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Fantasy football

A collection of comedies and dramas that score as well as the big game

(Superdeux)
February 6, 2011

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This was supposed to be a story about movie patriots.

To honor the latest Super Bowl journey of your New England Patriots, we’d planned a look back at great statesmen portrayed onscreen by men like Jimmy Stewart, Raymond Massey, and Mel Gibson (when he could be trusted with a musket). But then Tom Brady’s seemingly invincible outfit got run over by the New York Jets, and Super Sunday took on a whole different tone — one that sounded less like fife and drum music and more like the scrape of a thousand snowplows taunting “NAH NAH NAH NAH NAH!’’

Today, there will be football fans who want no part of TV’s Packers/Steelers matchup (dynasties schmynasties), just as there will be those who still can’t get enough of gridiron fare in whatever form it’s available. For all of them, and even for those who don’t know a good sports movie from “The Replacements,’’ what follows is a collection of pigskin-flavored classics worth revisiting, as well as some newer selections, and a few timeless oddities meant to amuse more than inspire.

With hundreds of worthy football films out there, we know this small, rather random list is bound to leave out many people’s favorites. And it’s worth noting that “Knute Rockne All American’’ isn’t included because it’s part of a Ronald Reagan centennial DVD collection highlighted on page N16. But how could we skip over “Jim Thorpe: All American,’’ “Rudy,’’ “The Program,’’ and “The Blind Side’’? What about showing a little Tom Cruise love for “All the Right Moves’’ and “Jerry Maguire’’? Exactly. That’s why you should hop straight over to Boston.com/footballfilms and give a shout out to the movies you like best.

Think of it as therapy. Maybe next year you won’t need the diversion, and we’ll have reason to revive that movie patriots idea.

REMEMBER THE TITANS (2000): This is your typical feel-good sports movie, a bit better than most, and its tale of school desegregation will remind Bostonians of the 1970s. Based on a true story, the film centers on a Virginia high school where Herman Boone (Denzel Washington) is brought on board to replace a popular (white) football coach. The movie features a lineup of recognizable faces, including Ryan Gosling, Kate Bosworth, Donald Faison, Ethan Suplee, Wood Harris, and Hayden Panettiere. Their solid performances move the chains nicely; you’ll get some laughs and a few tear-jerkings along the way. Worry not, men, it’s OK to cry during a sports movie.

DAN SHAUGHNESSY

NORTH DALLAS FORTY (1979): You want authentic pigskin? This is the uncured stuff and it wasn’t NFL-certified. Peter Gent, who wrote the best-selling novel about the computerized Cowboys of the ’70s, played for Dallas, and his themes (violence, fear, drugs, manipulation, hypocrisy) still resonate. “There’s pieces of me scattered from here to Pittsburgh,’’ observes Nick Nolte’s battered ballcatcher, whose Monday breakfast is painkillers and beer. The cast is flavored with multiple pro players, most notably John Matuszak, whose locker-room rant is riveting. “Every time I call it a game, you say it’s a business,’’ the Tooz tells an assistant coach. “Every time I say it’s a business, you call it a game.’’

JOHN POWERS

THE BAND THAT WOULDN’T DIE (2009) and STRAIGHT OUTTA L.A. (2010): ESPN’s “30 for 30’’ DVD collection is essential viewing for movie buffs who are sports fans. Its football offerings include an autopsy of the USFL (“Small Potatoes’’) and a profile of Rasta running back Ricky Williams (“Run Ricky Run’’). But two of its most transcendent documentaries involve teams that switched cities, leaving fans in the lurch. Directed by Ice Cube, “Straight Outta L.A.’’ explains how the LA Raiders accessorized the birth of West Coast hip-hop and continue to hold an exalted place in Southern California gang culture even after their move back to Oakland. That film’s gleeky cousin is “The Band That Wouldn’t Die,’’ director Barry Levinson’s latest love letter to Baltimore and its people, some of whom kept the Colts marching band alive long after the team crept off to Indianapolis. They were eventually instrumental (sorry) in convincing entrepreneurs that a loyal fan base awaited the Ravens. This is football as social commentary, and social commentary as football. JANICE PAGE

THE BEST OF TIMES (1986): A forgotten ’80s classic, “Best’’ turns the unrelenting pressures of small-town football into neurotic farce. Robin Williams, at his squirmiest, plays the guy who dropped the ball in the big game in high school; 13 years later, he still can’t get on with his life. So he talks his old quarterback (Kurt Russell) and the other players into a replay. It’s broad and predictable but it gets me every damn time it turns up on cable — especially the return of Kid Lester. Ron Shelton (“Bull Durham’’) wrote the script. TY BURR

LUCAS (1986): Scrawny, nerdily bespectacled Corey Haim meets Kerri Green and becomes understandably besotted. As is the way with such relationships, she prefers a tall, darker, brawnier, more athletic man and turns to Charlie Sheen, the star of the football team. Desperate to woo the girl, the nerd joins the football team. He winds up in the hospital, but the whole town — if not Green — falls madly in love with him. Winona Ryder, as her earliest outcast, loved him first, but never mind. (If only we could have known the trouble that would come the cast’s way.) Too many football movies are based on a true story. This one is simply based on life.

WESLEY MORRIS

EVERYBODY’S ALL-AMERICAN (1988): Dennis Quaid has been a double threat on the movie gridiron: a quarterback in “Any Given Sunday’’ (1999), a halfback here. Regardless of position, a back is only as good as his linemen. The best thing in “Everybody’s All-American’’ is that Quaid has John Goodman blocking for him, figuratively as well as literally. Goodman even gets his very own Dan Connolly moment early in the movie — leading to the winning touchdown in the Sugar Bowl, no less. MARK FEENEY

THE LONGEST YARD (1974) Lefty Hollywood filmmaker Robert Aldrich had a sly ability to subvert his he-man genre assignments, i.e., making Mickey Spillane’s far-right detective hero, Mike Hammer, an unhinged psychopath in 1955’s “Kiss Me, Deadly.’’ Ditto “The Longest Yard,’’ in which the multicultural prison football team at Citrus State Penitentiary, quarterbacked by a jailbird Burt Reynolds, are a rowdy, anti-authoritarian wild bunch, more likely to shout “Free Attica!’’ than “Go Pats!’’ Reynolds’s Paul “Wrecking’’ Crewe was shaped to combine Joe Namath’s duende with Bobby Layne’s mighty throwing arm. And Eddie Albert’s fascistic, pigskin-crazy warden? Aldrich later declared, “Eddie Albert is Nixon!’’

GERALD PEARY

INVINCIBLE (2006): Before Mark Wahlberg put on boxing gloves for the real-life drama “The Fighter,’’ he donned a Philadelphia Eagles uniform for this real-life saga about Vince Papale, a down-on-his-luck South Philly bartender plucked from obscurity in 1976 to play for the Eagles. From the opening credits of a rundown working-class neighborhood to Vince’s gutsy moves on the field, veteran cinematographer and first-time director Ericson Core overcomes underdog-to-hero clichés to give this film authentic grit. LOREN KING

THE LAST BOY SCOUT (1991): Wishing you had a more exciting game to watch than tonight’s ho-hum, Pats-less matchup? Thinking you might just pop in some mindlessly diverting shoot-’em-up instead? Thanks to style-addicted, logic-pshawing director Tony Scott, the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive. This Bruce Willis-Damon Wayans slice of pyrotechnic preposterousness memorably opens with a mob-threatened running back making sure his team beats the spread — by pulling out a gun on the field and blasting his way into the end zone. Just the thing for anyone who finds the extreme football-related jeopardy depicted in “Black Sunday’’ to be a little too subtle. TOM RUSSO

HEAVEN CAN WAIT (1978): Warren Beatty plays an LA Rams quarterback whose Super Bowl drive is cut short by an angel (Buck Henry) prematurely sending him to heaven. The imperial James Mason reincarnates Beatty in the body of a millionaire just murdered by his wife (Dyan Cannon) and her lover (Charles Grodin). Oblivious to the madcap plotting, Beatty just wants to play ball. He buys the Rams, convinces his team “It’s me!,’’ and falls for Julie Christie. More romantic screwball fantasy than hardcore sports flick, “Heaven Can Wait’’ gently critiques jockdom. Better yet is the nostalgia-inducing, Pro Bowl lineup of ’70s stars. ETHAN GILSDORF

M*A*S*H (1970) and HORSE FEATHERS (1932): There are two candidates for wackiest screen football game — or at least intentionally wackiest. “M*A*S*H’’ offers actual NFL players — Ben Davidson, Buck Buchanan, Jack Concannon, Noland Smith, Fran Tarkenton, and that blaxploitation beau ideal, Fred Williamson — along with Elliott Gould and Donald Sutherland. Let’s just say that on the plausibility scale the game ranks right up there with Gould and Sutherland as Army officers during the Korean War. “Horse Feathers’’ has the Marx brothers doing to a football game what they do to “Il Trovatore,’’ in “A Night at the Opera.’’ The term economists use is “creative destruction.’’ On a more serious note, Groucho, playing the president of Huxley College, declares, “The trouble is we’re neglecting football for education.’’ If the NCAA doesn’t have a motto already, it does now. M.F.

HARVARD BEATS YALE 29-29 (2008): You want real football on screen? That’s what Kevin Rafferty’s documentary provides. There’s lots of footage from the famous 1968 game between the traditional Ivy rivals, which ended in a tie after Harvard scored 16 points in the final 42 seconds. More than that, though, and this is what makes the film so memorable (the title tells you how the game comes out, right?), is the way it’s a meditation on aging and character. Rafferty conducted talking-head interviews with many of the players (one of them is onetime Harvard lineman Tommy Lee Jones), and to see these men four decades after their exploits on the field is to be reminded that time is the one opponent no team can defeat. M.F.

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Football movie classics

Pigskin films worth revisiting, some newer selections, and a few timeless oddities.

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