Sports on film: The Olympics as a subject for cinema
Reading Eagle, Pa.
Athletic competition is the perfect subject to provide nail-biting drama. Let's take it to the next level: the Olympics. Will he make that quad? Will she lose control on the downhill? Can the Americans beat the Russians in ice hockey? Well, they did in Lake Placid, and a movie was made of that event.
I took what I considered the best from each and compiled this list. So after Sochi, if you still need an Olympian fix, you can rent one of these:
1. "Chariots of Fire" (1981). Just hearing the title you can hum Vangelis' Oscar-winning score. A moving story about the 1924 Olympics and the athletic careers of Harold Abrahams, a Cambridge student and a Jew, and Eric Liddell, a Christian missionary-to-be, the film captured four Oscars, including best picture. Hugh Hudson directed.
2. "Munich" (2005). Steven Spielberg's tense thriller about the Israeli effort to kill the perpetrators of the 1972 Olympic massacre of 11 Israeli athletes in the title city may not take place in a stadium. But it's about the Olympics nonetheless and a powerful tale of revenge.
3. "Miracle" (2004). Kurt Russell plays coach Herb Brooks in this exciting cinematic celebration of America's victory over the Soviet Union in ice hockey at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics. It was another time in our history when we needed an emotional boost, what with the gasoline shortage and the Iran hostage crisis. It's positively iconic.
4. "Personal Best" (1982). Robert Towne directs Mariel Hemingway and track star Patrice Donnelly in this tale of women athletes trying to make the Olympic track and field team. It's also a lesbian love story, but hey, what are the Olympics without romance? The film succeeds in conveying the complexities of athletics at this level.
5. "Blades of Glory" (2007). Josh Gordon directs this spoof of figure skating by uniting two men, played by Will Ferrell and Jon Heder, as an all-male pairs team. It's hilarious, and the supporting cast, which includes Amy Poehler and Will Arnett as the male team's chief rivals, is a hoot.
6. "Running Brave" (1983). Jim Thorpe was not the only American Indian to score Olympic medals. Robby Benson plays Billy Mills, a Sioux, who won the gold in the 10,000 meters race at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. It was a major upset, making for a compelling re-creation.
7. "Without Limits" (1998). Robert Towne directs Billy Crudup as track star Steve Prefontaine. Donald Sutherland plays his coach. The performances are first-rate, and that sets it apart from the other movie about the runner, coming up next.
8. "Prefontaine" (1997). Jared Leto plays the title character in this version as a party boy, womanizer and running sensation, leading up to the 1972 Olympics. He led his race, but ended up in fourth place. He died three years later in a car accident.
9. "Cool Runnings" (1993). Yes, it's true. There was, and still is, a bobsled team from Jamaica, which first competed at the 1988 Olympics in Calgary. John Candy plays their coach. Disney made the film. Nevertheless, the story is all that really matters.
10. "Olympia" (1938). German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, infamous for her Nazi-propaganda film "Triumph of the Will," followed that with this propaganda documentary telling the tale of the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. The film proves intriguing as history, and proof of the filmmaker's undeniable talent.