The Friday Five: Sports Flicks for the Unsporty

by Fiorella Valdesolo (Brooklyn)

In the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, I’m always reminded of how I’ve never been particularly fond of team sports, as a participant or as a viewer. I haven’t watched a basketball game in its entirety since players’ shorts were short (i.e., the ’80s) and I have an even worse track record with American football. But despite my generally unathletic inclinations, I’m a real sucker for a good adrenaline-pumped movie. If you’re like me, while everyone else is watching the Super Bowl this Sunday, you’ll be checking out one of these grade-A sports flicks.

1) Moneyball (2011)

I love a good underdog story and this recently announced Oscar contender definitely qualifies. A true account of the Oakland A’s 2002 season, the movie follows general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) and whiz kid Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) as they develop a complex statistic system to rebuild their suffering squad. Though most of the real baseball players mentioned went right over my head, I still thoroughly enjoyed the story—and watching Hill in his first nonslapstick role was pretty awesome too.

2) The Big Lebowski (1998)

Yes, this may not be the first thing that comes to mind as a sports film, but hey, bowling is actually hugely popular. And I’d take any opportunity to sing the praises of “The Dude” (Jeff Bridges). This uproariously funny Coen brothers masterpiece, loosely based on Raymond Chandler’s novel The Big Sleep, has gained legions of well-deserved acolytes in the years since its release. It also inspired a religion: Dudeism. Believe.

3) Bull Durham (1988)

In the annals of sports film history, Kevin Costner may be better known for his role in the tearjerker Field of Dreams, but I always like to remember him as Crash Davis, the baseball pro brought in to teach rookie pitcher Nuke (Tim Robbins) a thing or two about the game in this perfect ’80s rom-com. Susan Sarandon—the only woman who has ever convinced me that white sneakers and ankle socks could ooze sex appeal—plays the baseball groupie who comes between them. Major bonus!

4) Hoop Dreams (1994)

I’m a documentary geek and this is definitely one of the best around. Director Steve James took five years to follow Arthur Agee and William Gates, two promising African-American basketball players in Chicago, from high school to the beginning of college. Basketball is the driving force, yes, but it becomes a backdrop in this powerful film that touches on bigger issues like education, race and economics.

5) Raging Bull (1980)

There have been plenty of great boxing movies—The Fighter (2010), Million Dollar Baby (2004), Rocky (1976)—but the one I always remember best is this epic black-and-white Scorsese creation. Robert DeNiro is (obviously) genius as Jake LaMotta, the prizefighter who is as much of a terror outside of the ring as he is in it. It’s also the first film that would bring DeNiro together with Joe Pesci: a pairing that would result in some amazing future matchups like Goodfellas (1990), A Bronx Tale (1993) and Casino (1995).

Honorary TV mention: Friday Night Lights

The fact that I consider a television series based on a sport that I have absolutely zero interest in to be one of the best to have graced the small screen is pretty major. This show about small-town Texas high school football is a winner in every respect, from the smart writing to the documentary film style to the top-notch acting. As the great Coach Taylor always liked to say, “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.”