Tuesday, 20 October 2015

TIFF's Out-of-the-park Baseball Filmography

The Blue Jays. As you may have heard, they're doing kind of all right this season. And who knows what comes next?
Twenty-two years without a win. A city and a country rallying behind the team and dreaming big. The underdogs no one thought could do it coming through in the clutch... It's practically a screenplay already.
In honour of the Jays' victory in the AL East – and to give you something else to focus on if you ever decide to take a break from the wall-to-wall coverage of their post-season run – here's our list of baseball films to get you pumped (and emotional, and/or maybe a little confused) for the playoffs. 

5. Pride of the Yankees d. Sam Wood

Sam Wood's Pride of the Yankees was released only 13 months after Lou Gehrig died of ALS, the disease that bears his name. Star Gary Cooper earned an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of the recently departed player, and his delivery of the speech in the video above is a big part of the reason. If you can listen to this line - "People all say that I've had a bad break. But today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth." - without tearing up a little, you might be a robot. 

4. I Will Buy You d. Masaki Kobayashi

It's not your standard baseball movie, but that's what makes Masaki Kobayashi's scathing 1956 critique of the Japanese baseball system so fascinating. Most of the film focuses on heated negotiations among unscrupulous and greedy people who want to "buy" Kurita, a promising player, and get him on their team. There may not be a ton of on-the-field action in the film, but it's definitely a contest of wills. And if you're hoping for one of those uplifting sports movie come-from-behind victories (spoiler alert) this might not be the one for you.

3. Spaceman: A Baseball Odyssey d. Brett Rapkin

There's never been a player quite like Bill Lee, AKA Spaceman. And there may never be another. A talented left-handed pitcher (he played for the Red Sox from 1969-1978, and then the Montreal Expos from 1979-1982), his behaviour off the field made him a controversial figure and eventually led the Expos to release him from his contract, ending his pro career.
What was that behaviour? This documentary, which follows him from his farm on a trip to Cuba and then on a triumphant return to Fenway Park, might give you some idea: he publicly talked up his marijuana use, praised Maoist China, promoted Greenpeace, encouraged population control and once threatened to bite off the ear – or "Van Gogh" – an umpire for a call he disliked. Throughout his career and his life, Lee has earned his nickname. 

2. A League of Their Own d. Penny Marshall

There's no crying in baseball. But there is copious laughter in A League of Their Own, alongside some sports and cultural history that time otherwise might have forgot. The All-American Girls’ Professional Baseball League, founded by Chicago Cubs owner Philip K. Wrigley during World War II when many male players had marched off to join the fighting, was not well known in 1992 when the film came out.
As Roger Ebert put it at the time, "Until seeing [it], I had no idea that an organization named the All-American Girls’ Professional Baseball League ever flourished in this country, even though I was 12 when it closed up shop." Ebert also pointed out that the film is about more than baseball: "Marshall shows her women characters in a tug-of-war between new images and old values, and so her movie is about transition—about how it felt as a woman suddenly to have new roles and freedom." Sports films often tell mens' stories. This one's an exceptional exception. 

1. The Natural d. Barry Levinson

Bill Simmons once wrote that "any 'Best Sports Movies' list that doesn't feature either Hoosiers or The Natural as the No. 1 pick shouldn't even count." Far be it from us to deny him. What more do you want? Roberts Redford and Duvall. Glenn Close. Barbara Hershey as a deranged serial killer. Wilford Brimley. All coming together for a film that tells a baseball story like it's a Homeric myth.
Does everyone love this movie? Nope. But more than 30 years after it was released, it's still inspiring passionate conversations about both filmmaking and the sport of baseball. 

No comments:

Post a Comment