x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Warm up for the Olympics with the best sports films

You have plenty of time to check out the 10 movies below, each of which focuses on a sport included in the Olympics.

Robert DeNiro in the 1980 film Raging Bull.
Robert DeNiro in the 1980 film Raging Bull.

London is gearing up for a major event - the 2012 Summer Olympics. Arenas have been built, roads laid, logos designed and bizarre little one-eyed mascots placed in shop windows, their faces grinning on towels, mugs, T-shirts and duvet covers.

From July 27 until August 12, the Games will be broadcast around the world and everyone will be talking about the world's best runners, divers, cyclists, sailors, athletes, gymnasts, horse riders and volleyball players. No doubt some people will get into the spirit of the Games, signing up for exercise classes, getting that dusty old bike out of storage (then cycling off wearing a yellow jersey, of course, so they can pretend they are Lance Armstrong as they wheeze up the hill), or organising a half-hearted five-a-side before collapsing in a heap demanding liquid refreshment.

If you're more of a couch potato than a marathon runner, there's an alternative way of getting into the mood. You have plenty of time to check out the 10 movies on page 4, each of which focuses on a sport included in the Olympics. Watch actors do all the work, whether they're pretending to be a first-class runner, championship tennis player or even a pentathlon coach-turned-terrorist (yes, really). Who says sport can't be relaxing?

Boxing

• Raging Bull (1980)

There are numerous boxing movies to choose from, from The Champ (both the 1931 and 1979 versions) to Gentleman Jim, Somebody Up There Likes Me to Rocky, The Main Event to The Hurricane, and Ali to Million Dollar Baby. One of the best recent boxing movies was The Fighter with Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale, but for an all-time classic it has to be Martin Scorsese's stark, violent and gripping Raging Bull. Robert De Niro is, of course, the former middleweight champion Jake La Motta, an arrogant, abusive fighter who ends up a rambling nightclub performer when everyone has walked away. Considered one of the best sporting movies of all time, this didn't win Scorsese a Best Director or Best Picture Oscar - Robert Redford's movie Ordinary People picked up both statuettes.

Cycling

• Breaking Away (1979)

Four high-school pals - including Dave (Dennis Christopher), and ex-football player Mike (Dennis Quaid) live in the Indiana college town of Bloomington, where they are doomed to be looked down upon as "cutters" (a derogatory term for the working-class locals) by the university-attending rich kids. Dave becomes enraptured with cycling, and Italian racing in particular, much to the consternation of his dad ("I'm not 'papa', I'm your goddamn father") in this look at small-town America that boasts an edge-of-the-seat climax (the Little 500 bike race) and some stellar winning performances throughout the movie.

Basketball

• Hoop Dreams (1994)

A documentary about inner-city struggles as much as it is about basketball, the gripping movie Hoop Dreams follows two young Chicago hopefuls, Arthur Agee and William Gates, as they pursue their dream of playing for the NBA. The film follows the boys as they are recruited by a scout and placed in a prep school to help their sporting chances, only for one of them to drop out after a year to return to public school. However, they both continue to follow their hoop dreams along different paths over the course of five years. The film won numerous Best Documentary awards (and even caused an outcry and a change in the rules when it failed to be nominated in that category at the Oscars).

Athletics / running

• Chariots of Fire (1981)

"The British are coming!" shouted Colin Welland as he accepted the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for Chariots of Fire (one of four statuettes it won). While he was a bit overexcited, it was clear he was also proud of this very British movie. Ben Cross and Ian Charleson star as the two runners - one a Jewish man studying at Cambridge, the other a missionary from Edinburgh - training for the 1924 Olympics in Paris in a movie almost as famed for the score by Vangelis as for its performances. If you like biographical sports movies, there are two about record-breaking distance runner Steve Prefontaine (who competed in the 1972 Olympics) worth looking at: Without Limits (with Billy Crudup) and Prefontaine (with Jared Leto). And for a more fictional drama, check out Running, a 1979 movie with a young Michael Douglas as a marathon hopeful in the 1976 Olympics.

Tennis

• Players (1979)

There have been a couple of recent movies with tennis as their backdrop: the romantic comedy Wimbledon, with Kirsten Dunst as the rising star and Paul Bettany as the washed-up pro who ends up dating her, and more loosely Woody Allen's Match Point, in which retired pro Jonathan Rhys Meyers resorts to murder following an affair. But the most kitsch tennis movie of all - and therefore the one to seek out - has to be 1979's Players, in which young tennis player Dean Paul Martin (son of Dean Martin) has a love affair with married older woman Ali McGraw, and finds his game improving to the point he ends up in the final of Wimbledon. It's pretty awful, but worth watching for the tennis star cameos from John McEnroe, John Lloyd, Vijay Armitraj, Pancho Gonzales, Ilie Nastase and Guillermo Vilas.

Ice hockey

• Miracle (2004)

The best known ice hockey movies are the dramas Slap Shot with Paul Newman, Youngblood with Rob Lowe, and kids' comedy The Mighty Ducks, but the lesser-known Miracle is worth seeking out as it is based on the true story of the US men's hockey team that won gold at the 1980 Winter Olympics. Kurt Russell is the coach with the impossible task of training his men to beat a seemingly unbeatable Russian team, and he's not helped by the fact that there are petty rivalries between his players. One of those American movies that's all about teamwork and being proud to represent your country, this feel-good film certainly isn't for the cynical.

Bobsleigh

• Cool Running (1993)

It sounds unbelievable, but it's true - in 1988, a team from Jamaica competed in the Winter Olympics bobsleigh event, even though its members had never seen snow before. This comedy, which does play a little fast and loose with the facts, begins as runner Derice (Leon) fails to qualify for the Jamaican Olympic team as a sprinter and decides he's going to compete in the Winter Olympics instead. No matter that there is no snow in Jamaica (a bathtub with wheels becomes the alternative to a real bobsleigh) or that he doesn't have a team (he rounds up an old go-karting pal and two other misfits) or that they are laughed at by all the other teams when they arrive in Calgary to compete. Funny stuff about a quartet of plucky underdogs, and for those who scoff that it couldn't possibly have happened, there's some footage of the real team included in this sweet little movie.

Pentathlon (Heptathlon)

• Pentathlon (1994)

Not every movie that features a defunct Olympic sport should be serious and reverent - and this Dolph Lundgren movie certainly isn't either of those things. It's a thriller that follows East German athlete Eric (Lundgren) after he wins gold at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Escaping from his abusive trainer Mueller (David Soul), Eric defects to Los Angeles, while Mueller becomes a terrorist, blowing up anyone he doesn't like very much. That includes some of Eric's friends, so our hero toughens up, kicks some neo-Nazi butt, and finds time to train for another race (he even manages to shoot a bad guy straight after crossing a finish line - now that's multitasking). Truly has to be seen to be believed.

Swimming

• Swimfan (2002)

Nicknamed "Fatal Attraction for Teens", this thriller stars Jesse Bradford as a promising swimmer with dreams of being an international competitor who cheats on his girlfriend (Shiri Appleby) after being seduced by the vixen Madison (Erika Christensen). Madison becomes obsessed with him, and it's not long before she's framing him for crimes, injuring and even murdering his friends, and - oh, the horror - making it look like he has cheated in his chosen sport by taking steroids. It's all very silly - for a more serious water-filled movie, try Burt Lancaster's superb performance in the 1968 allegorical tale The Swimmer.

Gymnastics

• American Anthem (1986)

Mitchell Gaylord - who won gold at the 1984 Olympics as part of the US gymnastics team - stars as talented gymnast Steve Tevere in this drama. Steve has given up on competition so he can help out at his father's bike shop, but he resumes his training after meeting pretty gymnast Julie (Janet Jones) and the two start dreaming of competing in the Olympics, that is when they aren't making googly eyes at each other.

Directed by Albert Magnoli, best known for Prince's Purple Rain, this features a deliciously cheesy soundtrack from the 80s, with songs from Mr Mister, John Parr and Duran Duran's guitarist Andy Taylor.

artslife@thenational.ae

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