The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has stopped live sport all over the world and the subsequent lockdown to combat it means extended hours spent at home. As the initial shock over the suspension of sporting action fades, sports fans are looking to fill the void by other means.
In the first part of this series, we looked at the sports documentaries to watch during the quarantine. In the second part, we can add an element of spectacle and production with a list of recommended sport films.
Films about sport – whether fictitious or based on fact – can often make for more entertaining experiences because of the way the action is packaged with background score, camera angles, cinematography, and sometimes even special effects. For the films based on real events, the drama is only heightened by the high-definition shot of something we have seen happen.
A majority of the films are made keeping in mind a section of the audience that doesn’t watch sport, but for sports fans, they always have an added benefit of combining sporting entertainment with film-making. Even with creative liberties, the story of the Jamaican bobsled team in Cool Runnings or Mahendra Singh Dhoni in MS Dhoni: The Untold Story is a treat for sports watchers.
Here’s the list of some great sports films to watch during this period of self-isolation, chosen by the writers at The Field.
Chariots of Fire
Released in 1981, Chariots of Fire was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won four, including best picture, where it was up against Atlantic City, On Golden Pond, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Reds.
It is based on the true story of two athletes in the 1924 Olympics: Eric Liddell, a devout Scottish Christian who runs for the glory of God, and Harold Abrahams, an English Jew who runs to overcome prejudice. There, of course, is a rare glimpse of the battle between amateur and professional sportspersons way before going pro became the norm.
While the story and the performances are solid, the reason the movie stays alive in our collective consciousness is also due to the iconic score, which you can hear in the video below. It has become one of the most famous pieces of music in history.
Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar
Aamir Khan’s super hit movie was actually a remake of a Hollywood movie titled Breaking Away. But it was perhaps also one of those rare occasions where the remake was better than the original. While Breaking Away seemed to have a very low-budget feel to it, JJWS managed to cross that bridge with an intricate mix of sport, teenage humour, and music.
Sports movies aren’t exactly bread and butter for Bollywood and over the years, they have found so many ways to get them wrong. But JJWS catches you by the scruff of the neck from the very beginning and does not let you go through the end. The movie traces the story of Sanjay Lal (Aamir Khan), the younger brother of a talented cyclist who gets injured by his opponent from another school during the race.
Sanjay is pretty talented himself but he never quite takes his own talent seriously until the truth of his brother’s situation dawns upon him. And that’s when the movie truly starts to gather steam. A superb coming-of-age sports movie that can be watched over and over again.
– Chosen by Ashish Magotra
Bend it Like Beckham
Bend it Like Beckham might not be the first film that comes to mind when one thinks of the classic sports movie trope. But the family-drama-cum-romantic-comedy is at the heart of it a story of an athlete fighting against all odds.
The fact that in this case the athlete is a woman, of Indian origin, battling opponents and her own traditional family makes it a very relatable film, across cultures. Gurinder Chadha’s 2002 film was her breakout work, earning her rave reviews across the world.
The film is about Jess Bhamra, a British Indian Sikh teen living in London whose family doesn’t want her to play pro football. Her father is wary of racism because of his own experience, her mother wants to make her the perfect wife. But with her own talent, the backing of her Irish coach and British teammate, and subterfuge, she manages to join a team, all against the background of her sister’s big, fat Indian wedding.
The fact that even though based in Britain, the film is Indian at the heart of it without the unnecessary frills of jingoism but with the theatrics intact. The sub-plot, involving Keira Knightley in the role that launched her, showed a British family’s reaction to their daughter playing football and made for an excellent counterpoint to the Bhamras.
The story is rooted in Chadha’s own experience and the authenticity makes the plot and characters endearing, inspiring and empowering. The film has gone on to become a cult classic among fans of all age groups and countries, sports fans or otherwise.
– Chosen by Zenia D’cunha
Player agents are often seen as the bad guys of sport, often accused of turning a talent into a dollar-hungry mercenary. Agents in American football and European football alike have earned an infamous reputation over the years. There is very little material that can be sourced on the human underneath the ruthless man running helter-skelter to make his player a viable commodity, on the field and for all commercial purposes.
Jerry Maguire talks about a 35-year-old agent (Tom Cruise) who promises his clients more personal attention, whilst negotiating the best deals for them. Cuba Gooding Jr delivers a knockout performance as a spoilt young footballer trying to work out a lucrative contract. The cult classic also has a delightful love angle featuring McGuire and his relationship with a single mother (Rene Zellweger). Surely, this has to rank as one of Cruise’s finest works.
There have been scores of Malayalam movies over the years that showcased Kerala’s love for football. Cricket in the southern state always came as a bit of an afterthought but that has changed in recent times.
The coming-of-age drama 1983, a watershed year, tracks the life of a cricket-crazy fan Rameshan [Nivin Pauly] from a small town in Kerala and his dream to play for India.
Rameshan enjoys a carefree life in his youth, where he is a star batsman in the local circuit, before reality hits him hard as he suffers a heartbreak. He gets married and has a son who is now interested in the game. How Rameshan, now in his 40s, uses his meagre earnings to further his son’s growth as a player forms the rest of the plot. The cricket matches are staged in a realistic manner and the sport, at no point, feels forced in the narrative.
– Chosen by R Vishal
The Fighter (2010)
Inspired by a 1996 documentary based on the true story of the Eklund-Ward family, The Fighter is as much about boxing as it is an intense drama based on a dysfunctional family. The film traces the journey of Micky Ward (played by Mark Wahlberg), who is an up-and-coming boxer, and his elder brother Dicky (played by Christian Bale), who once tasted glory in the ring but is now addicted to cocaine.
Directed by David O Russell, The Fighter tells an absorbing story of the brothers, whose lives are intertwined by their love for boxing, fighting for redemption in very different ways, all the while surrounded by voices luring them in opposite directions.
The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, winning the awards for Best Supporting Actor (Bale) and Best Supporting Actress (Melissa Leo). One of the highlights of the film was the physical transformation (yet again) that Bale went through for his role. The English actor reportedly lost close to 14 kilograms and the attention to detail that he gave his character earned him rave reviews.
Ford v Ferrari (2019)
The film showcases a gripping drama for motorsport fans as well as non-racing enthusiasts. Directed by James Mangold, it is based on the true story of the battle between Ford and Ferrari’s racing teams for the 1966 Le Mans race in France.
With the help of breathtaking racing sequences and fine performances by Matt Damon and Christian Bale as protagonists, Ford v Ferrari does remarkably well in detailing Ford’s rise on the track in an era dominated by Ferrari. The film not only focusses on the high risk and skill involved with being a professional racecar driver, it also offers a close look at what goes on behind the scene – the rigours of building an all-conquering vehicle and the politics that is played in the shadows.
Ford v Ferarri was a massive hit at the box office and was also received well by critics. It was nominated for four Academy Awards, winning the Oscar for Best Film Editing and Best Sound Editing.
– Chosen by Aditya Chaturvedi
The 2004 movie recreating the ‘Miracle on Ice’ triumph of the US Ice Hockey team over the mighty USSR in the 1980 Winter Olympics takes a look at the political situation during the Cold War days, the challenge of building a team from among the amateurs and tackling their mentality of sticking to their favoured groups even while playing.
The movie revolved completely around the coach and how he turns around the fortune of an amateur unit.
The part that stands out is that the film acknowledges that sports has its own charm and the climax focuses on what happens on the field. The end may be slightly longer for non-sports fans but this film probably had envisaged the sports fanatics, who had not really witnessed the era of amateur sports, as its primary audience
– Chosen by Abhijeet Kulkarni
Million Dollar Baby
To those who may have not yet watched Million Dollar Baby, the movie is a true masterpiece. Released in 2004, the movie has won four Academy Awards while also receiving the Oscar for Best Picture, among several other accolades.
Million Dollar Baby is more than just a sports movie as it also underlines the value of relationships and life in general.
The plot is based on Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) who is a waitress but aspires to be a professional boxer. She approaches renowned trainer Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood), owner of a boxing gym and someone who has coached successful fighters, but he initially refuses to train the 31-year-old because of her gender.
Dunn is also batting personal problems, living a lonely life away from an estranged daughter, with only a handful of friends. But after watching Fitzgerald’s determination and passion to become an athlete, he gets convinced and the two go on to form a special bond. He helps Fitzgerald reach to the top, where she is on the cusp of becoming a world champion before a tragedy completely changes her life (no spoilers here).
– Chosen by Nicolai Nayak
The Cup is a Tibetan film that depicts how the love for football dwells within a Tibetan monastery in exile in the Bir town in the Indian Himalayas. Despite its strict discipline and aversion to pop culture, the monastery largely consisting of young monks gets gripped with the fever of the biggest sporting event of the world – the Fifa World Cup.
Directed by Khyentse Norbu, who’s a Bhutanese lama, The Cup is a comical depiction of how young monks from the monastery do what no monk is ever permitted to do: step into the town and watch games of the 1998 Fifa World Cup.
Their love for the sports is made evident from them playing regular games of football in the picturesque Himalayas, drawing graffiti of football stars of the past, and spending a large chunk of their free time with sports magazines and trading football flags. The monastery becomes a miniature version of the world during a Fifa World Cup.
The story takes a twist when Geko, the lead character, and his friends’ regular ventures into the town are intercepted, thus ending their hopes of following the business end of the World Cup.
But Geko and his fellow monks convince the lama to let them watch the final. The lama usually a model of discipline showing little emotions, portrays his human side by granting permission of a screening of sorts for the young monks. The struggle doesn’t end there as Geko and his friends toil hard to arrange money for renting a satellite dish and a TV to watch the final.
With the monks supporting France for their support for the cause of Tibet, Geko and his friends are granted a happy ending as France beat Brazil in the final to lift the World Cup.
The first feature film to have ever been shot in Bhutan is not a typical sports movie but encapsulates the emotions of the most important aspect of sports: its fans.
Paan Singh Tomar
This is a 2012 Bollywood film that is a biographical representation of the life of Paan Singh Tomar – a seven-time national champion in steeplechase. It is a crude representation of the disregard prevalent in India’s administration and society for its sportsmen.
The movie narrates the heart-wrenching tale of Tomar who goes from being an army officer to an Asian games athlete for India before an ugly family feud forces him to become a dacoit after the country’s bureaucracy fails to help him regain his lost land.
The lack of support from society and especially the sporting world leaves Tomar so heart-broken that he builds his own gang in the Chambal valley of central India to exact revenge from his relative Bhanwar Singh who kills his brother.
Tomar manages to escape from the police after killing Bhanwar Singh who’s under police protection and is undiscovered until a journalist who manages to trace Pan Singh Tomar published an interview of his life story.
After the story creates a stir, the police resume search of Tomar. Despite being asked to surrender by his family and former coach, Tomar holds his guard and is eventually killed to bring an end to a heart-breaking narrative of a once budding sporting talent of India.
This Tigmanshu Dhulia film won the award for the Best Feature Film at the 60th National Film Awards, while Irfan Khan who played Tomar was awarded Best Actor. The film was also acclaimed internationally.
– Chosen by Kaushal Shukla
No, you don’t have to be a baseball fan to enjoy this brilliant Brad Pitt-starrer. That’s the reason one may find sports fans in India having an initial reservation to watch Moneyball, which is based on the true story of Oakland Athletics GM Billy Beane played by Pitt.
The movie only needed a peripheral knowledge of the game as it is more about a radical new approach based on statistics that took the Major League Baseball by storm at the turn of the century. Even for someone who doesn’t follow baseball, the movie remains thoroughly engaging and inspiring in equal measures.
It is one of those rare sports movies that works just as a movie and not based on providing cheap thrills to fans. The performances of Pitt, Jonah Hill and Philip Seymour Hoffman elevate this movie to a different level. It’s rare to find a sports movie that works despite not building up to an obvious crescendo and that’s where Moneyball stands out.
This is no Lagaan. This is not, by any means, a perfect movie. There are plenty of problematic sequences that one often finds in commercial South Indian films with regards to the portrayal of women and the need for item numbers and what not.
Despite all that, Chennai 28 worked (and still does) as a cricket movie because it connected big time with the gully cricket-loving populace of Tamil Nadu.
At it’s best, Chennai 28 was a movie made by and made for cricket fans. It’s the story of the rivalry between two teams playing club level cricket but mostly focused on the players of one team who are friends first and cricket players after that. Some of the sequences have reached cult status in the ridiculously popular meme-nation that Tamil Nadu has become.
If you ever wondered why Chennai Super Kings has the popularity it does in the city, if you ever asked yourself what’s so special about playing street or club cricket, this movie will leave you convinced about the game’s mad popularity.
– Chosen by Vinayakk Mohanarangan
There are, of course, many more great sports movies. let us know which are the ones you’d recommend watching. Tweet to us @thefield_in or let us know in the comments section.