Who would have thought that, even with a starting rotation and line-up reminiscent of the Nashville Stars and bullpen as reliable as a kleptomaniac bank teller, the Milwaukee Brewers would be in the playoff chase? The Crew are a mere 2.5 games out of the final wild card spot, meaning baseball fever is still in the air.
The excitement doesn't have to be limited to Miller Park, however. "Trouble with the Curve," the new Clint Eastwood drama coming out this weekend, is also about America's favorite pastime. If Dirty Harry's latest ends up a swing-and-a-miss, here are five terrific baseball movies that are definitely worth cheering.
1988's "Bull Durham" may be about a minor league baseball team, but there's nothing minor about this sports classic. It just gets the game better than almost any other movie about the sport. It's not about the prestigious, magical sport featuring mythical figures and dramatic clutch hits. "Bull Durham" is about playing a pretty much meaningless game on a hot, muggy night for a crowd of locals and mosquitoes in a small homey North Carolina town. It's not about greatness; it's about the long grimy road to greatness.
Since it's not as reverent, "Bull Durham" feels less about just a game and more about a real, earnest way of life and the many unique, hilarious characters who live it. Thankfully, Ron Shelton's Oscar-nominated script fills the team with memorable characters, likeable performances and legendary lines. There's probably no movie I quote more than "Bull Durham" ("Anything that travels that far oughta have a stewardess on it!"). They never get old, and neither does the movie that spawned them.
This is going to sound crazy, but I almost forgot to put "The Sandlot" on this list. It's such a seminal part of childhood that it almost seems more like a cultural touchstone or ritual rather than just a movie. Everything about this 1993 American classic is perfect. The child actors are terrific (a difficult feat; just ask M. Night Shyamalan), the script is funny, the relationships between friends, as well as father and son, are honest and the baseball IQ is high. The best thing, though, is the tone. It's sweet and old-school wholesome, while also having the boys-will-be-boys rowdiness and heartfelt hijinks and banter that make the characters feel like real guys. "The Sandlot" is a part of cultural cannon that well deserves its spot.
"Field of Dreams"
Considering I have a cold, black obsidian heart, any movie that manages to pry a tear from my eyes is always considered a quality film. And when it comes to manly tearjerkers, it doesn't get much more satisfying than "Field of Dreams." What starts as almost a baseball-themed mystery turns into a beautiful and emotion-packed family reunion, all thanks to the power of baseball.
Costner has a reputation as being a somewhat bland actor (though he's very sly and charming in "Bull Durham"), but I think that actually works to "Field of Dreams'" advantage. It's a solid performance, but its best attribute is our ability to project ourselves onto Ray Kinsella and his emotions. The audience can easily imagine itself having a catch and feeling the magic of that seemingly simple yet timeless interaction between father, son and some chunks of leather.
"Major League," starring Tom Berenger and Captain Crazy himself, Charlie Sheen, isn't a revolutionary sports movie by any standard. It doesn't have the real sweat and grit of "Bull Durham," and its story, featuring a cute romance and ragtag band of losers suddenly in the thralls of a pennant chase, is far more conventional. Plus, I always argue the ending is not as happy as it seems because Berenger's knees seemingly exploded while running to first, leaving the team without their starting catcher for playoffs.
That being said, "Major League" is still a great movie. The characters, including the "Wild Thing" Ricky Vaughn and "Willie Mays" Hayes, whose catchphrase is another entry in my personal book of great quotes, are memorable, and the script is filled with hilarious lines. Most of the best lines come from the inimitable Bob Uecker ("Just a bit outside!"). Plus, much of "Major League" was filmed at Milwaukee County Stadium, so it gets several extra points for nostalgia.
"Moneyball" is a very strange kind of baseball movie. For one, it doesn't seem to care all that much for the actual game. Most of the exciting baseball action takes place off screen; even Scott Hatteberg's climactic game-winning home run is only really seen through Billy Beane (Brad Pitt)'s locker room reaction. Plus, the Steven Zaillian/Aaron Sorkin script is far more interested in the team's failures than in their triumphs.
These elements make "Moneyball" hard to really love (which is also strange, since sports movies are usually liked more for the emotional value rather than their technical merits), but they also make it one of the most fascinating baseball movies. Director Bennett Miller takes the audience beyond the typical baseball movie and into the difficult business side without losing our interest. Most sports films follow a band of underdogs into victory, but few movies understand the inevitable disappointment, as well as the small but satisfying joys, of betting on the little guy like "Moneyball."
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