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A Last Ball Six: On the Glories of the Perfect Sports Movies

Six sports inspired movies that always get us jumping!

From Chariots of Fire to Chak De! India, our favourite movies inspired by the love of the game.

They are formulaic, often trite, and occasionally racist in their attempt to paint the opposing team as big, bad and ugly. But sports movies always get us excited. We can see the last minute victory coming from a mile, but still can’t help catching our breath in anticipation. And there’s something about the glory of watching sports on 70 mm that gets us every single time. It wasn’t easy to narrow our choices down to just six of the best Sports Movies of all time. But here are the ones that we just can’t resist whenever they’re on.

Chariots of Fire (1981)

If you’re in the mood for something heartwarmingly sentimental, and inspired by real life to boot, you can’t go wrong with Chariots of Fire. Two men as different as chalk and cheese – one a Cambridge student struggling with anti-Semitism, the other a Scottish missionary – with a common passion for running. The tale of how they come into conflict with each other, and their beliefs – but finally go on to win glory for their nation – is the sporting world’s Shawshank Redemption (we’re allowed hyperbole when we’re feeling warm and fuzzy, aren’t we?).

There’s so much to like about this film – the casting is spot on, the two different worlds of Cambridge and Edinburgh Missionary Church in the 1920s have been wonderfully re-constructed, there are appropriate doses of religious and moral conflicts and surprisingly little of British intrigue (relatively speaking), and finally the fantastic theme track by Vangelis.  This is the movie you need to watch when you are home alone on a rainy Saturday evening.

Cool Runnings (1993)

This little-seen 1993 gem may be our favourite sports movie ever! And to see why you have to look no further than this adorable scene below.

You know how every four years you start talking about sports you know little about, and become absorbed in the narrative of curling or trap shooting or some such? It is this spirit of Olympics that this movie gently mocks and celebrates in the story of the 1998 Jamaican bobsledding team. You read that right- four enterprising young tropical athletes competed in the Bob sleigh event of the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics. Practising on the dusty dunes of Jamaica instead of  icy tunnels, our fish-out-of-water heroes are unused to the cold, to the conditions or to the sheer competitive nature of a sport that they take on for fun! Their equipment may be makeshift, but their hearts are those of Olympic champions.

It won’t be a sports movie if they didn’t have a drunken coach with a besmirched reputation on hand to help them adjust (John Candy, in one of his last performances), and we would be sorely disappointed if there weren’t a couple of reversals before the final big event. However, the movie (based loosely on a true story) does strike a realistic note at the end by not having the team win. Sometimes participation and acceptance is reward enough. Highly recommended for its gentle humour, and sheer reggae warmth.

Whip It! (2009)

There are so many things to like about Whip It! It is simplistic- and yet inspirational- candy-coated girl power message. Performances from some of our favourite women of all time- Kristen Wiig, Ellen Page, Marcia Gay Haden and the director Drew Barrymore herself! And the oddly kinetic scenes of women competing ferociously with others in the vicious world of roller derby.

But if we are honest, our favourite part of this coming of age movie are the delightfully pun-ny names that the girls play under. Sample these:

  • Babe Ruthless
  • Smashley Simpson
  • Eva Destruction
  • Maggie Mayhem

If the idea of women forming life-long friendships, learning some tough love lessons, and bonding as a team over broken teeth doesn’t appeal to you, then we don’t know what to say. But if – like Bliss Cavendar – you’ve ever been rejected for not being ‘lady’ enough, this movie makes the perfect pick-me-up for a rainy afternoon.

Hip Hip Hurray (1984)

Before Prakash Jha earned mainstream success with the seriously overrated Rajneeti, he specialised in making small movies that highlighted some of the social and endemic issues from Bihar. He shared the socialist’s despair with the state of governance, and  channeled his anger to make films that were hard hitting if pessimistic about the future. But this gem -penned by Gulzar- is different from almost everything he did. Once you get over the suspension of belief it takes to believe Raj Kiran an able football coach, the story of the plucky team from a small time school,  its trials and tribulations, and especially the tetchy relationship between the coach and his rebellious young protege. It helps that the students look like students- and athletic students at that- especially a 20 year old Nikhil Bhagat, who went on to act in a couple of other movies before disappearing completely.

What we like most about Hip Hip Hurray though is how small-scale some of the conflicts are. And isn’t it true that sport doesn’t have to extraordinary or Olympian for it to impact the human spirit? Every match at your local tennis club, every “friendly” with the neighbourhood school , can turn into a moment of celebration or devastation, teaching us a little bit about ourselves, and a little bit about our primal instincts.

Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar (1992)

There was once a pretty hill station in India. It had a spoilt rich boy and a spoilt rich girl. It also had a nice poor boy and a nice poor girl. Rich boy loved rich girl, poor boy also loved rich girl, poor girl loved poor boy. Rich boy also hated poor boy. A regular Bollywood romantic tangle (calling it a triangle is too simplistic), except that Mansoor Khan used cycle racing to capture the mood of a generation that was raring to break free of its past.

It’s easy now to forget the impact that JJWS had on the future of  Bollywood. This was a time when over the top action and emotions ruled the roost – from Madhuri Dixit’s Beta to Akki’s Khiladi and SRK’s Deewana. It was also the age of Dhak Dhak Saroj Khan. And no one in Bollywood made movies about sports, and certainly not about good old cycling! Then there was the matter of using a new music director (Jatin Lalit) and a young choreographer not named Saroj (Farah Khan).

But everything clicked for Mansoor Khan. Ayesha Jhulka shone in the only decent role of her career (why did every director insist on dressing her up in ugly lehngas?). Pehla Nasha became a rage, not just for its music but for its innovative choreography. And let’s not forget Mamik, who sent many hearts aflutter with his brown eyes and black curls. Hindi cinema was saved. Even better, nice girl got nice boy in the end!

Chak De! India (2007)

We admit we’ve had a conflicted relationship with SRK. We couldn’t help our school girl crush on him during the Fauji days. We loved him change the face of the Indian hero with Baazigar and Darr. And then came Kuch Kuch Hota Hai…and SRK the actor was less appealing than SRK the entertainer. But there are two movies of his that we can watch any number of times, and one of them is Chak De! India (the other is Swades).

A hindi movie about a women’s hockey team coached by a former player must have sounded like a crazy idea to Bollywood bosses used to blaming “”audience immaturity” for their Hollywood rip-offs and clichéd romances. But it was the movie’s hitherto unknown cast of women who stole the show – it’s hard to forget Balbir Kaur, Komal Chautala and Bindia Naik!  Meanwhile, after years of hamming through endless Rahuls, SRK finally got one of the best roles of his life  – and credit to him for getting into the skin of the character. He lost tons of weight to get the lean hockey body, the stubble looked great, the anguished eyes conveyed the hope and pain of a misunderstood player.

Despite the easy camaraderie, director Shimit Amin succeeded in projecting both caution and hope – caution about the delicate fault lines that underpin our nation, from religion to language and gender; and hope about the power of sports to transcend these very divisions.

My Big Red Bag brings original content inspired by life’s joys and passions. Check out other articles from our Sports Issue, and stay tuned to our latest content by following us on Twitter and FB. See you on the other side! 

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