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The 411 Movies Top 5: The Top 5 True Life Sports Films

February 21, 2016 | Posted by Shawn S. Lealos

The 411 Movies Top 5: Hello everyone and welcome to 411 Movies Top 5 List. We take a topic each week and all the writers here on 411 wrestling will have the ability to participate and give us their Top 5 on said topic. So, onto this week’s topic…

The Top 5 True Life Sports Films

5. GLORY ROAD – I didn’t really care for this basketball drama the first time I saw it. It was well made and looked great, but I couldn’t stand star Josh Lucas, who plays a coach who is all about “fundamental, defensive” basketball. Lucas is a generally boring actor, and I just couldn’t stand his constant repetition (he tells his players all about “fundamental, defensive” basketball about a million times). The young black players that he coached were far more interesting. The more I watched it, though, the movie started growing on me, it became more and more watchable, and it became a mild favorite. It’s interesting how this movie, unlike other sports movies, is an underdog story where the underdogs, the Texas Western Miners, just about completely destroy every team they come up against. And when the team gets to the big game, the 1966 NCAA championship game, they beat the team coached by legendary coach Adolph Rupp (the great Jon Voight) by 7. No one thought it would happen, even though the Miners, with an all-black starting five, wipe the floor with damn near everyone. Slick, well made, and, despite Josh Lucas, very watchable.

4. 3: THE DALE EARNHARDT STORY – This made-for-ESPN TV movie has a weird structure (it’s told via future flashback in the past. That’s really the best way to describe it) but, for a low budget TV movie about a multi-million dollar sport it works quite well. Barry Pepper plays Earnhardt, the badass stock car superstar that started driving after dropping out of high school and managed to become the face of NASCAR, something that’s amazing to consider since Richard Petty was already considered the face of NASCAR before Earnhardt started making waves. Pepper gives Earnhardt a dimension that we really didn’t see at the track, as Earnhardt was kind of an asshole, but it was just the way he was. You still liked him (you couldn’t help but like him, even if you couldn’t stand his on-track demeanor). There’s a good documentary narrated by Paul Newman that is better at examining the entire Earnhardt life story, but this TV movie gets most of it right. Good stuff.

3. GREASED LIGHTNING – This Richard Pryor drama tells the story of Wendell Scott, the first black driver to win a major NASCAR race. It takes some liberties with aspects of Scott’s life and career, sure, but it’s mostly true. We get to see the level of racism Scott had to deal with as the lone black driver in NASCAR and what he had to go through in order to achieve that eventual victory. Pryor does a great job as Scott, and I’m surprised that this movie doesn’t have a higher profile (I’m also surprised that since Scott is now in the NASCAR Hall of Fame someone hasn’t tried to do a remake). Up until Darrell Wallace, Jr, won a Camping World Truck Series race at Martinsville back in 2013 Scott was the only black driver to win a major NASCAR race. Hopefully they aren’t the only two that end up with major NASCAR victories.

2. INVINCIBLEInvincible tells the story of Vince Papale, a thirty-year old bartender from Philadelphia that ends up playing for the Philadelphia Eagles NFL team in the mid-1970’s. Mark Wahlberg plays the bartender in question, and does an amazing job showing how this guy who managed to beat the odds and ended up playing professional football. His life is in shambles. He loses his job, his wife leaves him, and he basically has very little to live for. So he goes to a public tryout for the Eagles, something that pro football really doesn’t do, and ends up doing well enough to make the team. When you look at the people who, according to the movie, showed up to try out for the team (check out the guy in the cape) you’re not that surprised that Papale made the cut as he was one of the few athletes that made an attempt. Papale’s story right up until the moment he plays his first game is kind of depressing, and when he gets to actually play the story becomes less depressing. It makes you think that anything is possible as long as you really try and you’re good. It’s all bullshit, of course, but it’s nice to think about.

1. COOL RUNNINGS – When I first saw this movie I had no idea it was based on a true story. I didn’t know that, back in 1988, when this movie takes place, that it seemed weird that Jamaica would have a team a bobsled team, in the Winter Olympics. But then, Jamaica doesn’t have much snow, so why would the country have a presence in the Winter Olympics? Anyway, the athletes enlist the help of a disgraced former winter Olympian played by the great John Candy, and they somehow manage to get into the games and compete with the best in the world. The Jamaicans don’t win any medals or anything like that, but getting to the games was the whole point of the story. And sometimes that’s the best story to tell: you can’t win if you don’t make an effort to compete. Man, I miss John Candy.

Wednesday Lee Friday
5. Brian’s Song (1971) – If you’ve ever seen Brian’s Song, you’ll remember it as the football movie that made you bawl your eyes out at the end. That’s a common reaction. A cast led by James Caan and Billy Dee Williams brings their A-game to this intense drama with plenty of funny moments. You’ll really root for these guys, feel the impact of their friendship, and marvel at how they got the real coaches, staff, and players from the actual Chicago Bears to appear in the film.

4. Moneyball (2011) – I only saw this movie because the cast was irresistible: Chris Pratt, Robin Wright, the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Reed Diamond even. Turns out, it’s an incredible watch. Even more amazing, it’s about a couple of dudes who use math to get maximum profit and talent from low list athletes willing to work for cheap (well, cheap for a professional baseball player). More about behind-the-scenes shenanigans than actual sportsmanship. Still, I dare you not to like it.

3. Hoosiers (1986) – Gene Hackman doesn’t exactly make crappy movies, so it’s no secret that when he decides to do a sports film it’s as good as Hoosiers. Hackman plays a talented coach, recently fired for giving one of his players a smack. He’s hired to help the town drunk coach a bunch of corn huskers—and may or may not actually lead them to win the state basketball championship in the 1950’s. There’s a great mix of personal drama and social commentary in this fine sports film based loosely on a real team. Do they win? You have to watch and see.

2. Fear Strikes Out (1957) – The story of baseball great Jim Piersall is a tragic and difficult one. It’s hard to say whether straight talk about mental illness or access to counseling would have helped Piersall (played by the great Anthony Perkins here). His domineering and abusive father (Karl Malden) cares only about winning—even after he pushes his son toward a nervous breakdown. This movie gets shade thrown on it because Perkins isn’t a real baseball player. Apparently Richard Roeper thinks he’s holding the bat wrong. I don’t care. At all. Perkins gives a moving performance as a man who becomes a star only to learn that he doesn’t care about stardom—he just wants to be sane.

1. A League of Their Own (1992) – Is this the greatest ensemble movie of all time? Probably. The incredible cast, expert direction by Penny Marshall, and a believably drunken Tom Hanks make this film a memorable one. It’s impossible not to feel pride, even nostalgia for the first ever All American Girl’s Baseball League even if you’re far too young to have lived through it. Geena Davis, Madonna, Lori Petty, Rosie O’Donnell, Jon Lovitz and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him appearance by Mark Holton means there’s something for everyone in this weep-worthy baseball classic. Watch for a couple of actors from Laverne & Shirley to appear.


List your Top Five for this week’s topic in the comment section using the following format:

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