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Bull Durham & 299 Better Movies

Bull Durham & 299 Better Movies

I love movies. Most people like ‘em, some are ambivalent…I love ’em.

I used to love television but then the new millennium arrived. What took 50 years to build took just five to turn into the “vast wasteland” Misters Minow & Martin presaged.

Movies are what we wish life could be. Does that make me a dreamer? “You beeeeet (Chief).” There are worse epitaphs.

I love the studio motifs.

There’s the Warner Bros. WB (40s), the MGM feline (50s snarler), Columbia torch-lady, the Universal plane n’ planet & silent-globe (60s – 80s), Paramount’s majestic mountain, RKO Radio’s beeping electro-tower and the crème de la crème that can still send shivers up my spine, 20th Century – Fox’ spotlight & horn hurray.

Hell, I even like the closing credits. Something about completeness, gratitude. Today’s network chiseler scoffs at such emotions, as they leave the artists names on the cutting room floor to make room for the 10,000th promo we just saw five minutes back.

I clarify, I love vintage movies: the silents, shorts, 30s thugs & cockeyed romance, 40s film noir & combat, westerns, musicals, post-War neo (Ita), kitchen-sink (Brit) and any other realism, 70s angst, 80s comedy-drama, 90s action-epics, I love ‘em all.

Today’s typical film, though big, brassy & oh-so sure, just isn’t very compelling.

Apart from a few rare birds (The Pianist and Ray), most fail the S-test: style, skill & subtle sensibilities.

The gross receipts ($) and accolades (somebody’s gotta win Oscar®) give a present validation. But will Harry Potter, Chicago, Lord of the Rings, Million Dollar Baby, Gladiator, No Country for Old Men and Argo have the staying power, substance to bridge generations and stand the test of time? I wonder.

As one noted critic recently bemoaned, ‘when you leave a theater today you just feel like killing yourself.’ That’s not a new mood (America, America). Some films don’t digest easy. But where in the past, pain might work the heart & soul, in 2014 it’s less a companion to despair & cause to reflect and too often side-car to selfish aggression or gratuitous, extreme violence.

Makers today sneer at feelings, afraid to take chances and go beyond basics (lust, fear, brutality, goof, machismo), then take endless pleasure in the ghoulish & grotesque like an odd child. And who can blame ‘em? Nobody’s complaining but moi and that critic.

But you don’t get to The Red Shoes or Cuckoo’s Nest weaned on rap & The Simpsons.

To the studio-heads it’s all about kids, the most malleable market, ignoring the possibility youngsters might actually embrace a higher standard. The trends: computerized action & animation, endless re-makes, excessive brutality and then mawkish, safe sentimentality.

Even the film stock gives the creeps, casting a weird yellow hue over a digital clarity that leaves nothing to imagination. So much for “the stuff that dreams are made of.”

Am I too harsh? I concede, black & white film forced one to feel. It’s in the celluloid. Technicolor® wasn’t invented to make us think. And then our creative predecessors (1920s – 70s), they lived “the stuff that dreams are made of,” privy to a wealth of subject matter that’s just not around today. So there’s that.

Some of today’s movie makers do care and it shows in their work. But if I’m too critical, the mass of moguls (& writers) couldn’t care less. And maybe that’s the point.

So when I want some contemporary fare on my diversion plate, I reach for sport.

It has its share of disturbing trends, too (PEDs, Nike’s logo blitzkrieg, rage-a-holics, IR, greed), but what are ya’ gonna’ do, go to the movies? I don’t need the stress.

I played as a kid (fair-to-good, depending on day & coach) and soaked it up on the tube. ABC’s Wide World of Sport was the topper, eye-opening and educational (Cosell & Ali).

On that diamond of dreams we call cinema, sport is merely a spot player. Though a capable hitter with reliable glove, even when it manages to make the cinematic line-up card the sport theme rarely hits a home run.

That’s not to say there aren’t some sluggers & aces out there, fine flicks that use the sport-vehicle to tickle our funny bone (Tin Cup), tug at our heart strings (The Natural), expose human frailty (The Hustler) or inspire us to greater heights (Rocky). It’s just that, superb sport films come along about as often as Chicago makes the playoffs. Not very.

Most fall into two categories: slapsticky (Kingpin / Slap Shot / The Great Race) or syrupy (The Pride of the Yankees / Jim Thorpe: All-American / The Winning Team). Heart-felt and fun to watch but usually not worth $14.95 to add it to your DVD collection.

But there are some Cadillacs mixed in with the clunkers.

To coincide with the upcoming 86th annual Academy Awards gala (ABC / 3-2 / 8E), I’ve listed alphabetically the 300 best films this writer has seen, most on the small screen, including those terrific tales of tumultuous merriment that can hold their own against any of moviedom’s finest, from Waterloo Bridge (40) to Dances with Wolves (93).

A fan of classic film, no surprise then that the bulk of my best were seen on TCM. Makes one wonder why Turner (stb Comcast: Is there a monopoly FTC & JD won’t a-ok?) hasn’t done the same resurrection thing for classic TV (TCTV?). Food for thought.

IFC and AMC used to be regular destinations but when a new team dumbed-it-down and spliced in so many commercials I’d forget the movie, I passed. But before I bailed, IFC was a fine place to find hidden gems, some which I’ve included here: The Station Agent, My Brilliant Career, Los Lunes al Sol and Amores Perros.

So, if you like sport you’ll enjoy these films. Think of it like this: sport is action, action can be dramatic, drama goes hand-in-hand with romance which can turn silly or horror filled (Fatal Attraction) when you just wish Scotty would beam you up to sci-fi’s most luxurious mobile motel. Everything’s connected.

Notable Omissions

Casablanca (42): I’m with Ingrid & Paul on this over-sold, thin melodrama: ‘What’s all the fuss?’ Go figure how a cuckold love-triangle could get so much traction. Give me Now Voyager (Henreid), To Have & Have Not (Bogart) and Gaslight (Bergman), any day.

Citizen Kane (41): For a man (& network (CBS)) who should’ve done time for inciting panic (The War of the Worlds / ‘38), Orson Welles sure got the love. Better to pass on Kane and give look-see to his better ‘life progression’ story, The Magnificent Ambersons, or take in his brief but memorable performance in the haunting tale told in The Third Man.

Field of Dreams (‘89): A publicist’s dream. All the bells & whistles, but this one took more liberties than a drunken sailor on leave (See; The Last Detail). Fantasy is fun (The Ghost and Mrs. Muir) but oh…my…god. Coddling Joe was bad enough but casting a perfume model as ‘dear old Dad’ was the last straw. A disjointed, far-fetched mix of Topper, Back to the Future, The Time Machine, The Invisible Man and Highway to Heaven.

Titanic (‘97): Juvenile take on a tragic event. Staking the movie on an illicit, sexual tryst between a teenage boy and fickle co-ed in midst of this commotion, I found not only trite but nearly offensive as a historian and lover of filmdom. Only thing worse than passing over a great work is showering a bad one with accolades. Pull the cork on this floater.

The Graduate (67): Diss on this culty and you might start a riot. The score is indelible (Grusin & Simon), the mature actors make it interesting and Dustin is an American icon (how he didn’t take Oscar® for Little Big Man & Tootsie I’ll never know), but “Ben” is as unlikely as he is unlikable and “Elaine” is pretty. The closing message is unclear (‘careful what you wish’ or ‘have your cake & eat it’), but by then it doesn‘t matter.

Ignoble Omissions

Toughest part in listing, be it grocery tab or Bill of Rights, is deciding what goes in, what’s left out. It’s what had the Founders fretting in Philly that sweltering summer of ‘87. What do you do with a marvelous musical score but simple storyline, a perfect performance with a poor ending? In some way, shape or form, it’s gotta’ be special.

My greatest shame is knowing I’ve left out some terrific movies. Unless you’re Bob Osborne or Ben Mankiewicz (TCM) you could live to 100 and still never see ’em all. But you do your best, revel in your selectees and look forward to the new discoveries down the road. Like the ‘boys of summer (1787)’ figured, lists can be amended.

Note: While Robert Osborne and Drew Barrymore pack their “Essentials® (TCM)” with the likes of Auntie Mame (58) and How to Marry a Millionaire (53), I’ve dug a bit deeper, bold-typing the sporting flicks but also some ‘hidden gems’ that might make ya’ ponder, definitely crack a smile and maybe even tear-up. They don’t miss a beat.

A Big Hand for the Little Lady (66)

A Christmas Carol (38)

A Cry in the Dark (88)

A Face in the Crowd (57)

A Family Thing (96)

A Man for All Seasons (66)

A Patch of Blue (65)

A Raisin in the Sun (61)

A Star is Born (37)

A Tale of Two Cities (35)

A Time for Drunken Horses (00)

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (45)

Alfie (66)

Alien (79)

Aliens (86)

All the President’s Men (76)

Alone in the Wilderness (68)

American Graffiti (73)

Amores Perros (00)

Anatomy of a Murder (59)

Anne of the Thousand Days (69)

Annie Hall (77)

Apocalypse Now (79)

Atlantic City (80)

Babette’s Feast (87)

Barfly (87)

Battle of the Bulge (65)

Ben-Hur (59)

Big (88)

Blackboard Jungle (55)

Blood on the Moon (‘48)

Body and Soul (47)

Bonnie and Clyde (67)

Boogie Nights (97)

Born Yesterday (50)

Brian’s Song (71)

Bringing Up Baby (38)

Bound for Glory (76)

Bride of Frankenstein (35)

Bull Durham (88)

Caddyshack (80)

Caged (50)

Captains Courageous (37)

Charade (63)

Chinatown (74)

City Slickers (91)

Clash of the Titans (81)

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (77)

Contact (97)

Cool Hand Luke (67)

Cop Land (97)

Crime in the Streets (56)

Cross of Iron (77)

Dance, Girl, Dance (40)

Dances with Wolves (90)

Das Boot (81)

Deliverance (72)

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (88)

Doctor Zhivago (65)

Dog Day Afternoon (75)

Dr. No (62)

Dr. Strangelove (64)

Drugstore Cowboy (89)

Easy Rider (69)

Empire of the Sun (87)

Ex-Lady (33)

F/X (86)

Fargo (96)

Fat City (72)

Father Goose (64)

Five Easy Pieces (70)

Forbidden Planet (56)

49th Parallel (41)

French Connection II (75)

Gandhi (82)

Giant (56)

Gigi (58)

Godzilla (54)

Going My Way (44)

Goldfinger (64)

Gone with the Wind (39)

Good Fellas (90)

Goodbye, Mr. Chips (39)

Grand Prix (66)

Grass (25)

Great Expectations (46)

Green Card (90)

Groundhog Day (93)

Harold and Maude (71)

Hell is for Heroes (62)

High Noon (52)

Highlander (86)

Hobson’s Choice (54)

Holiday Affair (49)

Horror of Dracula (58)

How Green Was My Valley (41)

In Cold Blood (67)

Inherit the Wind (60)

It Started With Eve (41)

It’s a Wonderful Life (46)

In the Good Old Summertime (49)

In the Heat of the Night (67)

Invasion of the Body-snatchers (56)

Ironweed (87)

Jackie Brown (97)

Jason and the Argonauts (63)

Jaws (75)

Jean de Florette (86)

Jeremiah Johnson (72)

JFK (91)

Joy of Living (38)

Jurassic Park (93)

Kelly’s Heroes (70)

King Kong (33)

King Rat (65)

Knife in the Water (62)

La Grande Illusion (37)

La Strada (54)

Ladies of Leisure (30)

Lassie Come Home (43)

Lawrence of Arabia (62)

Le Mans (71)

Libel (59)

Little Big Man (70)

Little Caesar (31)

Lonely Are the Brave (62)

Los Lunes al Sol (02)

Love Finds Andy Hardy (38)

Lover Come Back (61)

Lust for Life (56)

Lydia (41)

M (31)

Malaya (49)

Mad Max (79)

Marie Antoinette (38)

Marty (55)

Matewan (87)

Meet Me in St. Louis (44)

Meet the Parents (00)

Midnight Cowboy (69)

Midnight Run (88)

Miller’s Crossing (90)

Moby Dick (56)

Monte Walsh (70)

Mr. 3000 (04)

Mrs. Miniver (42)

Multiplicity (96)

Murder, My Sweet (44)

Murphy’s War (71)

Mutiny on the Bounty (35)

My Brilliant Career (79)

National Velvet (44)

On the Waterfront (54)

One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest (75)

Ordinary People (80)

Overboard (87)

Paisan (46)

Paper Moon (73)

Papillon (73)

Pather Panchali (55)

Patton (70)

Phenomenon (96)

Planes, Trains & Automobiles (87)

Planet of the Apes (68)

Platoon (86)

Pygmalion (38)

Quatermass and the Pit (67)

Raging Bull (80)

Requiem for a Heavyweight (62)

Rio Bravo (59)

Rollerball (75)

Rome, Open City (46)

Ronin (98)

Ray (04)

Rebel Without a Cause (55)

Red River (48)

Riso Amaro (49)

Sands of Iwo Jima (49)

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (60)

Seven Samurai (54)

Shane (53)

Sid and Nancy (86)

Sidewalks of London (St.Martin’s Lane) (38)

Singin’ in the Rain (52)

So Long at the Fair (50)

Sounder (72)

Some Like It Hot (59)

Soylent Green (73)

Spartacus (60)

Stalag 17 (53)

Sugarland Express (74)

Sweet Adeline (35)

Swing Time (36)

Tarzan the Ape Man (32)

Taxi Driver (76)

Tender Mercies (83)

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (91)

The Adventures of Robin Hood (38)

The African Queen (51)

The Asphalt Jungle (50)

The Bad News Bears (76)

The Best Years of Our Lives (46)

The Bicycle Thief (48)

The Big Country (58)

The Breaking Point (50)

The Bridge on the River Kwai (57)

The Cable Guy (96)

The Clock (45)

The Corn is Green (45)

The Day of the Jackal (73)

The Deer Hunter (78)

The Exorcist (73)

The Fly (58)

The Fourth Protocol (87)

The Fugitive (93)

The Glass Key (42)

The Godfather (72)

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (66)

The Goodbye Girl (77)

The Grapes of Wrath (39)

The Great McGinty (40)

The Hidden (87)

The Hitch-Hiker (53)

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (39)

The Hustler (61)

The Incredible Shrinking Man (57)

The L-Shaped Room (62)

The Last Detail (73)

The Last Picture Show (71)

The Last Round: Chuvalo vs Ali (03)

The Longest Day (62)

The Love Bug (69)

The Magnificent Ambersons (42)

The Maltese Falcon (41)

The Man With the Golden Arm (55)

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (62)

The Man Who Would be King (75)

The Misfits (61)

The More the Merrier (43)

The Night of the Iguana (64)

The Naked Prey (66)

The Nutty Professor (63)

The Las Vegas Story (52)

The Man in the White Suit (51)

The Out of Towners (70)

The Party (68)

The Pianist (02)

The Pope of Greenwich Village (84)

The Poseidon Adventure (72)

The Public Enemy (31)

The Purchase Price (32)

The Quiet Man (52)

The Red Balloon (56)

The Red Shoes (48)

The Remains of the Day (93)

The Rules of the Game (39)

The Scarlet Pimpernel (34)

The Search (48)

The Searchers (56)

The Set-Up (49)

The Sound of Music (65)

The Sporting Life (63)

The Southerner (45)

The Station Agent (03)

The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg (27)

The Sundowners (60)

The Terminator (84)

The Thief of Bagdad (40)

The Thing (82)

The Thing From Another World (51)

The Third Man (49)

The Three Faces of Eve (57)

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (48)

The Verdict (82)

The Virgin Spring (60)

The Wizard of Oz (39)

The Women (39)

The Year of Living Dangerously (82)

They Made Me a Fugitive (47)

Three Days of the Condor (75)

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (74)

To Have and Have Not (44)

To Kill a Mockingbird (62)

To Sir, with Love (67)

Tootsie (82)

Tremors (90)

Trouble Along the Way (53)

True Grit (69)

Twelve O’Clock High (49)

Two Women (61)

Viva Zapata! (52)

Washington Merry-Go-Round (32)

Waterloo Bridge (40)

When Harry Met Sally (89)

West Side Story (61)

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (71)

Wilson (44)

Winchester 73 (50)

Witness (85)

Working Girl (88)

Yankee Doodle Dandy (42)

Zulu (64)

Steven Keys

Macro Sport

Photo Credit: Scene from Bull Durham / Orion Pictures / 1988

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A native of the old Northwest Territory (IL), my wife and I have lived in four Midwestern states and Arizona. Today we live in Duluth, Georgia. I have a history / legal background.

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