Is your bracket busted yet? Did that $20 you went ahead and dropped on your office pool get frittered away because you thought – for sure – that Michigan State was going to romp to the championship?
Have no fear. If you’re sick and/or disgusted with the tournament, you can always turn to the movies for some basketball entertainment. Now, as compared to other sports – baseball, in particular – this crop of movies might not be the greatest in terms of quality. The good news? They’re all pretty fun.
Dir. David Anspaugh
The 1986 Celtics of basketball movies. This David vs. Goliath story of a small-town Indiana high school basketball team triumphing in the state’s annual tournament is perhaps the best sports movie ever made, lovingly penned by screenwriter Angelo Pizzo (who also penned Rudy). The acting, especially from Gene Hackman as the team’s charismatic and stubborn coach and from Oscar-nominated Dennis Hopper as a town drunk / assistant coach, is top-notch.
Blue Chips (1994)
Dir. William Friedkin
An underrated gem from the 1990s, with Nick Nolte munching on the scenery as a volatile and legendary college coach who bends the rules to pick up prized “blue chip” recruits (including Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway, playing the prospects). The acting from the players is predictably bad, but Ron Shelton’s screenplay is smart and timely. A fine little film.
Glory Road (2006)
Dir. James Gartner
Josh Lucas had his brief flash of stardom in the lead role for this historical basketball drama; he played Don Haskins, the legendary coach of Texas Western who trotted out a groundbreaking all-black starting lineup for his NCAA champions. Like Remember the Titans, it’s a bit sanitized, but it’s a competent and watchable movie none the less. John Voight has a nice role as legendary Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp.
Dir. Kent Alterman
A delightful idea – Will Ferrell as a lunkheaded ABA star for the “Flint (Michigan) Tropics” – falls a little short of classic status, but it’s certainly fun and colorful, much like the ABA itself. A strong supporting cast really helps, especially Woody Harrelson as a fading star and the great Andrew Daly and Will Arnett as the radio announcing team.
Space Jam (1996)
Dir. Joe Pytka
It’s silly and a corporate cash-grab, of course, but the cartoon team up between Bugs and Michael Jordan does have its charms. Bill Murray and Wayne Knight liven up the rest of the cast, the shameless NBA cameos are fantastic, and the soundtrack was an absolute essential for any kid who grew up that decade. A fine slice of nostalgia from the decade.
White Men Can’t Jump (1992)
Dir. Ron Shelton
Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson had some fine, funny chemistry together – so much so that they made the much-worse Money Train a few years later – in Ron Shelton’s excellent early-90s street hustling comedy. The biggest takeaway from this movie? Woody Harrelson is actually a pretty damn good basketball player.
He Got Game (1998)
Dir. Spike Lee
This is one of Spike Lee’s last truly great movies, a vibrant and intelligent look at the life of Jesus Shuttlesworth (Ray Allen), a New York City basketball prodigy who encounters his jailed father (Denzel Washington), released from prison in an attempt to woo him towards a state school. Washington is reliably great, but Allen, the former UConn and Celtics star, is the real revelation here. Off topic, but it’s great to be a fan of both teams (as I am).
Hoop Dreams (1994)
Dir. Steve James
Just read Roger Ebert’s rhapsodic review to get a sense of how acclaimed this documentary was, for good reason. The triumphant and heartbreaking story of Arthur Agee and William Gates, inner city Chicago high school basketball stars struggling to make it through life, is simply one of the best non-fiction films ever made. If you’re not moved by it at the end of the film, there’s a great big basketball-shaped hole where your soul is.