HOLLYWOOD â€“ Itâ€™s a rough life being your humble roving West Coast Reporter for MTM, as I am forced to shuffle around from Oscar Party to Oscar Party this night and still manage to file a post by deadline. As I type this Iâ€™m being jostled by industry scenesters and actorsâ€¦and thatâ€™s just the people carrying the hors dâ€™oeurvres. If I can keep Jeff Bridges from spilling his Caucasian on my laptop, I might be able to hammer out something for you. However, as this will be an Oscar-themed piece, I must warn you that itâ€™ll contain lots of clips, distractions, interpretive dance numbers, songs, awkward pauses, and the whole thing will run over and feel very rushed at the end. Weâ€™ll start off light:
Oddest Animal Lead In A Sports Movie: The Air Bud dog is like the Bo Jackson of movie animals, somehow managing to excel at soccer, football, basketball, baseball, and even volleyball. There isnâ€™t a ball out there he hasn’t licked. Of course, Air Budâ€™s many different skills have spread his votes around, and the favorite appears to be Gus, the field goal kicking mule who manages to win the big game with gangsters trying to get himâ€¦ But in a big upset, the winner is: Rhubarb. Rhubarb is the story of a Brooklyn baseball team whose miserly owner wills everything he owns to his feral cat. The new feline owner then goes on a rampage, firing managers and cutting ties with popular but aging players to restock his farm team and build a winner with cutting edge statistics. Not really, the cat proves to be good luck as all the players have to pet him as they take the field, and thus evil gangsters are trying to get him.
Foreign Films That Prove Sports Cliches Know No Borders: Here’s one I’ve never seen, but now that it’s been nominated I’ll have to get a screener. It’s perhaps the only Aussie Rules Football movie, called The Club, and it seems to have it all: tight shorts, burly mustaches, evil owners, workout montages with medicine balls and universal machines, and some corny seventies soft rock. I just couldnâ€™t throw a three minute clip of it on here, but I think just watching the first minute of this must give a good idea of its worth. It looks like a classic to me, can any Aussie readers out there verify? The Envelope pleaseâ€¦ I think I just got a paper cut opening it, ah ha, this is one I mentioned last year but it bears repeating: Shaolin Soccer, if you want every sports movie clichÃ© you can think of, joined with every kung fu movie clichÃ©, this is definitely the movie for you.
Best High School Basketball Movie With A 70s TV Personality As Coach: Itâ€™s been mentioned here before, but Gabe Kaplan lent a certain gravitas with his fro to Fast Break. Opening the envelope, however, reveals a surprise! Itâ€™s coach, starring Cathy Lee Crosby in tiny shorts, a tight shirt, and a number of completely inappropriate situations with one of her high school boy players (including a pre-Kyle Reese Michael Biehn). Thereâ€™s even a shower scene that mustâ€™ve jump-started the puberty of 12-year-olds around the country, as it did mine. Itâ€™s too fantastic even for a Penthouse letterâ€¦sheâ€™s a former Wonder Woman, sheâ€™s the basketball coach, she gives some extra-curricular tutoring to her playersâ€¦ Thatâ€™s Incredible!
Lifetime Achievement: Harold Lloydâ€™s The Freshman is generally regarded as the silent eraâ€™s greatest sports movie, but Iâ€™m a Buster Keaton guy so I enjoy College better (even if itâ€™s pretty clearly a rip off). Keatonâ€™s stunts alone make him one of the best athletes ever to step in front of a camera, but he was also a huge baseball fan who would pick up a bat and ball and make his crew play a game between shots. He had a baseball gag in Three Ages, where he uses a club to hit back a pitched rock, hitting the chasing caveman right in the head (a shot that took dozens of takes to get perfect). In Battling Butler, he was the first filmmaker to put the camera actually inside the ring, paving the way for Raging Bull. In The Cameraman, his last great silent, he got some excellent footage of old, old Yankee Stadium.
Finally, the one you’ve all been waiting for, Outstanding Performance As Self in a movie. Unfortunately for Michael Jordan, his work in Space Jam just missed the cut…the top two performers were just that good. First is Evel Knievel in…Viva Knievel! He rides his bike, he cures afflicted children in the hospital as he passes out his own action figures, and he preaches the ills of using drugs, then he does a couple of laps, and occasionally he jumps something! You can’t get much stronger than that, unless you’re… Muhammad Ali in, (what else?), The Greatest. Here The Champ does a good Muhammad Ali impersonation, with Ernest Borgnine in the roll he was born to play as Angelo Dundee, and James Earl Jones in a role he wasn’t quite as born to play as Malcolm X. Watch in this scene as he goes toe to toe with no less an imposing figure as Robert Duvall, then gets behind the wheel of a bus and explain he won’t turn his back on his people, unless they’re Joe Frazier. He is truly The Greatest, and a fitting figure to end on here.
Angry Ward, Mr. Blackwell’s protege, tomorrow.