Each week the Before The Cyborgs staff comes together to answer one question relating to the current events of that particular. This week, in honor of Super Bowl 52 and the upcoming Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang the question is: What is your favorite sports movie or TV show? Bonus: who you got for Superbowl 52 – Patriots or Eagles?
My gut instinctively points to a childhood favorite like Space Jam or a masterpiece like Raging Bull but I am going against that instinct and selecting Shaolin Soccer. Following a ragtag crew of outcast martial artists, they are brought together as a team to play in a local soccer tournament. The result is almost as insane as Space Jam – both in conceit and execution but what makes Shaolin Soccer work is its commitment to the bit. It knows its identity and plays within that framework. Director (and star) Stephen Chow plays up the slapstick comedy mixing innuendo with absurdity. Throw in some loving references to cinema of old and some – surprisingly strong visual effects for a low budget Hong Kong film made in 2001 and what you get is an extremely entertaining film.
Note: If possible, try to watch this film in its original Chinese, the English dub just doesn’t do it justice
I’m not a fan of sports (with the exception of pro wrestling; though that has an added theatrical aspect to it) so my knowledge of sports films/shows is limited. And so based on my limited sports knowledge, I’m thankful that I luckily can be able to choose not just an excellent film for this question but one that is related to athletics.
Darren Aronofsky’s 2008 jewel The Wrestler isn’t just one of the best films of the 21st century, but arguably the greatest representation of many of the harsh realities of the pro wrestling world. Featuring an Oscar-nominated lead from Mickey Rourke, this film is a classic example of the modern tragedy. Reluctant to leave his glory days behind, wrestling superstar Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Rourke) sees his personal life nearly fall apart. Unable to find lasting love in the real world he turns back to the wrestling world that has nearly killed him. It’s a masterstroke of filmmaking, with excellent performances, an emotional and poignant screenplay by Robert Seigel (The Founder), and a strong directorial effort by Aronofsky. While the actual behind the scenes of the wrestling locker room may not be as dark or depressing, the feelings and authenticity The Wrestler presents make it both a scathing critique and a glorious tribute to the squared circle and those who compete in it.
For as legendary and influential to boxing movies, as well as the sports movie genre in general, as the original Rocky is, it is also responsible for creating the formulas and cliches that this genre seems to exclusively thrive on, including nearly every single film in that series. What makes Ryan Coogler’s sequel/reboot Creed stand out above all the others, is its ability to succeed solely on the merits of its own worth, not defined by the legacy of what came before it, much like its title character of Adonis Creed. The name “Creed” haunts Adonis, always reminding him that his father’s legacy is looming in the shadows of his success. Questioning whether or not he’s earned it for himself, or if he would even be anybody if his father wasn’t the heavyweight champion of the world. Much like Adonis himself, the film on its own also manages to rise above the legacy of its namesake, making it arguably the best film in the Rocky series.
Michael B. Jordan’s reteaming with director Ryan Coogler after their masterful previous collaboration, Fruitvale Station, reinvigorates this long-running series by introducing him as the new protagonist, following in the footsteps of not only his father but Rocky Balboa as well. The result is a tightly choreographed, exciting, and emotionally involving entry in the beloved series, almost completely unreliant on fanservice or forced references, allowing it to be its own entirely. For a series that is known for its iconic scenes, Coogler approaches Creed with such inventiveness and raw energy that manages to create new iconic moments that are this film’s own, such as a blood-pumping training sequence involving ATVs, and a single-take boxing match. It is also notable for earning Sylvester Stallone a coveted Oscar nomination for what is by far his most deeply personal portrayal of the character that launched his career, which would have been a fitting heartfelt send-off if he wasn’t coming back for a completely needless sequel, which thankfully Coogler isn’t wasting his time with so he can do better things with his career.
Arguably Scorsese’s greatest picture and De Niro’s finest performance, my pick has to be Raging Bull, an incredible character study of self-destruction and blind rage. Boxing is not integral to the film, most of which is a family drama of sorts, but the boxing ring serves to tell us more about Jake La Motta’s antagonistic psyche and the need for sporting success as relief from his jealous insecurities. The film’s boxing scenes are nothing short of iconic, utilizing extreme lighting, sound and editing techniques to put the audience in the ring with La Motta and feel every drop of sweat and splash of blood.