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My Nominees for Best Sports Movies

It’s a well established fact that I don’t care about sports. But it’s a little known one that I love sports movies. Sports movies are the ultimate highlight reel. They deliver all the human drama of a game, without requiring me to actually watch or understand the game.

It doesn’t even matter what the sport is. Stick an actor in a uniform, give him or her some impossible odds to overcome and spritz on the fake sweat. I’ll be cheering from the stands.

Here are a few of my nominations for best sports movies, including two documentaries:

Chariots of Fire (1981): Historical costume drama plus Olympic glory plus handsome Englishmen with high cheekbones and floppy bangs. What is not to love about this movie? Nothing. It is my perfect storm.

Memorable quote: “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.”

Field of Dreams (1989): We introduced our kids to this movie recently. In spite of the moral having become one of those tired catch-phrases that dates an entire generation, it’s still a charming fable.

Memorable quote: “If you build it, they will come.”

Hoop Dreams (1994): Speaking of dreams, this unforgettable documentary about the basketball aspirations of two inner-city African American kids was a consciousness-raising moment for me and anyone else who ever thought it was “just a game.” For Arthur Agee, William Gates, and thousands of young athletes, athletic achievement isn’t just for glory and honor; it’s an escape route out of poverty and powerlessness. Trouble is, it’s a very narrow one.

Memorable quote: “If I don’t make it, don’t you forget about me.”

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006): Satirical send-up of NASCAR culture. Or is it? Pretty sure I never want to find out. This could easily have been a single passenger vehicle (get it?) for Will Ferrell’s sweet-but-dumb schtick, or a buddy film about Ricky Bobby and his partner Cal, but it has a great ensemble cast with several memorable female players, including Jane Lynch as Ricky’s mom, and “tractor beam of hotness” Leslie Bibb.

Memorable quote: “Shake and bake!”

Eight Men Out (1988): Remember when Charlie Sheen really was winning? If not Oscars, at least respectable parts in decent films, like this sympathetic dramatization of the 1919 Black Sox scandal? John Cusack, John Mahoney, Christopher Lloyd, and David Strathairn also star.

Memorable quote: “Say it ain’t so, Joe. Say it ain’t so.”

Dogtown and Z-boys (2001): I knew absolutely nothing about skateboard history or culture until I watched this absorbing documentary directed by 70s skateboard star Stacy Peralta. There’s a fictionalized version as well, Lords of Dogtown, starring Heath Ledger, but I enjoyed the doc more. The tragic figure of Jay Adams serves as a living metaphor for what can get lost when passion is converted to a commodity. Sean Penn narrates it, so you know it’s serious.

Memorable quote: “Children took the ruins of the 20th century and made art out of it.”

Honorable Mentions: Bull Durham, Bend it Like Beckham, Seabiscuit, Any Given Sunday, Heaven Can Wait, Hoosiers.

Shameful Omissions: The Wrestler, Million Dollar Baby, The Natural, Breaking Away, Raging Bull, Rocky (I’ve seen the latter, but it was so long ago, it hardly counts).

Notable Retractions: I used to tell people my favorite sports movie was Everybody’s All American, about the rise and fall of a fictional Louisiana football player. I saw it when I was in my early twenties in Canada and loved it.  Last year, I watched it for the first time since living in the non-fictional South, and cringed all the way through it. It’s actually unbelievable how bad it is, considering it has the combined talent of John Goodman, Dennis Quaid, Timothy Hutton, and Jessica Lange. Particularly, it has some of the cheesiest southern accents ever attempted onscreen. But that’s a whole other list.

Among current Oscar nominations, I’m especially interested in seeing Silver Linings Playbook, a movie in which the Philadelphia Eagles practically play a supporting role.

That’s a football team, by the way. I know, because I looked it up on google just now.

Passing the ball to you now (see what I did there?): let me know which sports movies make your list.

Kyran Pittman is the author of Planting Dandelions: Field Notes from a Semi-Domesticated Life. She is a frequent contributor to Good Housekeeping magazine, and continues to chronicle her semi-domesticated life at Planting

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