Top Five Baseball Movies of the Past Ten Years
The MLB All-Star Game was played on Tuesday night, which means that the second half of the baseball season now begins in earnest. In honour of the stretch drive, along with the release of The Battered Bastards of Baseball on Netflix Canada, it is the perfect time to take a look at the best baseball movies that have come out in the last decade.
This means the usual veteran contenders for the champion of best flick to capture the American pastime will not show up. It is time instead to examine a new crop of prospects. Play ball!
Interestingly, the only film on this list that was nominated for Best Picture is not even close to the best recent film about baseball. This despite an incredible pedigree, including a script written by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, and directed by Bennett Miller, (who turns from baseball to wrestling in the upcoming biopic Foxcatcher). Obviously, Brad Pitt is a huge attraction as A’s general manager Billy Beane, and Jonah Hill plays a slightly less profane version of a similar character in The Wolf of Wall Street, but who remembers that star of The Lego Movie and Guardians of The Galaxy Chris Pratt played reclamation project Scott Hatteberg, (and had to lose 30 pounds for the role)? Even better is Spike Jonze, almost totally forgotten as the creepy new husband of Robin Wright, playing Beane’s ex-wife. And sadly Philip Seymour Hoffman is brilliant as always as A’s chief field strategist and manager Art Howe.
So why so low? Well, because Moneyball is one of those stories that doesn’t evolve from book to screen. Michael Lewis’s brilliantly readable work is almost perfect the way it is, and the aforementioned crew do little to enhance the book’s key message about finding and exploiting small details unseen by others to personal advantage, a message that carries over from baseball to business and back again. But Brad Pitt’s daughter does invent a Lenka song. So there’s that.
4. Mr. 3000
Not exactly a hit upon its release, Mr. 3000 is nonetheless memorable for a couple of reasons, first and foremost is its star, the late Bernie Mac. Here, Mac plays an absolute jerk of a character in Stan Ross. An aged and deeply flawed athlete who must return to the sport for entirely selfish reasons, Mac evokes a cocky charm balanced with the ability to look like an actual baseball player, albeit a 47-year-old trying to get back into the game.
Slight the movie all you want, (and Mr. 3000 is quite slight, though Charles Stone III, director of this film, as well as sports-themed Drumline, keeps it humming well), but this performance is something of a cousin to the performance of Mickey Rourke as Randy “The Ram” Robinson in The Wrestler. Furthermore, Mr. 3000 is one of the rare films in which big screen star Angela Bassett plays a romantic lead.
The final reason to recognize the legacy of Mr. 3000 is that, like the movie above, it underscores the importance of team over individual in the great sport of baseball.
3. Fever Pitch
While the Farrelly Brothers are on the downswing of their careers, (Dumb and Dumber To could certainly change that, boys!) The Farrellys had precisely one film that was at least semi-autobiographical, without being a gross-out film, or try to teach hard lessons. This film is, surprisingly, based on a British film entitled Fever Pitch, which is in turn based on an account by author Nick Hornby. And though history may not be kind to Jimmy Fallon as an actor, nor the fact that Fallon and Drew Barrymore ran onto the field to celebrate the Boston Red Sox winning the 2004 World Series, this film is actually quite moving at times, as it focuses on baseball fandom, and the relationship that ordinary people believe that they possess of over the fortunes of their favourite teams.
Sadly, the romantic elements are tempered by the far less realistic second-half of the film, but the city of Boston has never looked better, (of course, Toronto plays stand-in, as Queen’s Park becomes the scene of an outdoor cookout).
Fever Pitch had to have its ending rewritten after the Red Sox went on a surprising run to win the World Series, and there is something kind of quaint about watching a film in which the Red Sox are cursed loveable losers, having won three World Series since this film started production, including one at Fenway Park just last year.
A movie that received far too little attention upon its release, the second film on this list from a pair of directors, (Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, who also did Half Nelson), Sugar focuses upon Miguel Santos, a Dominican trying to adjust to life and the grind in the United States.
Considering that more than a quarter of all current baseball players are born outside of the U.S., including a large number from the Dominican Republic, Sugar is perhaps the best film on this list that focuses on the spirit and courage of the outsider in what can be seen as the quintessential North American sport.
Though Santos is nicknamed Sugar, the film is surprisingly sour, and carries air of hopelessness that was quite surprising. Still, considering that the films up to this point are comedic, it is nice to see a film that focuses upon the grind that faces an athlete trying to make it in this grueling sport.
The ESPY Awards took place on Wednesday night, and football player Michael Sam won the Arthur Ashe Courage Award. Sam is the first out football prospect, just as Jackie Robinson was the first black baseball player in the major leagues. Brian Helgeland’s film is not perfect, though it illustrates perfectly that as far as sport has come, it still has a long way to go.
Chadwick Boseman is fine as Jackie Robinson, though he is kind enough to let Harrison Ford act circles around him as gruff owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers Walter O’Malley. Nicole Beharie also delivers a stand-out performance as Robinson’s determined and courageous wife, Rachel.
42 leaves out a lot in the Robinson biopic, (the city of Montreal, for example, as Robinson broke into the minors with the Royals), but the message of courage and of turning the other cheek in the face of ignorance and intolerance is one that transcends movies and the sport of baseball.