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Tuesday, March 08, 2011

10 Sports Documentaries You Should See Before You Die:

10. Deep Water (2006/PG) – Boating – The story of the first solo, non-stop, round-the-world boat race, and the psychological toll it took on its competitors. This film goes beyond the event and gets into the mind of the ship captain who is dealing with his own demons and the nightmare of being at sea for almost a year.  Deep Water is an unforgettable journey into one man's heart of darkness.  This film was produced by the same producer as Touching the Void, which is number 6 on this list.

9. Riding Giants (2004/PG-13) + 9a. The Endless Summer (1966/G) – Surfing – Endless Summer: For this documentary-style sequel to the 1966 film that's achieved a cult-like following in the surfing world, director Bruce Brown trails two Californians to places across the globe searching for the ultimate wave.  Riding Giants: A semi-serious insider's look at the origins of surfing.  The movie covers the colorful and subversive birth of surf culture, and the mythology and lure of the "big wave."

8. Pumping Iron (1976/PG) – Bodybuilding – In this classic you can watch Governor Schwarzenegger defend his Mr. Olympia title against the Hulk, Lou Ferrigno.  Pumping iron is as ‘satisfying as having sex with a woman and reaching orgasm’, says Arnold Schwarzenegger in this fascinating docudrama. Though part of this movie is scripted, it is still a great documentary film to check out.  This movie becomes even more fascinating when viewed in the context of Arnie's now notorious political career.

7. Boxing Gym (2010/NR) – Boxing - Explores the world of a boxing gym in Austin, Texas, dwelling on the discipline of training as people from all walks of life aspire to reach their personal best.  The film examines what violence looks like when it's a controlled outlet, as opposed to a spontaneous one.  The only word of caution is that Boxing Gym is all without comment, letting the rhythm of the place tell the story, so be prepared to pay attention to everything you see and hear.  One critic said of Boxing Gym: ‘The soundscape is endlessly fascinating, a layer cake of squeaks, grunts, gasps, and rattling chains that, combined, catches a rhythm that sounds an awful lot like song’.

6. Touching the Void (2004/R) – Mountain Climbing – In 1985 two young and fit climbers decided to climb the west face of the Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes.   They ran into many problems, including one of them falling and breaking several bones in his leg.   The story is told by them as they try a never before attempted rescue technique that was likely to kill them both.   If you liked 127-hours, you will love this story.

5. When We Were Kings (1996/PG) – Boxing – This is an amazing movie that chronicles the heavyweight championship matchup (Rumble in the Jungle) between reigning title holder George Foreman and challenger Muhammad Ali in 1974.   On September 25, 1974, in the wake of one of the greatest political scandals in its history, Watergate, America was poised to watch a knockout punch that would redefine it as a nation of champions.  This film goes beyond the boxing and covers the socio-political impact this fight had on our history books.  A great critic quote on this film: ‘No comedian was ever funnier, no fighter ever faster than Muhammad Ali, who is caught at the top of his game in Leon Gast's valentine, When We Were Kings’

4. Hoop Dreams (1994/PG-13) – Basketball – I assume almost everyone has seen this film, but it is worth watching again.   It is such an obvious pick that it almost deserves a stand alone ranking.  The only reason I didn't rank it as #1 was because I wanted to highlight a few other films that you probably have not seen, that are well worth going to see.   So, if you have not seen Hoop Dreams, you should put it at the top of your Netflix rental queue.   This extraordinary movie shattered the illusion, once and for all, that factual films can't be as entertaining as fictional ones.  When it didn’t even get nominated for best documentary in 1995 there was a big uproar because it is such a brilliant film (though it is almost 3-hours long).   The movie is a chronicle of the lives and high-school careers of two inner-city youths who both harbor legitimate hopes of playing professional basketball.

3. Solo (2007/NR) – Kayaking - Michôd and Peedom's hour-long documentary recounts the tale of Andrew McAuley, an Australian adventurer who, in 2006, launched a quest to become the first person to paddle a kayak across the treacherous Tasman Sea, one of the loneliest and toughest stretches of water in the world.  This movie is really a sleeper, and you might have a hard time finding it on DVD, but it is really a great film if you can track it down. I am pretty sure this film didn't make it on any other list you will find online, but it is a brilliant story.

2. Bigger, Stronger, Faster* (2008/PG-13) – American Sporting Culture – Such a great movie and the way it was put together has you totally engrossed in the story from the first set of credits.   This film digs into our American culture that is so focused on being the biggest, strongest, fastest country in the world. Director Christopher Bell explores America's win-at-all-cost culture by examining how his two brothers became members of the steroid-subculture in an effort to realize their American dream.

1. Murderball (2005/R) – Rugby – By far the best sports documentary ever made, including the Baseball mini-series produced by Ken Burns.   This movie is so good I am shocked that almost everyone I ask has not only not seen the movie, but most have not heard of it.   Like any other great sports story, 'Murderball' features fierce rivalry, stopwatch suspense, dazzling athletic prowess, larger-than-life personalities and triumph over daunting odds. But Murderball, the original name for the full-contact sport now known as quad rugby, is played by quadriplegics in armored wheelchairs.

'Murderball' is a story like no other, told by men who see the world from a different angle. Quad rugby players have suffered injuries that have left them with limited function in all four limbs. Whether by car wreck, gunshot, fist fight, rogue bacteria or any of an endless list of possible misadventures, quad rugby's young men have found their lives dramatically altered. Watching them in action -- both on court and off -- smashes every stereotype one has ever had about the handicapped. It also redefines what it is to be a man, what it is to live a full life, and what it is to be a winner.  It was nominated for Best Documentary Feature for the 78th Academy Awards. This film is also #1 on the Rotten Tomatoes countdown of the top sports movies of all time.

Honorable Mentions: Baseball (Ken Burns Mini-Series), The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (Video Games), Grizzly Man (Camping/Outdoors), Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson (Ken Burns Boxing Film)

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