The 50 greatest sports movies: part two

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The stars come out in part two: Tom Cruise and Will Ferrell feel the need for speed, the Governator reveals his rippling biceps and Robin Williams scores emotional touchdowns, but our own Bob Hoskins acts 'em all off the screen as a boxing coach with a heart of gold

40. National Velvet (1944)

Dir: Clarence BrownEvery girl’s dream, every parent’s nightmare…Clarence Brown’s gooey equine classic based on the suffocatingly wholesome bestseller by Enid Bagnold endures better as a chronicle of changing attitudes and Britishness than it does as the (frankly nonsensical) story of exasperatingly precocious teenager Velvet Brown (Liz Taylor) winning the Grand National. Velvet’s journey from gutter (a butcher’s shop in Sussex) to stars (Aintree) seems to involve a lot of sulking/pouting and is initiated by a chance meeting with disgraced jockey-turned-vagabond Mickey Rooney, who has as much trouble holding his ‘shine yaour shaws gaav’noor’ English accent as he does his mild country ale. Though the pair’s swift rise to glory does not bear close scrutiny (Velvet wins her horse, The Pie, in a botched local raffle that makes some of the recent elections in the Middle East look like textbook examples of democracy in action), the discussions between Velvet’s overprotective father and more enlightened mother about the responsibilities the pair have towards their daughter’s future make this a worthwhile nostalgia watch. DJWatch the trailer of 'National Velvet'Read the original Time Out review Days of Thunder.jpg

39. Days of Thunder (1990)

Dir: Tony ScottCruise. Like. Thunder.It was American comedian Rich Hall who best summed up Tom Cruise’s career to date; ‘First he was a jet-pilot – a pretty good jet-pilot too ‘til he had a crisis of confidence and couldn’t fly jets anymore. Then he met a beautiful woman who talked him into being a better jet pilot. Then he was a racing driver – pretty good racing driver too…’ and so on and so forth. And yes, ‘Thunder’ is a hugely manipulative retread of the director’s own ‘Top Gun’, but it is also an absolute beast of a film, red-lining through some thrilling race-day photography, teeth-rattling sound design and a couple of meaty performances from co-stars Michael Rooker and Robert Duvall. That or it’s simply ‘Flashdance’ for gearheads. Or ‘Talledega Nights’ with bad hair. Either way, with the definitive motor-racing movie yet to be made, Scott’s film remains in pole position ahead of such rickety rustbuckets as ‘Grand Prix’, ‘Le Mans’ and ‘Driven’. ALDWatch the trailer for 'Days of Thunder' Read the original Time Out review Pumping Iron.jpg

38. Pumping Iron (1977)

Dir: George Butler and Robert FioreHulk v Commando Schwarzenegger’s big-screen calling card (his role in Bob Rafelson’s overlooked 1976 comedy ‘Stay Hungry’ notwithstanding) came in the form of a tight little documentary that kickstarted a worldwide bodybuilding phenomenon. Though the focus is firmly on Arnie, the best parts of the film concern the shy, affable, utterly humungous Lou Ferrigno (later to play the Hulk on TV) and his shrill, tracksuited, overcritical father, Matty, who comes over like an especially ill-tempered amalgam of Al Pacino and Mr Punch. Whether you consider musclemen as bona fide athletes or regard the whole scene as nothing more than a grotesque sideshow, these boys have clearly pushed themselves to the limit, and Butler and Fiore’s lean film cuts through the kind of rarefied atmosphere of effort, finesse and gamesmanship that is pivotal to all sport. ALDWatch a bizarre Arnie interview here
Read the original Time Out review
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37. TwentyFourSeven (1997)

Dir: Shane MeadowsUttoxeter’s favourite son nabs Round OneSport movie meets grim social realism in this heartening debut proper from Midlands highflier Meadows, who zeroes in on a recognisable working-class community and asks if sport (specifically boxing) can become a tool for social betterment. Wandering across a desolate field, Bob Hoskins spies a gang of latchkey ne’er-do-wells and decides to induct them into his brand new boxing club. After an extremely slow start, the lads soon realise that this could be the chance to escape the monotony of their dreary lives, and their subsequent enthusiasm leads to their first practice showdown. Meadows captures the proceedings in stark black and white and elicits some lovely performances from his newcomer cast, not to mention a startlingly bruised turn from Hoskins. Though he has since gone on to bigger and better things, this remains a beautifully executed debut which shows how a sport based entirely on physical violence can have dark repercussions in the real world. DJWatch the trailer to 'TwentyFourSeven'Read the original Time Out review heart eyemelt.jpg

36. Heart Like a Wheel (1983)

Dir: Jonathan KaplanSisters are drivin’ it for themselvesBack in the ’70s, top fuel drag racing was strictly a men-only sport – until a gurl arrived to tear up the quarter mile of tarmac in her pink dragster. The true story of Shirley ‘Cha-Cha’ Muldowney’s rise to the top is classic material for a crowd-pleasing sports biopic. In this instance, Jonathan ‘The Accused’ Kaplan took the helm and cast Mrs John McLane, Bonnie Bedelia, as the no-nonsense waitress-turned-burnout-queen and Beau Bridges as her closest racing rival, the womanising Connie Kalitta. The resulting flick, while low key and TV-esque in tone, is a touching and rather rousing affirmation of the underdog spirit – with plenty of personal and metallic wreckage thrown in along the way. DAWatch the big drag race from 'Heart Like a Wheel' here Read the original Time Out review redbelt.jpg

35. Redbelt (2008)

Dir: David MametThe art of softnessTim Allen, Emily Mortimer, Ray ‘Boom Boom’ Mancini, Joe Mantegna, Randy Couture, Chiwetel Ejiofor – David Mamet could hardly have picked a more eclectic cast for his beautifully underplayed martial arts drama. And the diverse talent on show is a canny indication of a film that wrongfoots expectation at every turn before moving off into territories that are odd, unexpected and yet just about believable and entirely congruous. The fighting itself – primarily Jiu-Jitsu – is as fierce and punishing as anything on this list, with bouts either over before they’ve started or extending into bloody take-it-to-the-street smackdowns. A perceived high-minded approach to what looks to an untrained eye like little more than polite cage-fighting did nothing for the film’s box-office chances, but this is a unique film that’s just begging for a second look. ALDWatch the trailer to 'Redbelt'Read the original Time Out review bluechips.jpg

34. Blue Chips (1994)

Dir: William FriedkinShow me the money!‘Every time we get ready to play, I just want to throw up!’ Sir Alex Ferguson’s infamous ‘hairdryer treatment’ is nothing compared to Nick Nolte’s splenetic rage at his pampered, underperforming prima donnas as the corrupt netherworld of college basketball scholarships is exposed in erstwhile wunderkind Friedkin’s dissection of the increasingly murky nexus where sport meets coin. Courtside credentials come in the form a muscular script by blue-collar sports movie maven Ron Shelton (‘Cobb’, ‘White Men Can’t Jump’, ‘Bull Durham’ etc), while b-ball legend Shaquille O’Neal keeps the film’s action sequences bouncing. But in the end, this is Nolte’s show, and he’s electric as the conflicted coach, turning in yet another of his clammy masterclasses in wounded pride, thwarted ambition and eventual complicity. ALDWatch some vintage Nolte fury from 'Blue Chips'Read the original Time Out review here

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33. The Best of Times (1986)

Dir: Roger SpottiswoodeGo long, Reno!This salty, straight-to-VHS slice of territorial hurly-burly sees Robin Williams playing annoyingly effervescent (plus ça change!) as goggle-eyed dicksplash, Jack Dundee, forced to atone for a gargantuan sporting gaff that landed him with a one-way ticket to a parochial purgatory of tyre slashings, sexual humiliation and rank discourteousness. Bungling a catch in the dying seconds of a make-or-break football game against highfalutin local rivals Bakersfield, he sends his beloved hometown of Taft into an eternal downward spiral and the only way set things right is – years later – to challenge those Bakersfield bastards to a rematch. Drafting in star quarterback Reno Hightower (Kurt Russell), who now makes a living welding spoilers to half-shot Datsuns, Jack strives to alter the course of history by getting the team back together for one last shot at glory. Made during an era where Reaganomics ruled the roost, the notion that dire poverty could (and should) be appeased by channelling energies towards waging war on similarly rundown neighbours makes this both a handy chronicle of The Real America in the mid-’80s and a misty-eyed paean to the allure of the minor league sporting exhibition. Kid Lester would be proud... DJWatch an ‘erratic’ Robin Williams interview

Read the original Time Out review


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32. Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006)

Directed by Adam McKayI’m going fast!I count myself as one of that unenlightened minority who just doesn’t see the appeal of mouthy monolith Will Ferrell. His shtick appears to be based on the crude equation that shouting = comedy – at least with Jim Carrey we get a hard rubber face workout at the same time. Nevertheless, there’s no denying that his strident Nascar satire ‘Talladega Nights’ is littered with dark comic jewels, not merely the product of its full-frontal assault on American racetrack culture, but in teaming Ferrell with who-knew funnyman John C Reilly. Placing films like ‘Days of Thunder’ and Burt Reynolds quota filler, ‘Stroker Ace’, in its crosshairs, Ferrell plays hick racing godhead Ricky Bobby, who lives a life of plenty with his smokin’ hot wife Carly and sons Walker and Texas Ranger (TR for short). Traversing familiar sports movie terrain with tongue rammed firmly in cheek, ‘Talladega Nights’ is perhaps the best conduit so far for Ferrell’s career-long attack on testosterone-fuelled Middle America. DJWatch an interview with Ricky BobbyRead the original Time Out review

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31. Rollerball (1975)


Dir: Norman Jewison
Kafka meets roller derby…finally!The year 2018 (as imagined, it would appear, from the cosy environs of mid-'70s Haight-Ashbury), and James Caan dons his rhinestone-studded leather mitts, tangerine leotard and rollerskates as Rollerball icon and bane of corporate America, Jonathan E. Keeping the flame for the entire subgenre known as ‘future sports’, Caan mumbles his way through a movie which brilliantly blends portentous sci-fi speculation with skull-shattering ultraviolence as democratically elected governments have fallen to corporate concerns and all political disputes have made the inevitable move from the board room to the roller rink. Some bemoan the fact that ‘Rollerball’ wallows for too long in E’s between-bout journeys of self-involved philosophical pondering, as he slowly becomes aware that the rise of his individual celebrity stands for everything that the new regime hope to suppress. Yet these scenes actually make the film stand up as a sage (if moderately vitriolic) dissection of the links between modern corporate culture and fascism that lefties can coo at and righties can cackle over. DJWatch the trailer to 'Rollerball' Read the original Time Out review See 30 through to 21

Author: Derek Adams, Adam Lee Davies, Tom Huddleston & David Jenkins



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