Monday, June 28, 2010

Futbol Cinema: A Starting XI

You got all excited when the US pulled out its last-second win over Algeria, but now that the Red, White and Blue have fallen to Ghana, you find yourself in need of another outlet for your footie fetish. So to help, I've put together a team of films to get you through. This did not turn out to be as easy a task as I expected. There aren't quite as many films about soccer out there as, say, baseball, and of those many are either (a) documentary-type coverage of a specific player or team, or (b) awful. Which isn't to say that all of these films avoid falling into either group, but I've tried to keep things from getting too horrific (no Soccer Dog, for example).

Bend it Like Beckham - this movie is probably best known for putting Keira Knightley into the American consciousness, it's Parminder Nagra's performance that really makes the film as she tries to find balance between her obvious talent for football with respecting the traditions of her family, culture and faith.

I've always been a little surprised that Knightley's career took off in the way it did, given that she's clearly the supporting character and she has the figure of a 14 year old boy.

The Damned United - For 44 days in 1974, the English football club Leeds United was managed by Brian Clough. That he lasted 44 days is almost a miracle, given that he had previously managed their biggest rival, Derby County, and he absolutely loathed Leeds, a fact he did not hide from its players or administration.

This complex but short-lived arrangement is recounted in this film, with Michael Sheen proving he can play any notable Englishman of the 20th century by appearing as Clough. The movie itself focuses little on the games (using archival footage), and is really about Clough, his passion for the sport, and the way he let it impact his career and personal life.

The Van - part of Roddy Doyle's Barrytown trilogy, it takes place during the 1990 World Cup as two men put their friendship to the test when they decide to co-run a burger van, planning to make money off of drunken football fans after matches. If you're familiar with the trilogy, you can imagine how this goes.

Fever Pitch - not the crap one starring Jimmy Fallon, but the one actually based on Nick Hornby's account of being a long-suffering Arsenal fan. Colin Firth stars. Not a great movie, but infinitely better than that other one.

Offside - women aren't allowed to attend men's soccer games in Iran, so when Bahrain comes to play a World Cup qualifying match, several teenaged girls try to attend the match by dressing as boys. A half dozen who have been detained by stadium police spend the movie arguing with their captors about the futility of the rules, often with comedic results.

The Cup - young novices in a Buddhist temple agitate to watch the 1998 World Cup in this film, the first feature film made in Bhutan. Very entertaining, even if the monks are rooting for France.

Once in a Lifetime - this documentary tells the story of the New York Cosmos, the flagship team of the North American Soccer League that brought the league to national attention with its star-studded roster. It also paints a vivid picture of what it was like to be an international sports star in 1970s New York, with stories that give most, if not all, of the lurid details.

Victory - Speaking of Pele, he lands a role here as a member of a WWII-era prisoner of war soccer team that uses a match against a German all-star team as cover for an escape attempt. Sylvester Stallone plays the POW team's goalie. It's actually got a fair amount of star power for a film that isn't that good, with a cast including Max von Sydow and Michael Caine, a score by Bill Conti, and John Huston at the helm.

Ladybugs - Rodney Dangerfield agrees to coach a girl's soccer team that's sponsored by his company and has to win to get a promotion. He needs the promotion to marry his girlfriend. How do you solve two problems at once? Have your girlfriend's soccer-whiz son don a wig! Not a good film, but always fun to watch Rodney riff... for a while.

The Year My Parents Went on Vacation - Set in 1970 Brazil, in the middle of the country's years as a military dictatorship, a young boy is left at the apartment of his grandfather when his parents, dissidents, have to go underground to avoid arrest (they tell the boy they're taking a vacation). Unbeknown to any of them, the grandfather has just recently died of a heart attack, so the boy is stranded until a neighbor takes him in.

From there, the film unfolds with that year's World Cup as backdrop, with the success of the national team helping the boy bond with the men in the immigrant-heavy neighborhood. The political angle does return towards the end, but is apparently resolved in a fresh, surprising way.

Shaolin Soccer - If you thought there was no way to combine kung fu and soccer, you'd be wrong. A Shaolin monk, looking to bring kung fu to the masses, learns to combine his discipline with the beautiful game by a former player, who gets the monk to form a team (made up of other monks and several of his brothers, with whom he had to reconcile) to take on Team Evil, the team headed up by the man who (indirectly) ended the player's career. Thankfully, this is all played for comedic effect.



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