By Gary Dowell
We’ll be honest with you: the pastyfaced film nerds at Movie Night could care less about football. We view it with the same degree of indifference that we view lattes, daytime television, and anything named Kardashian. We gave up on the Cowboys years ago, and moved on to other things. Oddly enough, we love good football movies though, because they often deliver the Cinderella victories that our favorite teams usually don’t. While Super Bowl XLVIII may be over and done by the time you read this (we’ll have watched it for the commercials), here is some suggested viewing to tide you over during the offseason:
THE FRESHMAN (1925)
This classic silent film stars legendary comedian Harold Lloyd as a hapless geek who tries out for a college football team in a quest for popularity. Relegated to serving as a tackle dummy and water boy, he gets his chance, though, when a rival team injures so many players that Lloyd has to be put in the game. One of the actor’s best, it birthed the college comedy sub-genre.
KNUTE ROCKNE, ALL
A much-loved biopic about the player-turnedcoach (portrayed by Pat O’Brien) who put the Notre Dame football team on the map, this one’s as American as apple pie, Chevrolet, and, well, football itself. Ronald Reagan briefly appears as the ill-fated George “The Gipper” Gipp, as do many Hall of Famers and future movie stars (including George Reeves of The Adventures of Superman).
THE LONGEST YARD (1974)
This cult classic stars Burt Reynolds as a disgraced, incarcerated professional football player who leads a team of hardened inmates against a team of prison guards in a smashmouth “tune-up” game that makes the average Cowboys/Redskins game look like a slap fight. Rough and tumble, it spawned two remakes: a forgettable one starring Adam Sandler in 2006, and a quirky UK version starring Vinnie Jones and substituting their brand of football for ours.
NORTH DALLAS FORTY (1979)
Based on the best-seller by former Cowboys wide receiver Peter Gent, this comedy-drama-satire stars Nick Nolte as a fading pro player for the North Dallas Bulls (loosely based on the ‘70s era Cowboys) who is reduced to pumping his body full of painkillers to stay on the field. At times grotesque and farcical, it was also the first film to take a look behind the scenes of pro ball.
Renowned hobbit Sean Astin earned his acting cred in this biopic about Rudy Ruettiger, a young steel mill worker who pursues his dream of playing for Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish despite the fact that his size, grades, and funds are all on the short side. Directed by David Anspaugh (Hoosiers), it’s inspirational and emotional without be sappy or cliched.
ANY GIVEN SUNDAY (1999)
Jamie Foxx scored one of his first high-profile roles here, as a mediocre ball player who gets a second chance when an aging QB (Dennis Quaid) is sidelined by an injury. Oliver Stone’s football expose is populated by character types and is a little too broad at times, but it does dig into the uglier, business-driven side of the game to chilling effect. The cast includes Al Pacino, LL Cool J, James Woods, Charlton Heston, and a particularly ferocious Cameron Diaz.
THE REPLACEMENTS (2000)
Inspired by the 1987 NFL strike and the Redskins’ wildly successful replacement team at the time. Ordered to hire scabs during a players’ strike, coach Jimmy McGinty (Gene Hackman) convinces a has-been quarterback (Keanu Reeves) to lead a team of scabs that includes a Welsh soccer player with a gambling addiction (Rhys Ifans), a SWAT cop with anger issues (Jon Favreau), a sumo wrestler (Ace Yonamine), a deaf tight end (David Denman), and other assorted washed-up former players. Wackiness ensues.
REMEMBER THE TITANS (2000)
Denzel Washington stars as Herman Boone, a high school football coach hired to lead a recently-integrated team in Alexandria, Va., in 1971. Equal parts sports movie and social commentary, it sometimes veers toward maudlin cliche but mostly delivers a slick, feel-good football drama. This and the subsequent Training Day provided a career boost for Denzel following a brief late-’90s slump.
FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS (2005)
Arguably the best football movie ever made, and easily the best modern one, this adaptation of H.G. Bissinger’s book by Peter Berg (Lone Survivor) perfectly highlights Texas’ obsession with high school football. Billy Bob Thornton stars as the coach of the Permian High Panthers during a fierce season in the economically-depressed town of Odessa circa the late ‘80s. Berg’s directing is occasionally heavy handed, but he nails the
minutiae when it comes to tensions within the team, and small-town life.
Another great football biopic, starring Mark Wahlberg as Vince Papale, a 30-year-old bartender from South Philadelphia who attended open try-outs for the Eagles during a losing season and made the team as a wide receiver. It’s a bit of a softie, but strong performances by Wahlberg and Greg Kinnear (as coach Dick Vermeil) and a degree of earnestness makes for an endearing chump-to-champ story.