Sports has always been a favourite subject for directors to make films on. The reasons are fairly obvious. A sportsman’s life has numerous ups and downs filled with immense passion as well as pressure, the perfect raw material for a cinematic tale. They are also crowd pullers, as movie mavens will have us believe.
Here’s a list of some sports movies that I set great sore by:
One of Martin Scorsese’s best films, Raging Bull was released in 1980. This biographical sports drama film was adapted from Jake LaMotta’s memoir Raging Bull: My Story. It stars Robert De Niro as the protagonist- a middleweight boxer whose sexual behaviour adversely affected his relationship with his wife and family.
Opening to mixed initial reviews, Raging Bull was criticised due to its violent content. However, as weeks passed, the film gained momentum and went on to garner a high critical reputation. It is regarded today as one of the greatest films ever made!
Chak De! India
Chak De! India is a 2007 film based on hockey, our much-ignored national game. Directed by Shimit Amin, the film traces the story of Kabir Khan (played by Shah Rukh Khan), captain of the Indian hockey team, who is accused of deliberately losing the match to Pakistan and is ostracised by the society. Years later, he becomes the coach of the hitherto passive Indian women’s hockey team, only to lead them to an astounding World Cup victory. Too good to be true, yes! But then, isn’t hope and belief in oneself the bedrock of all sport?
The film was rumoured to be based on the life of former Indian hockey player Mir Ranjan Negi, who was accused of throwing the match against Pakistan during the1982 Asian Games. The film won a number of awards, including the National Award for the Best Popular Film providing Wholesome Entertainment. What made the film into a nationalistic movement of sorts was India lifting the first T20 World Cup tournament soon after the release! Chak De! became an anthem, a symbol for the wave of patriotism that gripped the whole country.
Moneyball is still fresh in our minds with its many nominations at the Oscars this year. Directed by Bennett Miller and starring Brad Pitt, the film is based on the book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis. Set in 2002, it’s a biographical sports drama that narrates the story of the Oakland Athletics baseball team’s general manager Billy Beane (Pitt) as he tries to put together a competitive team. Faced with the side’s tough financial situation, Beane adopts a unique approach towards scouting and analysing players. The team went ahead to win 20 consecutive games- an American League record.
Fire in Babylon
Fire in Babylon is a British documentary film written and directed by Stevan Riley. The film was released in 2010 and is based on the record-breaking West Indies cricket team of the 1970s and 1980s. It features stock footage and interviews with several former players and officials such as Colin Croft, Deryck Murray, Joel Garner, Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, Michael Holding, Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards and Andy Roberts.
Rocky brings to mind the image of Sylvester Stallone, boxing his way to success with a heart of gold. Directed by John G. Avildsen, it was shot in a short span of 28 days. The rags-to-riches story of Rocky Balboa, who turns from a loan shark in Pennsylvania to the World Boxing champion, won the hearts of millions across the globe and was a runaway success.
The film, made on a budget of $1million ended up making $225 million. It also won 3 Oscars- for the Best Film, Best Director and Best Film Editing. The story of Rocky Balboa churned out five sequels in the following years, and the series still remains one of the best loved all over the world.
Ashutosh Gowariker directed what can perhaps be called the best sports film made in India. Set in the British Raj era, Lagaan is the story of a village that suffers because of high taxes and low agricultural produce due to lack of monsoons. The British officers challenge the Indian peasants to a game of cricket, offering to annul tax collection completely for the next three years if the Indians managed to win. The story then takes us through Indians learning the alien sport, overcoming caste differences between themselves, standing up to their oppressors and finally defeating the British at their own game.
Lagaan was India’s official entry to the Oscars in the Best Foreign Film category. It won several awards at other international film festivals too. In 2010, the film was ranked #55 in Empire magazine’s “The 100 Best Films of World Cinema”. In 2011, the film was listed in Time Magazine’s special “The All-TIME 25 Best Sports Movies.”
The Blind Side
Released in 2009, The Blind Side is a 2009 semi-biographical drama that traces the story of Michael Oher as he goes on from being brought up in an impoverished setting to being adopted by the Tuohys and his exceptional size, athleticism and ‘protective instincts’ that see him make way to college. It is based on the book The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game by Michael Lewis.
The Blind Side was quite appreciated by cinema-goers and critics alike, and won the Oscar for Best Actress for Sandra Bullock for the portrayal of the warm-hearted Leigh Anne Tuohy. She also won the Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Actress.
Besides these, there are hundreds of other sports films that have taught us the lesson of undying optimism and hard work that sports are symbolic of. Whether fictional or based on real incidents, the thread of sportsmanship spirit and unrelenting effort runs common through all sports films. Sports films give us what we desperately need in the world today: Hope!