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Friday, April 6, 2012

Celebrate Opening Day with Great Baseball Flicks

Yesterday the Blue Jays played the longest game in Opening Day history and, after 16 innings, won the game 7-4. To celebrate, film critic Kirk Baird has put together a great list of baseball-themed films for your to display at your library.
  • Bull Durham (1988): Writer-director Ron Shelton’s masterpiece, an ode to the great game, features terrific turns by Kevin Costner as career minor leaguer “Crash” Davis, a catcher with smarts, but not enough talent; Tim Robbins as Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh, a pitcher with fire in his arm and mush in his head; and Susan Sarandon as small-town baseball groupie Annie Savoy who can’t choose between the two. 
  • Field of Dreams (1989): The second of Costner’s baseball classics, it’s the fantastical story of an Iowa corn farmer compelled to build a baseball field in the middle of nowhere, and the lives it touches. And just like that, the lasting meme “Build it and they will come” was born. 
  • Eight Men Out (1988): Writer-director John Sayles fields an impressive cast (John Cusack, Charlie Sheen, D.B. Sweeney) for the true story of the Chicago Black Sox scandal, when underpaid players took bribes to deliberately throw the 1919 World Series. This fascinating drama offers a far more empathetic view of the players than history, which has vilified them and their deeds for decades.
  • A League of Their Own (1992): With men serving overseas during World War II, our national pastime grounded to halt until a group of athletic women took up bats, balls, and baseball mitts to keep the game alive. Gina Davis stars as ace catcher and power hitter Dottie Hinson; Tom Hanks is the drunken but lovable manager; and Madonna and Rosie O’Donnell are a pair of star players. 
  • The Bad News Bears (1976): Buttermaker (Walter Matthau) is a former Major League Player-turned pool cleaner. He drinks too much. Smokes too much. And curses too much. He makes the perfect Little League baseball coach. Buttermaker teams up with his ex-girlfriend’s teenage daughter (Tatum O’Neal), who has a rocket for an arm, to change the baseball fortunes of the perennially bad Bad News Bears. A comedy that’s unabashedly non-politically correct, The Bad News Bears proved to be the blueprint for underdog films. (See Slap Shot, The Mighty Ducks, and Little Giants.) 
  • The Pride of the Yankees (1942): Gary Cooper was nominated for an Oscar for his performance as legendary baseball player Lou Gehrig. A classic biopic of a beloved baseball player’s life cut tragically short by disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis aka Lou Gehrig’s Disease), the drama features several real-life New York Yankees teammates as themselves, including Babe Ruth. And who can forget the famous farewell address to players and fans by “the luckiest man on the face of the planet”?
  • The Natural (1984): Robert Redford stars as a once-promising baseball pitcher whose career is derailed by tragedy. He claws his way back to the majors and with his special bat, makes a comeback for the ages. The cast is loaded—Robert Duvall, Glenn Close, Kim Basinger, Barbara Hershey, Joe Don Baker, Richard Farnsworth, and Wilford Brimley—and director Barry Levinson delivers a roaring crowd-pleaser featuring an iconic score by Randy Newman.
  • Major League (1989): The Cleveland Indians are a down-on-their-luck franchise, and the new owner wants to make things even worse so she can relocate the team to another city. She assembles a group of past-their-prime veterans and quirky misfits to ensure a losing season. Then the team—led by the catcher Jake Taylor (Tom Berenger) and pitcher Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn (Charlie Sheen)—begins winning. This comedy classic spawned two sequels: Major League II (1994) and Major League: Back to the Minors (1998).
  • The Jackie Robinson Story (1950): The triumphs and pitfalls of the first black Major League Baseball player is chronicled in this biopic by the man who knew the story best, Jackie Robinson. Not only did Robinson play himself, he provides a better than you’d expect performance as well.
  • The Sandlot (1993): In this funny and touching film, friendship and adventure are key themes in a nostalgic look at a group of neighborhood boys in 1962 Los Angeles bonded by baseball and a baseball-eating dog known as “The Beast.” 
  • Bang the Drum Slowly (1973): Robert DeNiro gained his first acting accolades—followed quickly by his role later that year in Mean Streets—as a terminally ill baseball catcher. Michael Moriarty plays the team’s star pitcher who befriends him and helps him through the season.
  • The Stratton Story (1949): A hunting accident costs star pitcher Monty Stratton (Jimmy Stewart) his leg. But Stratton refuses to give up the game he loves, and fights to play on with an artificial wooden leg. Based on a true story, the drama won an Oscar for its screenplay.
And let's not forget some great baseball documentaries:
  • Baseball (1994, 2010): Famed documentarian Ken Burns focuses on America’s National Pastime in this acclaimed PBS series. At nearly 19 hours long, this remarkable documentary is exhaustive in historic details and rich in insight. In 2010, Burns revisited his film with a two-part update entitled “The Tenth Inning,” which addressed baseball’s major stories since his first film: steroids, a strike, and a league championship for the ages.
  • The Lost Son of Havana (2009): Luis Tiant was 20 when he left Cuba in 1961 to play professional baseball in the United States. A pitcher with an arsenal of weapons to confound batters, Tiant played in the big leagues for 19 seasons. More than 45 years after he left Cuba, Tiant, accompanied by a documentary film crew, made an emotional return to his former home and family.
  • When It Was a Game (1991, 1992, 2000): HBO’s acclaimed trio of documentaries features mostly color home movie footage of classic-era baseball games and its iconic players from the 1920s through the 1960s. 
The following flicks might not be the ones you immediately think of when it comes to baseball movies. But they're definitely worth checking out.
  • 61* (2001): Roger Maris, Mickey Mantel, and the story of their electrifying home run race. 
  • The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Movie Kings (1976): A comedy about Negro League-era baseball starring Billy Dee Williams, James Earl Jones, and Richard Pryor. 
  • Damn Yankees! (1958): Based on the Broadway musical about a Washington Senators fan who makes a pact with the Devil to help his team win.
  • The Pride of St. Louis (1952): The story of famed pitcher “Dizzy” Dean.
  • Fear Strikes Out (1957): Anthony Perkins stars in this true story of a baseball player who battled mental illness.
  • Chasing 3000 (2008): Two brothers drive cross-country to see Roberto Clemente get his 3000th hit.
  • Cobb (1994): Tommy Lee Jones gives life to baseball legend and polarizing player Ty Cobb.
  • The Bronx is Burning (2007): This critically-praised ESPN mini-series examines the 1977 New York Yankees, its roller-coaster regular season, and winning the World Series.
  • For the Love of the Game (1999): Kevin Costner plays an aging pitcher who flashes back through his life while playing his final game. 
  • The Rookie (2002): Dennis Quaid plays a Texas high school baseball coach given one final opportunity to make it in the big leagues.
  • The Slugger’s Wife (1985): Neil Simon’s story of a baseball phenomenon whose career year begins to fade with his relationship troubles. 
  • Soul of the Game (1996): Three Negro League stars—Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, and Jackie Robinson—compete to be the first African American in Major League Baseball.
  • This Old Cub (2004): Filmmaker Jeff Santo explores the life and career of his father, Chicago Cubs great Ron Santo.
Happy Opening Day!

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