It's Thanksgiving evening, and you've just settled into your easy chair. As you ponder whether or not you should have had that third helping of green bean casserole, you are confronted by not just one but two awful football games on television. Further compounding the problem is your Uncle Ernie, who steadfastly refuses to surrender the remote. Even though no football fan in his or her right mind could possibly get excited by the Colts/Lions or Cowboys/Bears contests, Uncle Ernie seems unwilling to budge. What to do? Fear not: Bad Sport is here to help with a serving of the best sports films. Even the pigskin-worshipping Uncle Ernies in your families would be willing to turn off live football in favor of these cinematic gems.
When it comes to family-friendly football movies, the list begins and ends with Rudy. This inspirational tale of an undersized kid with a huge heart can even suck in those who hate the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. Sean Astin (remember Mikey from Goonies?) plays Rudy Ruettiger, whose dream to play football for Notre Dame is inhibited by his small stature. Everyone repeatedly reminds Rudy that he is too small to play college football, which only serves to fuel his fire. Some may scoff at the predictable ending, but I challenge you to walk away from this film and not chant "Rooo-dee, Rooo-dee!" Bonus: Jon Favreau (Swingers, Made, Vince Vaughn's chubbier half) has a supporting role as Rudy's best friend.
If you somehow managed to break away from Rudy with dry eyes, grab the box of tissues and pop in Brian's Song. Make sure you get the original, not the 2001 remake. The original stars James "Don't Call Me Jimmy" Caan and a pre-Lando Billy Dee Williams. In case you're unfamiliar with the story of Brian Piccolo, get ready to weep. The movie chronicles the relationship between football great Gale Sayers and his teammate (Piccolo) who is dying of cancer. Brian's Song tackles (ha ha) death, race, friendship, support and the camaraderie of athletes. Even the football-haters at your home for Thanksgiving will be stuck in their seats until the end of this one. Sure, it will end your evening on a somber note, but holidays are depressing anyway, right?
If your family or the crowd gathered at your dwelling is not averse to an urban drama, check out He Got Game. It's a masterpiece by Spike Lee featuring Denzel Washington as a domineering father who finds himself on the wrong side of the law. His son, Jesus Shuttlesworth, is a high school basketball player who is being pulled in a million different directions. Everyone wants a piece of this kid: agents, college coaches and his girlfriend. His dad has the daunting task of getting Jesus to sign a letter of intent for the governor's alma mater in exchange for his release from prison. NBA player Ray Allen turns in a stellar performance as Jesus, and Public Enemy's soundtrack is sure to make your Great-Aunt Suzie shake her ass on your coffee table. You might want to wait until the kids are gone before putting the DVD in, though; it is a Spike Lee joint, after all.
If you need a basketball movie that's suitable for everyone, Hoosiers is an absolute gem of a movie. Starring Gene Hackman and Dennis Hopper, it chronicles the unlikely success of the Hickory High School basketball team and its misunderstood and ostracized star player. Jimmy Chitwood heeds the advice of his favorite teacher, who doesn't want him to play basketball. Coach Norman Dale (Hackman) is trying to erase a checkered past and start anew by taking a ragtag group of not-so-gifted hoopsters to the state finals. Hopper is the town drunk (quite a stretch, no?) who is recruited by Hackman to assist in the coaching of the team.
OK, we've covered two of the three major sports, which means it's time for our national pastime. Quality baseball films abound, but chances are good that you (and your family) have already viewed the classics: The Natural, Bull Durham, Field of Dreams and A League of Their Own. What's left? You can't go wrong with 1976's The Bad News Bears, of course, but you could also take a little metaphysical journey with James Belushi (yes, you can) in Mr. Destiny. Belushi is Larry Burrows, trapped in an unhappy and unfulfilling adulthood. He truly believes that if he had hit a game-winning home run as a kid, his life would have turned out differently. As happens in the world of film, he meets a "mysterious stranger" who offers him that oh-so-elusive life he had always dreamed of. Of course, that new life comes complete with its own share of problems, and Larry is forced to confront the fact that no matter what one does, life is bound to suck sooner or later. Very inspirational.
If you and yours can handle some juvenile but adult humor, check out BASEketball. Directed by David Zucker (Airplane) and starring the South Park tandem of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, BASEketball is sporadically hilarious. It's a not-so-subtle romp that lampoons the money-driven world of sports, and it works on many levels. Parker and Stone play childhood friends and slackers who invent a sport that is a combination of baseball and basketball, only to watch it become a national sensation. Naturally, a nemesis appears and wants to move their team to another city. This film is worth a rental, if only to hear Bob Costas talk about the aroused state of his nipples.
So, there's your post-Thanksgiving dinner survival guide. All you have to do is figure out a way to wrestle the remote away from Uncle Ernie long enough for him to consider some quality sports films. Even the most ridiculously rabid follower of football is going to have trouble getting (much less staying) enthusiastic about the anemic football lineups on Turkey Day, so there is indeed hope. If all else fails, just spike the fruitcake with some laxatives. That's a sure way to get Uncle Ernie to drop the remote.
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