Instructional Media Center

• Film Feature - Sports •


Reed College's commitment to physical education extends into the film library, where we have a comprehensive collection of movies in the sporting genre.  In addition to the classics, we have developed an eclectic array through courses in Anthropology, Humanities, English and foreign languages.  An interesting cinematic facet about the genre - the less popular sports often make for the best movies.  In fact, NFL football, easily the most watched sporting event in America, gives us very few good films, while the waning sport of boxing continues to produce films of critical success.  The following list, brought to you by the annotation team of Holmes, Morefield, Silverstein, and Tovey ('97), is but a small sampling of our vast collection.  As always, if you don't see your favorite and wish to correct this injustice, send an email to Jim Holmes along with a brief annotation.  AND - if you're a softball ringer, consider playing for team IMC at Renn Fayre.  AND - if sports interest you academically (particularly annotations #8-13) consider taking Paul Silverstein's Anthropology 324 course, Sport and Society.

When We Were Kings - PN1995.9.D6 W546 2005 DVD
In 1974, 32 year-old Muhammad Ali was considered a hopeless underdog to undefeated heavyweight champion George Foreman, who had quickly amassed an impressive professional record of 40-0, 37 by knockout.  His previous wins included 2nd round knockouts of Joe Frazier and Ken Norton, both of who had recently beaten Ali.  Up and coming boxing promoter Don King pulled out all the stops in staging this epic battle, first and foremost, selling the event to dictator Mobutu Sésé Seko so he could use it as worldwide advertising for his country of Zaire.  King also built a 3-day music festival Soul Power around the event, featuring James Brown and B.B. King, among other prominent American/African R&B music groups.  Documentary filmmaker Leon Gast tells the riveting story through a series of interviews and original footage, including a good portion of the actual fight.  Throughout, Ali shows why he is the most captivating athlete and pop culture iconoclast in the history of sports. Winner of the 1997 Academy Award for best documentary.

Slap Shot - PN1995.9.S67 S535 2002 DVD
While sports fans may disagree about the greatest hockey movie of all-time, hockey fans do not.  Slap Shot is the Stanley Cup of cinema.  Paul Newman plays his usual scoundrel - with just enough heart to do the right thing - as “Reggie Dunlop” player-coach of the Charleston Chiefs, a minor league hockey team.  Forced to deal with a handicapped roster and a disinterested owner, Dunlop transforms the team into a goon squad, led by the infamous Hanson brothers, who terrorize the league in hysterical fashion.  According to wikipedia "Film critic Gene Siskel noted that his greatest regret as a critic was giving a mediocre review to this movie when it was first released. After viewing it several more times, he grew to like it more and later listed it as one of the greatest American comedy movies of all time."  The Reed IMC film annotation team concurs.

Bull Durham - PN1997.2 .B85 2008 DVD
Tim Robbins, Kevin Kostner, and Susan Sarandon play ball in this minor league love triangle.  Robbins portrays “Nuke Laloosh” otherwise known as “Meat”, a promising young pitching prospect with more talent than brains.  Kostner’s “Crash Davis” serves as Nuke’s mentor, a wily veteran catcher, too good for the minors but not quite good enough for “the show”.  Sarandon stands between the two, serving and Nuke’s muse and Davis’s future after baseball.  Despite a miniscule budget and a shortened shooting schedule, the movie was a box office and critical success.  For diehard baseball fans, Sarandon's closing line of the opening narration says it all - "I've tried them all, I really have.  And the only church that truly feeds the soul day in, day out, is the Church of Baseball."

Dogtown and Z-Boys - PN1997.2 .D64 2005 DVD
For skateboard fanatics of the 70s, the rogue superstars of Team Zephyr were the undisputed kings of concrete surfing.  As the first wave of modern era skateboarding, Stacy Peralta and crew changed the face of what was considered a mildly popular transportation fad, into the raddest sport in California.  Long before the invention of skate parks, the Z-Boys made their name carving up curbs, empty pools, drain pipes and parking lots, emulating their surfing skills on skateboards - and bringing that culture from the beaches to the streets of America.  Interestingly, the footage exists largely from skaters who weren’t good enough to be part of the official team, relegated to documenting their idols’ skating excursions.  Narrated by Jeff Spicoli.

Moneyball - PN1997.2 .M664 2011 DVD 
Based on the 2003 novel of the same name, Moneyball takes the fairly mundane topic of sabermetric baseball player scouting and turns it into a surprisingly compelling motion picture, nominated for six Oscars including best picture and best actor.  The movie follows the story of Billy Beane, Oakland A’s general manager, forced to compete in major league baseball with a limited budget.  Beane and his assistant come up with a new system for evaluating talent based largely around on-base percentage, which eventually leads to a 20 game win streak and the American League playoffs.

The Hustler - PN1995.9.S67 H885 2002 DVD
Robert Rossen adapted and directed the Walter Tevis novel about small-time pool shark “Fast Eddie” Felson (Paul Newman) who travels the country to challenge billiards legend Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason).  Along the way, money and lives are lost, hearts and thumbs are broken, as the “perverted, twisted, and crippled” world of Fast Eddie comes crashing down.  While Newman and Gleason were the most celebrated actors of the film, it’s George C. Scott’s portrayal of ruthless gambler Bert Gordon, that subtly steals the show.  Nominated for nine Oscars including Scott for Best Supporting Actor.

The Color of Money - PN1997.2 .C65 2002 DVD
Martin Scorcese’s 1986 film about the 1984 Walter Tevis novel, which was a sequel of sorts to Tevis’s 1959 novel “The Hustler”, also starring Paul Newman.  Fast Eddie Felson is back working the circuit as a stakehorse for the new kid on the block Vincent, played by Tom Cruise.  Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio plays the love interest and serves to ground the brash, young buck, as they hit the road, hustling pool halls in preparation for bigger stakes ahead.  The strength of the film lies mostly in Newman’s acting (Academy Award for best actor) as the plot and characters play out predictably.  At least the billiards do their part in building competitive tension.  This movie would have been marginally better had Eric Clapton not composed the unfortunate theme song It’s in the Way that You Use It.

Pumping Iron - GV546.5 .P86 2003 DVD
While not Arnold Schwarzenegger's first film (he had already played Hercules in the ridiculous G-rated "Hercules in New York"), Pumping Iron arguably turned Arnold into a star. In this docudrama about the 1975 Mr. Universe/Mr. Olympia bodybuilding competitions, Arnold reprises his earlier role as a competitive bodybuilder in Stay Hungry, this time playing himself coming out of retirement to defend his title against up-and-comer (and future Hulk) Lou Ferrigno. Based on a photo-essay of the same name by Charles Gaines and adapted for the screen by George Butler, the film ostensibly provides a documentary window into the hyper-masculine culture of LA's Gold's Gym, even if much of the dialogue is semi-scripted and the rivalries cinematically enhanced. It paints an exquisite portrait of the future Governator as a driven competitor out to win by any means necessary. The box office success of Pumping Iron contributed to bodybuilding, and fitness more generally, becoming a massive industry in the 1980s and beyond. Get pumped!

Pumping Iron II: The Women - GV546.6.W64 P86 2002 DVD
Building on the success of Pumping Iron, Gaines and Butler turn their docudrama formula to the emerging women's sport of competitive bodybuilding. This time the rivalry is between the reigning diva and born-again Christian Rachel McLish, the cerebral black multi-sport athlete Carla Dunlap, and the bulky Australian power-lifter Bev Francis whom the filmmakers import into the competition to shake up its beauty pageant style. Part sexploitation flick (with the obligatory gratuitous shower scene), part sociological mediation on the changing contours of the feminine physique, Pumping Iron II alternately entrances and outrages, but will get you and your friends talking about the complex inter-relationships between gender, sexuality, race, and the body.

Trobriand Cricket: An Ingenious Response to Colonialism - GV928.T7 T7 2004 DVD
On a small chain of islands off the southeast coast of Papua New Guinea, the game of cricket has taken on a whole new life. Originally introduced by British missionaries at the beginning of the 20th century as a means to "civilize" the natives away from their perceived sexually promiscuous and warlike behavior, Trobrianders quickly transformed the game into their own, indigenizing it to longstanding inter-village competitive exchanges, painting their bodies and bats in war paint, and casting magical spells to confuse their opponents and attract female spectators. Anthropologist Jerry Leach and Australian documentary filmmaker Gary Kildea capture these dynamics in this classic ethnographic film from 1975 which itself served as a vehicle for Trobriand activist John Kasaipwalova (featured extensively in the film) to publicize his political movement for local autonomy and development.

Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India - PN1997.2 .L3433 2007 DVD
Bollywood films are known for their sentimental story lines and over-the-top musical dance numbers, but occasionally they try to take on serious themes. In this case writer-director Ashutosh Gowariker has taken on nothing less than the national narrative of a united India, presented this time through the trope of cricket. Set in the early days of the British Raj, a backwater village in the midst of a drought and unable to pay its annual land tax (lagaan), agrees to a wager of beating the local British cantonment in a game of a cricket or suffer effective annihilation. With the help of a British officer's sister infatuated with a handsome villager, the village unites across caste and religious lines to learn the game and save their lives. Starring heartthrob Aamir Khan and with music by the inimitable A.R. Rahman, Lagaan became one of the most successful Bollywood films both at home and abroad and testifies to why an English colonial game remains the India's national sport.

This Sporting Life - PN1995.9.G74 S767 2008 DVD
Having watched our fellow Reedies play on the cross-canyon field, we know that rugby is a tough game. But this first feature film by renowned British New Wave director Lindsay Anderson shows just how brutal the sport can be. Featuring Richard Harris as a tough, Yorkshire mine worker cultivated for stardom on the local industrial team, the film is a lyrical meditation on the limits of class mobility, the frustrated quest for personal autonomy, the self-destructive nature of pride, and the ultimate betrayal of one's own body. Shot in austere black and white, the film perfectly captures the violence of everyday life in the mining towns and on the rugby pitches of northern England.

Hoop Dreams - PN1995.9.S67 H66 2005 DVD
In this landmark example of documentary filmmaking, director Steve James and his crew follow two aspiring inner-city Chicago high school basketball players, Arthur Agee and William Gates, over a five-year period stretching from their freshman year as recruits at suburban basketball powerhouse St. Joseph's High (the alma mater of former Pistons star Isiah Thomas) through their first year in college. Although clocking in at 171 minutes (heavily edited down from the 250 hours of shot footage), the film absolutely captivates, weaving a sensitive portrayal of the everyday struggles of two young men and their families, with a searing indictment of the investment in sports as a vehicle for African-American advancement.

Rocky - PN1997 .R635 2001 DVD 
Aspiring film actor Sylvester Stallone wrote and starred in this 1976 small-budget film about a local journeyman boxer given a shot at the heavyweight title. Rocky Balboa, “The Italian Stallion” (a moniker better suited to its former incarnation) is part-time boxer, part-time meat packer, part-time mob enforcer, with a heart of gold and not much else going for him.  A far-fetched plot matches Rocky against the champ, an Ali/Foreman hybrid played to perfection by former NFL linebacker turned actor, Carl Weathers.  Along the way, Rocky’s supporting cast of characters, including manager Mickey (Burgess Meredith), best friend Paulie (Burt Young), and reluctant girlfriend Adrian (Talia Shire), help and handicap the cretinous pugilist, as the more convincing sub-plots serve to drive the heart of the film.  The training regiment plays out arduously across the empty, urban decay, culminating with the classic theme playing to its climax as Rocky ascends the stairs of the Philadelphia Art Museum, thrusting his hands in the air and… cut to - The epic final battle, which would become the plot finale for all six Rocky films.  It doesn’t disappoint, proving to be one of the more convincing and brutal boxing fights in film history.  Nominated for ten Oscars, winner of three including best picture, Rocky finishes at or near the top of most “top lists” for American sports films.

Raging Bull - PN1997 .R2253 2005 DVD
The cinematic dynamic duo of Scorcese/De Niro team up to pilot this slightly less optimistic boxing film about controversial middle-weight champion Jake Lamotta, “The Bronx Bull”. Adapted from Lamotta’s 1970 memoir, the film is an uncompromising look at a man who is driven and ruined by the fame and fortune of his career, an intolerable protagonist following a roller coaster of brutality, jealousy and guilt, which circumscribe his hollow soul. Scorcese both fuels and tempers the rage in his stark black and white cinematography and unique sound design, particularly the boxing sequences. Although the film was a box office disappointment, it was an overwhelming critical success, giving De Niro his second Oscar.  The film sits atop AFI’s best American sports films - also #4 on their top 100 greatest films.

Bend it Like Beckham - PN1997.2 .B45 2003 DVD
Bend it Like Beckham (2002) goes beyond after-school special fare to surprise and charm with its coming of age tale.  Jesminder (Parminder Nagra) can beat the boys at football (British soccer) on the neighborhood green, but her parents forbid her to join a city-league team for girls when recruited by new friend Jules (Kiera Knightley).  Seemingly a story about "bending the rules to follow your athletic dreams," this is film works on another level to explore how an Indian girl must navigate the boundaries of a traditional family operating within a conservative culture (they are Punjabi Sikhs).  Jess learns a lot about friendship, romantic attraction, and throwing off the constraints of propriety, yet she grows more in her attempts to negotiate a balance between the competing expectations in her life.  There is "girl power" galore, but the movie rises above many clichés with a lighthearted touch, inclusive laughs, and some fancy footwork on the field.  The film is directed by Gurinder Chadha, whose family was part of the Indian diaspora in East Africa; her other films include Bride & Prejudice and Bhaji on the Beach.

Chariots of Fire - PN1995.9.S67 C43 2010 DVD
Known for its panoramic opening shot and majestic score, Chariots of Fire follows a group of Cambridge students preparing to compete for the British team that will attend the 1924 Olympics.  Just when you think the main narrative conflict will be between the haughty Jewish scholar Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross) and the earnest Presbyterian missionary Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson), it becomes clear that each man is dealing with a more violent struggle within himself.  They both face personal tests of faith, and Eric must decide how to reconcile his obligation to religion with the pull of competition when a final heat is scheduled on the sabbath.  The British historical drama, based on a true story, was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won four, including best picture of 1981.  Ian Holm co-stars as Abrahams's mentor and professional trainer, Sam Mussabini.

Esther Williams - PN1997.A1 E888 2007 DVD  Vol.1 & Vol.2
Esther Williams (1921-2013) was a competitive swimmer and MGM movie actress who starred in more than 30 films, becoming America's beloved "Princess Mermaid".  She set multiple national and regional swimming records as a teenager; however, the outbreak of World War II prevented her from being able to compete in the 1940 Summer Olympics.  Esther turned to performing in "aquacade" shows, caught the eye of a talent scout, and went on to make a career in a new breed of musicals that featured elaborate performances with synchronized swimming and diving.  The compelling combination of her impressive athletic abilities and classic good looks made her one of the most popular movie stars of the 1940s and 1950s, and she essentially defined this "water ballet" genre.  Highlights include Million Dollar Mermaid, Neptune's Daughter, and Easy to Wed, a remake of 1936's Libeled Lady, with Van Johnson and Lucille Ball.  For some light-hearted laughs and vintage flair, co-eds should check out Bathing Beauty (1944), her first Technicolor musical, in which a man (Red Skelton) enrolls in a women's college to win back his swimming instructor fiancée (Williams).

Caddyshack - PN1995.9.C6 C34 2010 DVD
The fact that Hollywood execs green-lighted a big budget comedy set around country club golf, proves that the entertainment industry was clearly on drugs in 1980. However, it didn’t really matter as director Harold Ramis put together one of the great all-star comedy casts in film history with Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, Rodney Dangerfield and sit-com actor Ted Knight, as the pro-ant-agonists of some half-baked story that concludes in a high-stakes golf match.  The lazy plot provides the perfect vehicle for the cast to over-deliver and over-act every scene, line, facial and body expression. While there are too many great lines to pick just one, my favorite is from gopher arch-enemy, Carl Spackler… "This crowd has gone deadly silent, a Cinderella story outta nowhere. Former greenskeeper and now about to become the masters champion ... He's on his final hole. He's about 455 yards away, he's gonna hit about a 2 iron I think ... it's in the hole!"  Plus, who can resist Kenny Loggins’s classic I’m Alright.

Personal Best - PN1995.9.L482 P47 2008 DVD
Acclaimed screenplay writer, Robert Towne, wrote and directed this cinematically stylish 1982 picture about female track athletes training for the 1980 olympics.  The film follows a young, emerging track star (Mariel Hemingway) as she competes with and against a track veteran (Patrice Donnelly).  The film features many real track athletes (Donnelly was both an athlete and actor) and excels in capturing the ecstacy and anguish of the sport.  Towne's use of close-ups and slow-motion give the viewer prolonged looks at the body's mechanical process (also slowing down the action to make Hemingway convincingly competitive).  Towne took greater chances in the parallel love story as a sexual relationship emerges between the two women. Critics mostly praised the film (Ebert loved it) but acknowledged that the progressive romantic storyline wouldn't be well received by the trending conservative public, which proved correct as it flopped at the box office.  

The Longest Yard - PN1997 .L664 2005 DVD
Loosely based on the Hungarian film Two Half Times in Hell about the Soviet/Nazi Death Match - Burt Reynolds (a former college halfback) plays a former NFL quarterback serving time in Citrus State prison.  When the warden forces him to join the coaching ranks of the prison guards football team, Reynolds suggests a warm up game against the prisoners.  Recruiting the most maniacal offenders, Reynolds builds his team, taking on the guards in a gratuitously violent and hilarious game.  If political correctness is your thing, you might want to skip this one.

Le chandail - PN1995.9.F7 C53 1991 video
Classic animated short from Canada.  A young boy from Québec loves his Canadiens de Montréal.  Through a series of unfortunate events, he is forced to don the hockey sweater of their bitter rivals, the despised Toronto Maple Leafs.  To put it in perspective, this would be worse than wearing a Yankees jersey at Fenway – or a Reed hoodie at Lewis & Clark.

The Roman Colosseum - DG68.1 .R66 2003 DVD 
A discussion about sports wouldn't be complete without mentioning the original athletic mega-stadium.  This Discovery Channel production delves into the engineering and history, providing a more accurate picture of the Colossuem in its heyday. Computer generated modeling shows the sophisticated hydraulics systems in action, which enabled simulated naval battles.  That's right - simulated naval battles!  And to think the Chicago Cubs can't even properly drain Wrigley Field after a rain storm.

Gladiator - PN1995.9.R68 G53 2000 DVD
Ridley Scott directed this big budget blood bath about a soldier turned gladiator.  When popular Roman general Maximum (Russell Crowe) is chosen to be next emperor, the oldest son Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) stages a coup, seizing power and condemning Maximus and his family to death.  Maximus escapes but is forced into slavery and eventually joins the ranks of the gladiators.  Killing ensues.

Baseball - GV863.A1 B384 2000 DVD
Perhaps no filmmaker documents the American experience as thoroughly as Ken Burns. In Baseball, Burns tells the history of America through its favorite pass time. Although Burns is often maligned by critics for being a bit too precious and technically formulaic (see the Ken Burns effect) the footage, interviews and subject material tell a familiar story so thoroughly compelling, it's hard not to watch episodes back to back to back.  The original series was nine innings/episodes. The Tenth Inning was added to include the steroid era.

Olympia - GV722 1936 .O4 2006 DVD 
Commissioned by the International Olympic committee to film the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, female filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl employed ground breaking techniques still used by contemporary filmmakers, including long tracking shots, extreme close-ups, unusual angles, and unorthodox editing of action sequences (check out the diving footage). While the documentary enjoyed enormous international success, it is impossible to watch without reflecting on Riefenstahl, who made several Nazi propaganda films, equally impressive in technique and scope.  After WWII, Riefenstahl was detained and put on trial for her affiliation.  Although never convicted, Riefenstahl found it difficult to work in the booming film industry due to her inextricable ties, a story chronicled in the excellent documentary, The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl.

A League of Their Own - PN1995.9.S67 A35 1997 DVD
Rosie the riveter wasn't the only woman doing traditionally men's work in WWII.  With professional baseball players away at war, a women's baseball league was formed.  A League of Their Own recounts the story of the Rockford Peaches, comprised of Gena Davis, Madonna and Rosie O'Donnell, to name a few.  To round the story, themes of love, loss, and sibling rivalry are also explored.  Enjoy Tom Hanks as the alcoholic joke of coach, who grows along with the team - and some really cool, totally impractical ladies baseball uniforms.

National Velvet - PN1997.2 .N38 2010 DVD 
A twelve year  old Elizabeth Taylor portrays budding equestrian Velvet Brown. After winning a horse in in a raffle, Velvet decides to enter him in the Grand National. All she needs is a little help from former Jockey Mi Taylor (Micky Rooney). Taylor became so bonded with the horse that she arranged to keep him after the film was completed. 19 year old Angela Landsbury is fun as Taylor's boy-crazy sister. Too busy too watch? Check out the trailer for highlights.

The Karate Kid - PN1997. K373 2005 DVD
Daniel Larusso (Ralph Macchio) and mom (random character actor) move from New Jersey to California in an attempt to pursue the decades stale dream of American westward urban expansion.  Daniel has a hard time adjusting culturally, due mostly to a bunch of privileged, kung-fu obsessed jocks, who make him their personal punching bag.  Daniel is saved during a particularly ruthless beating by Mr. Miyagi, apartment maintenance man and karate master, who then trains him in the real art of karate – which oddly involves a lot of home painting and auto waxing.  Despite the saccharine storyline and inevitable outcome, you can’t help sincerely rooting (along with adorable love interest Elizabeth Shue) for Daniel against the Goliath “Cobra Kai” dojo. 


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