24 March 2010

Warm Up for Basbeall Season by Watching a Movie (Baseball-Themed, Of Course)

You could spend weeks wading through the many really bad baseball themed films that have been made over the past 100 years. You would see a lot of weak comedies, cliched story lines and ridiculous action scenes supposedly depicting baseball. But a much better idea would be to spend a few days taking in those rare baseball films that are actually enjoyable. Always trying to help my fellow film lovers, I offer now my nine favorite baseball films (one for each inning). Enjoy!

Bull Durham (1988) or the Church of Baseball. While this is a film that non baseball fans can enjoy, it is the definitive baseball lovers movie. Like all the movies on this list it is about much more than baseball. And like a lot of great films (which is what this is) it is really about relationships. It is also really funny. Kevin Costner, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon star. The latter is the ultimate baseball lover and the other two are minor leaguers whose careers are heading in opposite directions. If you love baseball, see Bull Durham. If you hate baseball, see it anyway. Thank me later.

Eight Men Out (1988) or Baseball as Social Commentary. From director John Sayles, this is an excellent telling of the notorious Black Sox Scandal of 1919 when eight Chicago White Sox conspired to throw the World Series. It's about gamblers, crooks, heroes and the price of corporate greed to our national pastime. John Cusak plays third baseman Buck Weaver in a memorable performance.

Bang the Drum Slowly (1973) or The Death of a Fictional Baseball Player. Worth watching just to see a young Robert DeNiro as the fatally ill catcher Bruce Pearson. Based on the wonderful novel of the same name by Mark Harris, it's guaranteed to tug -- nay, yank -- at your heart strings. Happily it does so without schmaltz. Not typical of films of the 1970's yet reflective of the time period.

Sugar (2009) or Baseball Isn't Everything. This movie is criminally underrated likely because it was independently made and lacking a wide release. It tells the story of a young Dominican baseball star who's signed to a big league contract. Before he can play in the bigs, of course, he's assigned to the minors, in Iowa of all places. There's plenty of baseball here and it's superbly done, but the story soon goes in a surprising direction and becomes about something else. I wrote about Sugar at greater length last Spring.

A League of Their Own (1992) or There's No Crying in Baseball. Yes it's overly sentimental and you have to put up with Rosie O'Donnell, but its a fun story. Geena Davis is believable as a World War II era baseball player. Tom Hanks as a manager of this all-girl's team (based on a true story) is a scene stealer, particularly with his "there's no crying in baseball" speech. Madonna also features.

Alibi Ike (1935) or Playing Baseball for Laughs. The short story by Ring Lardner upon which this film is based is one of the few pieces of writing that literally makes me laugh out loud and slap the knees. Sadly, the film is not nearly so funny.  Happily its funny enough. Joe E. Brown is in the title role. Casting a comic in the lead was a mistake but the supporting cast almost makes up for this error. The sumptuous Olivia de Havilland is the love interest. You also get Roscoe Karns and William Frawley.

The Natural (1984) or Baseball as Arthurian Legend. Another baseball lover's delight, it has spawned dozens of unworthy imitations. I'd seen it so often that I finally stopped getting dewy-eyed at the ending. After staying away from it for awhile I'm ready for another plunge. You should take one too. Barry Levinson directed and deserves top marks. While Glenn Close's nice little role as been overrated, Robert Redford is perfect as Roy Hobbs.

The Bad News Bears (1976) or Baseball for Brats. Another film that has spawned weak imitations. A rag tag bunch of little leaguers led by Coach Walter Matthau finds life lessons, victories and fun doing it their way. Sounds corny now but it was an original then and with a strong cast Led by Matthau and Tatum O'Neal is, you should excuse the expression, a big hit.

Pride of the Yankees (1942) or the Death of a Real Life Baseball Player. The best of the baseball bio pics, Gary Cooper was born to play Lou Gehrig the great baseball star who had a disease named for him. Babe Ruth appears as Babe Ruth. Talk about typecasting! Other Yankees appear as themselves too adding to the film's excellent baseball scenes.

1 comment:

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Once The Natural makes it, I'm fine.
PS. Glenn Close can NEVER be overrated :)