Thursday, July 11, 2013

31 Day Film Challenge, Day 11: The Best Sports Film

About eight months ago, when I was planning the syllabus for last semester's Philosophy of Film course, I had exactly the same problem I'm having today trying to determine which is the "best" of the hundreds of truly great sports films.  Here was (and is) my dilemma:  when I think of sport as an important human activity, which I think it is, I tend to think of team sports. To the extent that sport is a useful metaphor for illustrating other, bigger and greater values-- which I think it is-- team sports tend to be uniquely effective for illustrating the manner in which we are capable of subordinating our individual selves for the sake of something cooperative or communal. To wit, great sports films that focus on individual sports like boxing (Rocky) or running (Chariots of Fire) don't quite get at the themes and values for which I think sports films are best.  Now, that's not to say that Rocky and Chariots of Fire aren't great films, which they certainly are, but only that when I think of "sports" as a genre of film, I think of that genre as accomplishing certain sorts of things that individual-sport films more often than not fall short of accomplishing. 

For my Philosophy and Film course last semester, I ended up choosing Hoosiers (1986), which more or less accomplished what I wanted it to accomplish.  If I had it to do over again, I think I'd choose something else, though I'm not sure what.  For today's pick, I tried to loosen up my overly-strict criteria for choosing among sports films, but I kept running into the same sorts of problems.  What to choose?  An "overcoming outrageous odds" story?  A "teammate/friendship" story?  A "for the love of the game" story?  A "historical" story? The more I looked for just the right pick, the more the subgenres of the sports genre seemed to multiply.

So, I'm just going with a great film.   My pick for today is The Natural (1984), starring the devastatingly handsome Robert Redford as a supernaturally-gifted, but over-the-hill, baseball player who comes out of nowhere, with a mysterious and spotty past, and makes it big in the Majors.  The Natural has some of the most beautiful scenes ever filmed, in my view, and I was very tempted to save it for Day 17 of this Challenge.  I wouldn't go to the mat arguing that this is the "best" sports film ever made, since my top ten-or-so contenders for that honor are all about equal, but it's one of the best.  And that's about the best I can do for this category.

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