Books and movies should never be confused. A great book paints a mental picture while telling its story with rich detail. A great movie cannot include the detail woven into a book — unless it runs 3 hours — but it has a visual and sound aspect brings the story to life in its own way.
So while “Shoeless Joe” was high on my list of favorite sports books, its film version, “Field of Dreams,” does not make the top-10 cut of my favorite movies.
Hope you are all staying safe and finding a way to get your sports fix while we are stuck at home. Here are my favorite 10 sports movies. Maybe one of them will help through a night on the sofa:
1. HOOSIERS (1986)
I love this movie. Hoosiers follows a rather predictable sports-movie formula, but it works because you get the feeling you’re actually watching small-town high school basketball in 1950s Indiana, and because Gene Hackman in the lead role is terrific. Hackman’s Norman Dale comes to the tiny town of Hickory with a suspiciously impressive coaching resume that obscures a secret from his past. The film is only loosely based on the real-life story of Milan High’s improbable 1954 state championship run. The fictional subplots (especially Dennis Hopper as Shooter) help create a movie that still works nearly 35 years later. I try to put on this DVD every year before hoops season begins. But now is as good a time as any.
2. EIGHT MEN OUT (1988)
Until someone makes a great film about the steroid era or the current sign-stealing controversy, Eight Men Out is the best movie I’ve seen about baseball’s most famous scandal, the 1919 Black Sox. In fact, it’s probably my favorite baseball film. It has a good look, an impressive ensemble cast (John Cusack, Charlie Sheen, D.B. Sweeney) and gives us an intriguing peek into American life 100 years ago. And boy, the business of baseball was so different then.
3. CHARIOTS OF FIRE (1981)
Hard to imagine a film made these days with the slow pace of Chariots of Fire. The filmmakers pull it off because it reflects what we imagine life might have been like a century ago in Great Britain. The cinematography is gorgeous and for anyone who already is missing the prospect of watching the Tokyo Olympics, this fact-based tale of two runners at the 1924 Paris Games will serve as a worthy replacement.
4. RAGING BULL (1980)
Forty years later we regard Robert DeNiro as perhaps the greatest of modern actors, and his performance here certainly adds to the argument. This film is beautifully brutal, the study of fighter Jake LaMotta, whose rage fueled his successful middleweight career in the 1940s and ‘50s but wreaked havoc on his private life.
5. THE HUSTLER (1961)
Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason. A pretty nice 1-2 punch. Newman plays “Fast” Eddie Felson, a cocky pool shark from Oakland, who challenges Gleason’s Minnesota Fats. Filmed in black and white and on location in New York City, the movie is dark and depressing at times, but the acting is superb. George C. Scott, as Newman’s nasty manager, plays a great heavy.
6. THE WORLD'S FASTEST INDIAN (2005)
The Indian is a 1920 motorcycle, and New Zealander Burt Munro (played by Anthony Hopkins) is obsessed with riding it to a new world speed record. He has spent 25 years tinkering and modifying his bike at the expense of all else. He drives his neighbors crazy and even has to mortgage his home in pursuit of his dream. But Munro is likable and the audience will root for him. The film climaxes on the Bonneville salt flats in Utah where Munro finally gets his shot at history.
7. A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN (1992)
A comedy based on the short-lived World War II era All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, A League of their Own features great performances by Geena Davis, Madonna and Rosie O’Donnell. But it’s Tom Hanks who steals the show as cranky manager of the Rockford Peaches, giving us the line that will forever: “There’s no crying in baseball.”
8. HOOP DREAMS (1984)
Hoops Dreams was originally intended to be a 30-minute documentary. After five years of filming, it was released at 171 minutes, earning acclaim and awards. The film is an honest look at the trek of two inner-city Chicago kids with big talent and bigger dreams. It’s not all smooth sailing, but the story is compelling, shot through a lens that extends much wider than just basketball.
9. DON'T QUIT: THE JOE ROTH STORY (2014)
I have included this documentary film on my list because any Cal fan who has not seen it should wait no longer. And because it’s deserving. Roth is probably Cal’s most beloved athlete ever, and the story of his secret battle against cancer while quarterbacking the 1976 football team is both inspiring and heartbreaking. The film captures the courageous dignity Roth displayed and the boundless respect his teammates still have for him.
10. THE NATURAL (1984)
This is my guilty pleasure addition to my list. Not every critic loved this tale of fictional Roy Hobbs, the slugger who mysteriously shows up and becomes a magical Big League phenomenon. (Although it does get 82 percent on the Tomato-meter). Schmaltzy is the word a lot of folks will use for this movie. That’s OK. It was fun to watch in 1984, and it’s still fun.