HERE’S WHY Girls can tear up the turf too. In Gurinder Chadha’s cross-cultural comedy, the heroine is a London-bred Punjabi teen (Parminder Nagra) with a passion for ”football” and a bedroom shrine to U.K. superstar midfielder David Beckham. Even if your soccer knowledge is confined to a sports-bra-clad Brandi Chastain, it’s tough not to get caught up in the fancy footwork — or in the kickin’ soundtrack, featuring ”Hot Hot Hot” in Hindi and songs by Posh Spice (a.k.a. Mrs. Beckham).
DID YOU KNOW? Becks doesn’t appear in the pic, but at a screening he told Nagra she ”really bent the ball.”
EXTRAS After a match, refuel with homemade Aloo Gobi; Chadha cooks the potato-cauliflower curry from the film.
FINAL SCORE You goal, girl! — Melissa Rose Bernardo
HERE’S WHY Slim chance The Bad News Bears or Slap Shot would’ve been made if Burt Reynolds’ prison football pic had fumbled at the box office. (That said, its success did thrust the 2005 Adam Sandler debacle upon us.) Surrounded by NFL all-stars, Reynolds shines as disgraced QB Paul Crewe, who reluctantly cobbles together fellow convicts to take on the guards’ semipro team. Director Robert Aldrich was among the first to capture the sport’s speed and violence up close, and Yard’s triumph trumpeted the bankability of football, which had always played backup to baseball and boxing in Hollywood.
DID YOU KNOW? It took 10 tries to film the dramatic final touchdown because the guards, led by professional players, wouldn’t let Reynolds score.
EXTRAS Look-back docs and a stellar commentary by Burt and gravelly voiced producer Albert S. Ruddy (Million Dollar Baby)
FINAL SCORE We’re with Homer Simpson: Nothing’s funnier than a football in the groin. — Jeff Labrecque
HERE’S WHY Don’t understand why your buddy is always going on about his handicap or his swing or his new clubs, or why your dad sits in front of the Golf Channel all weekend refusing to answer the phone while Tiger’s putting? Tin Cup is here to help. The second Ron Shelton-Kevin Costner collaboration (see No. 5), this story of a washed-up West Texas golf pro’s improbable journey to the final round of the U.S. Open reveals the driving philosophy at the heart of golf: Humans are fallible, perfection is unattainable… but there is immortality to be found in a single sweetly hit ball. Sterling supporting turns from Rene Russo and Cheech Marin help Costner nail his portrayal of yet another flawed but dreamy athlete.
DID YOU KNOW? Many of nongolfer Costner’s actual shots made the final cut.
FINAL SCORE Tin Cup is to The Legend of Bagger Vance as Bull Durham is to Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch. — Whitney Pastorek
HERE’S WHY Not a sports movie, you say? Well, name one other film that features a Japanese drag-racing Howard Cosell impersonator, a big wet smooch at Dodger Stadium’s home plate, and a climactic ski race in which a lovable loser (John Cusack) goes up against both the local legend and a psychotic bike-riding paperboy on the formidable K12 — on one ski! And of course, this underrated teen gem also shares the most basic of sports film themes — it’s all about the underdog. And what best-of list can’t use a good underdog?
DID YOU KNOW? The voice of the Cosell impersonator is actually master impressionist Rich Little, and that catchy theme song is performed by E.G. Daily, best known as the voice of Rugrats’ Tommy Pickles.
FINAL SCORE How can you not love a film involving a ski-pole sword fight? — Dalton Ross
HERE’S WHY While there have been more successful girl-powered sports films, this Spike Lee-produced pic succeeds in part because it’s about basketball players — who just happen to be female. They sweat, they lift weights, they talk trash. Monica (Sanaa Lathan) is a headstrong tomboy who intends to be the first girl in the NBA. Neighbor Quincy (Omar Epps) is the son of a pro player with the skills to go all the way. While racing to the top, their relationship grows over time from awkward smooches to a sensual game of one-on-one.
DID YOU KNOW? Lathan, who had never played hoops, spent months training before she nabbed the role.
EXTRAS The full-court press, highlighted by two commentaries, auditions, and bloopers
FINAL SCORE Think When Harry Met Sally…, scripted by ESPN’s Dick Vitale. — Jeff Labrecque
HERE’S WHY When last we checked, you could count the number of movies about Negro League Baseball on one hand. There may be stretches of director John Badham’s tale — about star pitcher Bingo Long (Billy Dee Williams), who tires of playing for a cheap owner and starts his own team — that come across as uncomfortably minstrel-like. But the film boasts a bouncy, barnstorming vibe — and a nimble turn by an ethnically elusive Richard Pryor — that’ll get you through to spring training.
DID YOU KNOW? Though the movie is fiction, Bingo is a thinly veiled gloss on Satchel Paige, Leon Carter (James Earl Jones) is clearly based on slugger Josh Gibson, and Esquire Joe Calloway (Stan Shaw) is a stand-in for barrier-breaker Jackie Robinson.
EXTRAS Badham commentary
FINAL SCORE For serving up a little-sampled slice of history, it’s a stand-up triple. — Mandi Bierly