BASN At The Movies
By Anthony McClean, Editor – in – Chief Emeritus
NEW HAVEN, CT (BASN/BASN NEWSROOM): We are just a few days removed from the Oscar awards, so I decided to put together a list of some of my favorite sports movies. We’re breaking it down into five movie groups: baseball, football, basketball, boxing, and others. Now others will include track and field, hockey, golf, and so on.
And we’re not restricting this to just the big screen. We’ll include television (cable and or network) and documentaries as well.
We’ve already done baseball, so today we take a look at my favorite football movies. Now if you think you’ll see such gridiron classics like “Gus”, “Varsity Blues”, “Johnny Be Good”, or “Necessary Roughness” on this list, you might wanna leave the room now. Oh well, you can’t make everybody happy.
Okay, here we go!
Disposable Heroes (1986)
Long before Frontline’s hard-hitting expose on the NFL aired last year, this HBO documentary was the first real film that explored the toll what Sunday’s gridiron gladiators truly went through before, during, and after their careers. The sight of Hall of Famer Jim Otto trying to get out of his bed is still one of the most compelling scenes in his hard-hitting documentary. To no one’s surprise, trying to find this film is damn near impossible. You get the feeling that the NFL did what they could do to ban and or kill the distribution of his film (i.e., remember “ESPN’s Playmakers”?). If you do get a chance to check it out, it will change everything you’ve ever thought about the fame of football.
North Dallas Forty (1979)
Based on Peter Gent’s award-winning book from the 1960′s, this movie still stands as one of the best depictions of the NFL ever put on screen. Loosely based on the Dallas Cowboys of the 1960′s, Nick Nolte’s performance as veteran wideout Phil Elliott gives a gritty account of the ruthlessness of the NFL during that era.
Mac Davis is spot on as quarterback Seth Maxwell (loosely based on “Dandy Don” Meredith) as well as veteran character actor J.D. Spradlin, who plays Head Coach B.A. Strother (based on the late Tom Landry). My favorite scene comes when player John Matuszak and position coach Charles Durning have a heated argument. The most memorable line from the movie comes from Matuszak when he yells “Every time I call it a game, you call it a business. And every time I call it a business, you call it a game” to Durning.
Friday Night Lights (2004)
Based on H.G. Bissinger’s 1990 novel on the 1988 Permian High School Panthers of Odessa, Texas, the feature movie gives even more life to the story and the craziness of high school football in the Lone Star State. An ensemble cast that includes Billy Bob Thornton (Coach Gary Gaines), Derek Luke (Boobie Miles), and Tim McGraw (Charles Billingsley) all give powerful performances that follows the Panthers’ run at a state football championship. If you read the book, you already know that several facts were altered for the movie. That being said after watching the movie, one still realizes the impact that “Lights” had on the Odessa community and high school football around the country.
The Longest Yard (1974)
Like many remakes, the original almost always turns out to be better. This is definitely the case in regards to the Burt Reynolds version as opposed to Adam Sandler’s ambitious, but inferior remake. For example, there’s more of a dramatic, grittier edge to the original.
While there were several moments of humor (i.e., “I think I broke his f—–g neck!!”) in the original, the majority of the remake was played up for laughs. And just between you and me, I found myself waiting for “The Waterboy” to show up while watching Sandler playing quarterback. One man’s opinion; watch both and decide for yourself – as for me, gimme the Reynolds version six days a week and twice on Sundays.
Brian’s Song (1971)
Most men won’t admit to crying at the end of this movie. However, I was just nine years old when this ABC-TV movie first came out and I cried like a baby at the end. Even after all these years, this movie still holds up as one of the finest football-based movies of all-time. The iconic portrayals done by Billy Dee Williams (Gale Sayers) and Jimmy Caan (Brian Piccolo) are still the major highlight of this movie. Just like “The Longest Yard”, a remake was done of this movie in 2001. While the performances of Sean Maher and Mekhi Phifer are commendable, again I must say that I prefer the original much better.
Any Given Sunday (1999)
Oliver Stone’s foray into the NFL was panned by many critics, however I found this movie really hit home with many other sports fans besides myself…while Al Pacino’s portrayal of coach Tony D’Amato is spot-on, I also felt Jamie Foxx was excellent as backup-turned starting QB “Steamin” Willie Beamon was excellent as well.
However, the most memorable performance may have been given by Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor as aging linebacker Luther “Shark” Lavay. His scene with Foxx in the shower following a loss is one of the grittiest of the film. What added to the film was the way Stone shot the football game scenes. It gave the casual and fanatical fan even more of an insight to the speed and violence of the game.
Remember the Titans (2000)
One of Denzel Washington’s best roles came in this movie based on longtime Virginia high school football coach Herman Boone. The film focuses on Boone’s early tenure as the first black head coach for T.C. Williams High in Alexandria during the 1970′s. It also explores the racial divide of the community as Boone replaces the Titans’ previous head coach Bill Yoast (Will Patton) who serves as an assistant under Boone.
One of the most moving scenes in the picture comes when Washington’s character takes his team to a graveyard where several Civil War veterans are buried. He uses the “visit” as a way to stem some of the racially-charged conflicts that the players have had since he took over and as a motivating force for the team. While there are some moments that are a bit over the top, “Titans” stands out as an excellent movie where sports is used as the backdrop.
Everybody’s All-American (1988)
Based on Frank Deford’s novel of the same name, Dennis Quaid plays fictional LSU star Gavin “The Grey Ghost” Grey in this movie. The film follows Grey’s life as big man on campus, as a somewhat nameless NFL player, and finally as a former player that fails to deal with life after the cheering stops. Like many of his previous sports movie ventures (i.e., Any Given Sunday, The Rookie, The Express), Quaid gives an excellent performance of an athlete whose life on and off the field runs the gamut of emotions. Ironically, the movie ending contrasts very dramatically with the book as Grey’s character commits suicide after attempting to kill his wife. Talk about poetic license!
The Best of Times (1986)
Robin Williams in the role of a former high school football player? Yeah, it definitely sounds far- fetched on the surface; but when you realize the context, it actually works for this comedy. Back in 1972, Jack Dundee (Williams) drops what was a sure touchdown pass in a game between Taft and Bakersfield. The game ends in a scoreless tie and it haunts Dundee throughout his young and adult life. He then coaxes quarterback Reno Hightower (Kurt Russell) and others from both sides to replay the game.
It leads to some hilarious and predictable scenes in the movies as Dundee’s obsession becomes reality. I won’t tell you the ending, but I found this to be a real funny movie with some football (and sports-related hyperbole) mixed in.
Next: My favorite basketball films.