Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Lattanzi Ten - 2/19/15

In honor of pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training, especially of my beloved Phillies, The Ten today consists of my favorite baseball movies. These are in the order of release rather than in the order of favorites. Just as important are the ones NOT on the list; those may surprise. -- J.L.

Don't even try to convince me that the remake from 2005 is anywhere near the goodness of the original. The remake doesn't even rise to the movie equivalent of a Low-Single A affiliate. Great dialogue, and who can forget the kids on the team - Tanner, Ogilve, Kelly Leak, Ahmad, Jose and Miguel, Rudy, and of course, Whurlitzer. Walter Matthau perfects the bum coach that becomes the model for every later bum coach in a film.

One of the finest dramatizations of a real-life series of events. The Black Sox were the first huge scandal to rock MLB and had many repercussions that are still felt to this day.

The funniest baseball ever made. Full stop. This is not even up for discussion. There are so many quotable scenes that it probably needs to be the subject of it's own Lattanzi Ten (now there's a thought!).

Historical fiction is probably my favorite genre of literature, and that extends in a lot of ways to film as well. What makes the movie memorable not only the development of the characters and the rise and fall of the AAGPBL, but it also marked the start of Tom Hanks' ascent into the stratosphere of acting. How many actors had the incredible streak of great roles and films as Hanks?  Look at his run from 1992 until about 2002. I'm even willing to forgive later monstrosities such as The Polar Express and The DaVinci Code just because of the joy that his roles in that time period gave me, but none more than the great Jimmy Dugan. Remember, avoid the clap. That's great advice!

This one took me a while to come around on, but thanks to the persistence of my father and brother, I see the genius of it. It's a fish-out-of-water story, but unlike something such as Coming to America, it's the American who has to adapt, and yet, Tom Selleck is still the victorious Yankee Imperialist Dog!

The ultimate wish-fulfillment film of my youth. Although I wasn't going to try and break my arm and wind up my tendons just to throw 100 miles an hour. Long before Thomas Ian Nicholas went on to be Kevin Myers, he was Henry Rowengartner, the next Nolan Ryan! The most memorable role, in my opinion, was Daniel Stern as Brickma, the pitching coach:
"Baseball is 162 grueling games played in more than a dozen cities. On the field, we conserve our energy; on the road, we conserve our food. Everywhere we go there's free food! Take this cake, for example. I wrap it up in my vomit bag, take it back to the hotel, put it on ice, and in the morning...voila! BREAKFAST! Conservation, Henry! Managing resources! That is the key to baseball!"
Yes, that was typed from memory. No need to comment on what a big loser I am I already know!

No offense to the original 1951 version (which I also like, but not enough to put on this list), but this one is a little more dynamic. There is the standard Disneyification of the plot, although it certainly does deal with some massively adult topics - family breakup, smoking, faith, and hope. My favorite character, though, is the "villain" Ranch Wilder (Jay O. Sanders), which would probably downgrade this in many people's eyes, but it's a fun experience, even in my thirties.

This is one of those films that could only be done in a baseball setting: kid inherits team from deceased grandfather, fires the manager and takes over the job himself. Team initially resists and then finds itself and begins winning. It's fairly formulaic in many ways, but part of what makes it endearing is a) you root for them to win, but b) they ultimately fall short. Losing is a part of life, although I'm not going to lie and say that I particularly enjoy the "but we're ALL winners!" shtick that tends to permeate such films. Nevertheless, this one is a keeper.

I enjoy Sabermetrics; Billy Beane was one of the first users of such an approach in baseball, which, by the way, is just a good business model. Who knew that trying to get the most value for your dollar was a bad thing in baseball? The movie is well done, but like many critics, I have to also say that Oakland didn't win the division in 2002 or have a 20-game winning streak because Scott freaking Hatteberg got hot! I'm not a fan of Brad Pitt normally, but he's allowed the occasional decent movie. Here, he did a great job as Beane.

Making "based on true story" films in the age of the internet is just asking for trouble. And there are a few issues, but as a narrative arc, there aren't many better films covering a short historical period than this one. I can let the inaccuracies pass because it portrays the time period so well that you felt like you were in the stands there listening to the people harass Robinson, or behind Ben Chapman as he disgraced himself from the dugout. That's the beauty of 42. It also doesn't hurt that it did the baseball scenes well, and didn't allow the emotional stuff to descend into parody.

Bonus. The films that I don't like - Bull Durham, The Natural, and Field of Dreams. All overrated, and no, I don't really tear up at the catch scene of Field of Dreams. I tear up when Andy and Red hug at the end of Shawshank Redemption instead. Bull Durham? Chick flick masquerading as a baseball movie; it should never make any list, unless it is a chick flick list. The Natural? Meh. 


Doyler said...

I would put 'The Sandlot' above all of the other baseball kids movies.

I kinda like 'Bull Durham' even though it's a bit of a romance more than sports movie.

Eight Men Out is probably my #2 behind Major League.

Moneyball is a much better book than film. But I liked it.

Mr. Baseball is very underrated (and also kind of a romance film as well).

Joshua Lattanzi said...

The Sandlot is probably #11 if I were to expand the list.

Bull Durham is probably the most overrated movie with baseball of all time. It's not a bad movie, but it's never been one of my favorites. However, it is quotable in some ways.

You are right about Moneyball being a better book than film - it loses a bit in translation as it moves between the media. It is mostly a "Hollywood got ahold of it" effect.

Mr. Baseball is a fairly formulaic fish-out-of-water plot, but reversed, and the romance part is part of the engine of said fish. It didn't used to be one of my faves, but as I said above, Dad and bro got me more into it.