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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Ten Baseball Movies That Belong in the Hall of Fame

“The one constant through all the years…has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past…. It reminds us of all that once was good and could be again.” When James Earl Jones delivers these lines as writer Terence Mann near the end of Field of Dreams it solidifies the fact that baseball is woven into the fabric of our national consciousness. Simply put, baseball is America (and vice versa). With this in mind, we here at the MovieRetriever offices have put together a list of our favorite films about America’s pastime. We began our compilation by thinking about not only films that featured “baseball” but also about movies that treated baseball as a character. We quickly realized that those that fell into the later category were the ones we liked best and ultimately shifted our focus to them. So, on the eve of this year’s Fall Classic, please enjoy MovieRetriever’s picks for the greatest baseball movies of all time:

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1. Bull Durham (1988)

Arguably the best all-around baseball movie ever made. Even if you’re not a fan of the game, you’ll find something that will appeal to you here. There’s a love story – Kevin Costner is fantastic as the aging minor-leaguer Crash Davis who woos baseball groupie Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon). There’s a buddy film as Crash mentors the young phenom Nuke LaLoosh (Tim Robbins). And, of course, there’s plenty of baseball. But the real beauty of the treatment of the game in Bull Durham is that it never overpowers the characters or their stories. It simply exists within the world of the film. The film seamlessly allows the game to take on the persona of an allegory for life.

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2. Field of Dreams (1989)

If you don’t feel some sort of emotion at the end of this sublime adaption of W.P. Kinsella’s novel Shoeless Joe when Ray (Costner again) has a game of catch with his father then there’s just no hope for you. This incredibly layered and intelligent take on baseball as fable seems to have consistent universal appeal and, surprisingly, never really focuses on the actual game. It’s all about relationships and personal journeys. When the disembodied ghost of Shoeless Joe (Ray Liotta) tells Ray “If you build it, he will come,” baseball successfully transcends mere pastime and becomes obsession. Ultimately, it ends as do most fairy tales – happily ever after.

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3. The Natural (1984)

Barry Levinson’s gorgeous film treats baseball as myth and there has never been a more romantic portrayal of baseball captured on film. This adaptation of a story by Bernard Malamud, revolves around an aging player, Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford), who overcomes several obstacles to lead his team to victory. While some may dismiss the film as simplistic or too sentimental, there remains a beauty in the look of the film and the nostalgia for baseball it invokes. For the baseball romantic this is the pinnacle of cinema.

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4. The Pride of the Yankees (1942)

This Best Picture nominee has been called one of the greatest baseball movies ever made. While the inspirational story of Lou Gehrig may be more of a melodrama than a movie about the workings of baseball, there’s little to complain about and even the hardest of hearts will tear up during Gehrig’s “Luckiest Man” speech. Stellar performances from Gary Cooper (as Gehrig) along with Walter Brennan and Teresa Wright in supporting roles (as well as many big leaguers in cameos as themselves – including Babe Ruth) give the film additional depth and authenticity.

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5. Major League (1989)

Despite being formulaic and cliché-ridden, this rags-to-riches story of a Cleveland Indians team that surpasses all expectations to find success is tremendously fun and watchable. Not only is this the most widely accessible of all the baseball films on this list, it is also the most entertaining as it’s the only one to approach baseball as slapstick.

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6. The Bad News Bears (1976)

Yeah, the kids are foul-mouthed and really not the sort you would want yours to hang around with. But, there’s an everyman quality at work here and the downtrodden Bears quickly become surrogates for us all as they claw their way out of obscurity. Walter Matthau and Tatum O’Neal excel in this redemption story as they rebuild their fragile relationship as the Bears rebuild their self-esteem.

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7. The Stratton Story (1949)

Jimmy Stewart is wonderful as White Sox pitcher Monty Stratton whose leg was amputated after a hunting accident. The film chronicles his coming to terms with the injury as well as his attempts to resume his playing career. June Allyson and Frank Morgan are superb in supporting roles in this film that shows the courage inherent in America’s game.

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8. A League of Their Own (1992)

Ostensibly about the struggles of the first women’s professional baseball league, Penny Marshall’s superb film is concerned more with women’s rights as a whole (though it does noticeably shy away from any substantial talk of racial injustice). Geena Davis does a credible job as the league’s star player but Tom Hanks steals the movie as the burned-out alcoholic coach of the Rockford Peaches, particularly when he delivers the now immortal line: “There’s no crying in baseball!”

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9. Eight Men Out (1988)

Director John Sayles’s engrossing depiction of the Black Sox scandal, in which several members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox conspired to throw the World Series. This brilliant tale of lost morality and rampant corruption combined with exquisitely filmed baseball scenes creates a wonderfully accurate picture of a forgotten time in American history. Strong performances from a varied and talented cast couple with an inspired screenplay based on Eliot Asinot’s book to deliver a movie that succeeds as a drama as well as a baseball film.

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10. The Rookie (2002)

This inspirational tale of a Texas high school teacher/baseball coach Jim Morris (Dennis Quaid), who tries out for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays after promising his team he would if they won a championship, would be the ultimate treacle movie if it weren’t true. The film follows Morris’s quest for the American dream as he attempts to become a 30-yeard-old rookie pitcher. Although the baseball portions of the film aren’t as crisp as they could be, the film is thoroughly entertaining and excellent family fare.

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