Monday, August 8, 2011

Power Rankings: Sports Scenes in Non-Sports Movies

I recently watched the 1938 gangster picture Angels with Dirty Faces, in which about halfway through the tough guy main character sort of referees a teenage basketball game. It is a really random scene considering the genre, but it is a really good and pivotal scene for character development. That got me thinking about what other great non-sports films have memorable sports-related scenes. Some scenes on this list are for their intelligent way of portraying the sports, and others are more for humorous effect. The list has a total of 4 football scenes, 2 for basketball, and 1 each for bowling, racing, baseball, and tennis. It is a fairly well-rounded list, but I know that I probably overlooked a bunch of scenes. It is a difficult list to just make up. Check it out:

Others receiving votes:

Rowing Crew in The Social Network

Alabama Football in Forrest Gump

Rooftop Hockey in Clerks

Golfing in Sideways

10. Gas Mask Football in Jarhead

This is a brilliant scene that is a perfect example of the dark humor in this highly underrated war film. The company staff sergeant (Jamie Foxx) is being interviewed by a reporter, talking about the gas suits and how they work while two soldiers are playing catch in the background. The staff sergeant decides to get everyone in full gas suit gear in 100+ degree heat to play a full game of football. It is a really good scene that shows what the soldiers were going through and showing how they cope with the external factors of their seemingly boring mission. The scene after, in which the soldiers all strip down to embarrass the staff sergeant in front of the reporter, also makes this scene even more memorable.

9. Jesus Bowling in The Big Lebowski

There are a ton of classic scenes in this Coen Brothers ridiculous comedy, but the scenes centered on bowling are the some of the funniest. The scene that most stands out to me is when Jesus (John Turturro) does his dirty little routine before bowling a strike, then proceeds to do a little dance when he turns around. The looks on The Dude, Donnie, and Walter’s faces are priceless. The three of them then talk about Jesus and how he is a pedophile. Then the two teams exchange a few words. It is just one of the many classic scenes in that movie and maybe the most memorable bowling scene in any movie. I honestly cannot even think more than a handful of them, though. Either way, this is a great scene and one of the many that gives this movie its cult status.

8. Tennis Match in Strangers on a Train

This scene is all about the level of suspense that Hitchcock is able to bring. It just happens to take place at a tennis match. The tennis pro who has yet to hold up his end of the murderous deal is playing his big match, with his stalker in the audience. The entire crowd is watching the ball go back and forth, with the exception of the stalker, who has his eyes forever locked on the player. The match is where the big climax of the movie takes place, and the shot of the crowd is one of the most brilliant shots Hitchcock ever did. This movie is perhaps his most underrated thriller, and it is scenes like this one that make it so intense.

7. Football Game in Little Children

This is a personal favorite of mine. Brad (Patrick Wilson) invites Sarah (Kate Winslet) to a football game with a bunch of off-duty cops that he got reeled into playing. The scene sets up to just be a continuation bit, but the scene is a few minutes of legitimate football with the narrator’s voice reminiscent of the guy from NFL Films. It is the most random sports scene I have ever seen, yet it is one that handles itself more seriously than almost any other. It is a lightly humorous few minutes, and yet it is completely vital to the movie, since it is there that Brad asks Sarah to run away with him. I cannot think of a more oddball, brilliant football scene than this one. It could have just as easily not even been shown and cut to after the game, but Todd Fields decided to let his characters breathe in all facets of their lives. I appreciate that in a writer.

6. The Game in MASH

This is probably one of the most recognizable sports scenes in non-sports films. It is a piece of classic Robert Altman filmmaking in which ringer Spearchucker Jones (Fred Williamson) teaches the 4077th a thing or two about football in attempt to stand a chance against the General’s team of legitimate former semi-pro players. The rag-tag group of surgeons make a bunch of low-brow, semi-illegal plays, until the final Longest Yard-type play that wins the game for the MASH unit. It is a hilarious scene that serves as the climax for the best film of Altman’s career and one of the funniest movies ever.

5. Chariot Race in Ben-Hur

This was one of the more obvious choices for this countdown. It is almost too obvious since the chariot race is such a vital part of the movie that it may almost seem like a sports movie. That is to say that it is not a random scene in a movie about something completely different. But either way, this is one of the most exhilarating sequences in all of film. The special effects and editing in the scene are possibly the best of any movie of that era, and it just might rank as the best racing sequence in the history of film. It could be put out in a movie now and be completely relevant.

4. White Guys vs. Black Guys in American History X

This is a scene that immediately came to mind when thinking about possibilities for this list. It is a scene that, although unrealistic at times, is actually a pretty decent representation of a streetball game. Obviously the scene is more about the tension between the characters than about basketball, but what better way to illustrate those racist feelings than a good old game of b-ball? The scene’s dynamics are interesting, considering the anti-hero protagonists are the ones the audience is probably rooting for, yet it makes it very clear that they are not worthy of it. The basketball shots themselves are cleverly cut and are fairly seamless, with the exception of the final dunk which it is clear that Ed Norton was going up for a layup and not a reverse, two-handed jam, but that is beside the point. The scene works on almost every level, and is one of the strongest scenes in the amazing movie.

3. Chief Playing Basketball in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

This is actually a compilation of two scenes, but they are equally brilliant. The first is a scene with McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) is teaching the monster Indian patient called Chief to play basketball, hopping on the shoulders of another guy and telling him to dunk the ball. It is a great showcase for Nicholson’s charisma and a flawless representation of the character dynamics in the movie. Then, the actual game against the guards is a great, brilliantly constructed scene in which Chief gets into the game and looks like a natural (sort of). These scenes explain exactly what the patients in the institution care about, knowing that little pickup games like this are likely the closest that they can get to feeling normal.

2. TIE: Baseball Play-By-Play in Good Will Hunting & One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

These two scenes seemed like obvious choices to me to be included since they might be the best scenes in their respective movies. The only problem is that no sports are actually shown in them…but it is close enough. In Good Will Hunting, Sean (Robin Williams) is describing when he knew that his wife was the one, and he does it through a play-by-play of Carlton Fisk’s world-famous home run in a game that he had tickets to, but was actually “seeing about a girl”. It may very well be the scene that won Williams the Oscar. It is absolute brilliance.

The similar scene in Cuckoo’s Nest is Nicholson, upset with the recent ruling that the patients cannot listen to the World Series during down time, proceeding to make up his own baseball scene to cope. He runs around the ward getting everyone excited (including himself) acting as if the game were happening before their eyes. It is a fantastic scene in that movie and one that many people would probably remember as being one of the best.

1. Football Quiz in Diner

Coming up with a top scene was really hard. I labored over my list of contenders for a while trying to choose one. I could have made it the two tied for second, but that would have been anti-climactic. Instead, I chose another without any visual representation of sports. Sorry. This scene in Diner is one of the many that gives the movie its status as one of the most believable coming-of-age movies. Eddie (Steve Guttenberg) decides to give his fiancée Elyse an impossible 140 question quiz on his favorite team, the Baltimore Colts, of which she must score a 65 to retain him as her fiancée. The scene is shown from the perspective of Eddie’s friends in the other room, listening in and answering the questions that they can. You really only hear six questions that he asks, none of which are close to common knowledge. She scores a 63, a figure that Eddie “checked very thoroughly”. He then walks out of the room to his friends, and “The wedding is off.” This is a perfect scene, one that the makers of The League probably wish they could have come up with. It shows the struggle that the friends have with the barrier between immaturity and maturity. Giving your fiancée a quiz on a football team to show if she is committed or not…brilliant. It seems far-fetched, but I wouldn’t put it past a college-age guy. It is a scene that is flawlessly written, like the rest of the movie, and one of the very best scenes in that film.

So, that is my list. I am sure that I missed some big ones. So, let me hear about it in the comments.

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