FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS
Very few sport films can turn their subject sport into an emblem of delirium, desperation and disappointment, but this is exactly what Friday Night Lights does for high school American football. Only a small town in Texas could be crazy enough to place all their hopes and desires on the results of a high-school football team. This is a mad world, from which only the game of football can provide solace for a group of hopeless teenagers stuck in America’s graveyard. A great turn from Billy Bob Thornton helps to make the film even more enjoyable. And if you think the premise sounds familiar, then that might be because the film (and the book it was based on) was turned into a TV series that ran from 2006 until this year.
Sugar comes from the minds of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, the partnership that delivered indie hits Half Nelson and It’s Kind of a Funny Story. It is another tale of those in America who are forgotten and ignored. With their attention on Minor League Baseball and a budding player from the Dominican Republic, Boden and Fleck slowly expose the ugly and exploitative side of America’s pastime. This is a sports movie that displays the shallowness of the stereotypical rags to riches story – an aspect of the American dream that is becoming implausible in the modern world.
MIKE BASSETT: ENGLAND MANAGER
Not exactly a comedy classic in the eyes of most critics, yet ask any football fan and they will tell you that Mike Bassett is the best comedic football creation after Soccer AM’s Third Eye. Watching the wonderful Ricky Tomlinson sweat and splutter as the hapless Mike Bassett is wonderful, and so too are the ridiculous situations the players and staff find themselves in. Bassett’s half-time team talk when the team are 2-0 down to Mexico never ceases to get old. The film is at its best, however, when it pokes fun at the madness and fervour of the English public and press when an England team spectacularly fails at a major competition.
Whip It may concern itself with a far from conventional sport – women’s roller derby – but then Whip It is an unconventional sports film. A soundtrack including Tilly and the Wall, The Ramones and The GO! Team would struggle to find a home in a movie about boxing. But it is these quirks (Ellen Page’s nickname is Babe Ruthless!) that manage to steer the film from being annoyingly twee, and make Whip It so refreshing. The roller derby scenes are as high octane and hard-hitting as any American football movie, but as warm and funny as any good comedy.
Hoop Dreams, released over sixteen years ago, is a film of sheer brilliance and deserves a mention in any list of top sports films. Hoop Dreams is a three hour long documentary set over a number of years and focusing on two boys from inner-city Chicago with dreams of becoming professional basketball players. Perhaps not an appealing premise for a film to watch on a Friday night, but within ten minutes nothing will be more important to you than the destiny of young William Gates and Arthur Agee. Like all the good sport films, Hoop Dreams is about so much more, touching on issues of class, education, race and equality. Hoop Dreams is ultimately damning in its verdict of contemporary America, yet basketball is never the villain. Despite all the unjustness and despair of the character’s lives, it is sport that still offers them a joyous escape.