Sunday, October 23, 2005

Lights, Play Ball, Action!

Not that anyone particularly cares, but the World Series seems as good an excuse as any to list my favorite movies about baseball:

5. Field of Dreams (1989)
OK, it's schmaltzy, sentimental and saddled with Kevin Costner in another of his ubersensitive modes. But I still get misty-eyed every time I see Ray Liotta emerge from that friggin' cornfield to finally play catch with his son (and Ray Liotta isn't exactly the tug-at-your-heartstrings type).

4. Major League (1989)
Not a great comedy by any means, but the movie actually does have some resonance for baseball fans. Written and directed by David S. Ward, it follows a shopworn underdogs-pursue-the-championship formula, the cinematic equivalent of a down-the-plate fastball, enlivened by some fun performances, particularly Charlie Sheen as an ace reliever with control issues.

3. Eight Men Out (1988)
With the White Sox back in the series for the first time since 1959, it might just be in bad taste to mention this story of the eight ChiSox players who threw the 1919 World Series to Cincinnati at the behest of gamblers. But John Sayles' film is an interesting, albeit unapologetically leftist, tale of American capitalism gone awry -- and Studs Terkel even makes a cameo, to prove it.

2. ( a tie) Bull Durham (1988)
Along with The Natural, this dramedy directed and written by Ron Shelton (who also did the decidedly darker quasi-baseball flick Cobb) is widely considered to be the zenith of baseball movies -- which is kinda odd considering that both films employ such polarizing views of the game. The Natural revels in the game's golden-tinged mythology (with director Barry Levinson wringing every drop of sentiment out of it), while Bull Durham opts for a much looser and libidinous vibe more akin to the great Jim Bouton tell-all book, Ball Four. Kevin Costner is the aging catcher, Susan Sarandon is the bed-hopping groupie and Tim Robbins is the up-and-coming pitcher. But hell, you know all that already.

and 2. The Rookie (2002)
A straightforward "family" film, but don't let that scare you off. Dennis Quaid gives one of his better performances in the real-life story of Jimmy Morris, who finally pursued his dream of pitching in the major leagues at the ripe old age of 35.

1. The Bad News Bears (1976)
Well, not so much a great baseball movie, but it's definitely a great movie that has to do -- peripherally, perhaps -- with baseball. A formative flick for yours truly growing up, this Michael Ritchie-directed yarn about a team of Little League misfits says more about sportsmanship and childhood than several dozen ABC after-school specials put together. And it's a testament to the glory days of Seventies' cinema that the original is so much more raw and honest than its 2005 remake.

Honorable mention: Cobb, The Bingo Long Traveling All Stars & Motor Kings and Pride of the Yankees.
Full disclosure: I've never seen Bang the Drum Slowly and Fear Strikes Out


At 9:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You haven't seen Bang the Drum Slowly?! For shame.

At 10:24 AM, Blogger MDC said...

When I first glanced at your list, I thought you had meant Rookie of the Year instead of The Rookie and I was questioning the credibility of the list.

At 10:58 AM, Blogger LiteraryTech said...

Ray Liotta may not be the heart-string tugger, but he is really really cute.

At 4:10 PM, Blogger cakreiz said...

The best sports movies have actors who are plausible athletes. Costner, Redford, Robbins and Quaid were all believable, in contrast to Tony Perkins' Jimmy Pearsall and John Goodman's Babe Ruth (Goodman's swing couldn't drive a ball out of the infield). Along the same lines, Costner pulled off being a golfer in 'Tin Cup'- Matt Damon's Bagger Vance was unwatchable. It's damn tough to 'act' like you have athletic ability.

At 9:22 AM, Blogger Larry Mondello said...

Watch Fear Strikes Out and then adjust your list accordingly. It's a great film, great performances by Anthony Perkins and Karl Maldin. Great lessons about pressuring kids to succeed.

At 8:54 PM, Blogger Jessica said...

What about the Sandpit?

At 9:00 AM, Blogger Chase McInerney said...

You mean "The Sandlot"? If so, I've gotta admit I haven't seen it, either.

At 9:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Obviously the blogger hasn't seen Field of Dreams either based on his description- Ray Liotta's character is not Ray Kinsella's father.

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