more of a made-for-TV feel, “Coach Carter” is still a very good movie. This one gets points for its commentary on the American public education system. The basketball scenes are again terrific and Samuel L. Jackson as Coach Ken Carter gives a very strong performance as the disciplinarian coach of the 1999 Richmond Oilers, who, despite a low graduation rate at the school as a whole, send six players to college. A portrayal of a broken American school system, it truly shows the struggle of kids both on and off the court.
8. Glory Road (2006)
For some reason, this one always seems to fly under the radar with sports fans and I’m not sure why. The 1966 Texas Western Basketball team is the most important basketball team of all-time in terms of historical importance. Glory Road tells their story on the way to the national championship game against Kentucky in which head coach Don Haskins started five black players against Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp and his star player Pat Riley. Sports and life once again come together as the team has to persevere segregation issues in the 1960s. Director James Gartner uses the camera work of the basketball scenes to take the audience into the heart of the 1960s. Trevor Rabin also shines once again with the soundtrack.
7. Friday Night Lights (2004)
Not to be confused with the book or the TV series, this film is based on the book by H.G. Bissinger. “Friday Night Lights” is the premier high school football movie and I believe always will be. It certainly proves that football is bigger in Texas than anywhere else when it follows the 1988 Permian Panthers from Odessa,Texas on their journey to win a state football title. In another true story, this one gets points in my book because not every character rides into the sunset by the end of the film. Billy Bob Thornton stars as head coach Garry Gaines but no actors in particular stand out. However, they all do come together to make one great football movie.
6. Moneyball (2011)
This one gets my vote for toughest adaptation from book to screen. Based on the book of the same name by Michael Lewis, “Moneyball” is truly the first film to take the audience into and focus only on the front office and not on the field. It tells the story of Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) and the 2002 Oakland Athletics and their amazing run to the playoffs, despite having one of the smallest payrolls in baseball. The audience is then transported into the world of sabermetrics and buying baserunners, which lead to runs and then wins, rather than teams with formulated by athletic scouts. Beane struggles, but sticks to his guns and it pays off in the long run. Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay is topnotch, but I do like my heroes on the field, so this slips just outside my top five.
5. Miracle (2004)
Whenever life and sports intertwine, it usually makes for a pretty good story. “Do you believe in Miracles? Yes!” The famous call by Al Michaels was the inspiration for the title to this film about the 1980 U.S. Olympic ice hockey team beating the Soviet Union and going on to win the gold medal at the Lake Placid, New York Winter Games. This one sneaks into the top five because of Kurt Russell’s performance as Herb Brooks and his speech prior to the now infamous game. Despite trials and tribulations within the team and the historical background of the Cold War, this team miraculously (pun intended) gets the job done.
4. Million Dollar Baby (2004)
This film is directed by, produced by, scored by, and starred in by Clint Eastwood. Maggie Fitzgerald (Hillary Swank) walks into Frankie Dunn’s (Clint Eastwood) gym asking to be trained. After showing him what she can do, he eventually trains her and helps her gain notoriety as Fitzgerald becomes quite good. However, soon after she is paralyzed from the neck down in a fight, and becomes a quadriplegic. The film then becomes a commentary on euthanasia and really slows down which is why I don’t have it ranked higher. However, I still believe that any sports film that wins Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director for Eastwood, Best Actress in a Leading Role for Swank, and Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Morgan Freeman deserves to be in my top five.
3. The Fighter (2010)
Another true American story set in Lowell, Massachusetts, this one tells a rougher side of life with not nearly as much upside. Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and his brother Dicky (Christian Bale) are boxer and trainer trying to work their way up the boxing ranks despite problems with money, drugs and other family relationship issues. It’s a real comeback story without the Disney censor and façade, so to say. Melissa Leo and Christian Bale won Oscars for Best Actress in a Supporting Role and Best Actor in a Supporting Role for their work.
2. Cinderella Man (2005)
Set during the depression of the 1930’s, “Cinderella Man” tells the true story of everyman James J. Braddock in his attempt become to the heavyweight champion of the world. More than an underdog story, Braddock’s tale is a truly American one. He’s an Irish-American who tries to (literally) fight his way out of poverty during the depression era. Directed by Ron Howard, the cinematography inside the boxing ring gives the audience a first-person point of view from Braddock’s eyes.
1. Remember the Titans (2000)
Based on the true events in 1971 at the Alexandria, Virginia-based T.C. Williams High School, “Remember the Titans” tells the story of a high school football team that must come together despite the backdrop of warring public opinion over school segregation. A great speech by Coach Herman Boone (Denzel Washington) at Gettysburg, and the sight of Gerry Bertier in a hospital bed are among the movie’s emotional highlights. Kids being kids also brings its fair share of laughs as well. A great soundtrack by Trevor Rabin (give “Titan Spirit” a listen), and an overwhelmingly positive message of the need to come together no matter what the cause, “Remember the Titans” is the greatest sports film of the new millennium.
Honorable mentions: “The Rookie,” “We Are Marshall”
Check back on Friday for Part 2 of my sports in pop culture series when I rank the top ten sports books of the new millennium.
If you have any suggestions as to what you would like to see me write about or cover this semester, have a comment about a recent post or simply want to talk sports, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @npkrueger