Movie Article

They Got Game

Non-traditional sports movies take over -- ''Best In Show,'' ''Bring It On,'' and ''Searching for Bobby Fischer'' are some of the films that captivate us

Non-traditional sports movies take over

Poker. Dog shows. Cheerleading. All interesting (to somebody), but do they qualify as sports? More importantly, do they make for good sports movies? Bet your cleats they do.

BEST IN SHOW
PG-13, 90 mins., 2000 (Warner)

Inflated egos, cutthroat competitors, nerve-racked teammates, ill-timed injuries, crowded concessions... If it weren't for the overly coiffed poodle prancing around Christopher Guest's dog-show mockumentary, we'd swear we were at a ball game. (When Parker Posey's Weimaraner gets tossed, it might as well be a squabbling strike-out victim.) Sure, the players have strange-sounding names like Winky and Miss Agnes, but come on — the Cleveland Indians' left fielder is Coco Crisp. — Melissa Rose Bernardo

BRING IT ON
PG-13, 99 mins., 2000 (Universal)

You — like sadistic choreographer Sparky Polastri — probably think that ''cheerleaders are dancers who have gone retarded.'' But look beyond the jazz hands and spirit sticks and you'll realize that these so-called sweater monkeys are actually very cleverly costumed gymnasts. It takes real skill to execute those twists, flips, handsprings, death-defying pyramids, and smackdowns in high-pressure competitions against rival squads (Toros versus Clovers! Champs versus underdogs! Kirsten Dunst versus Gabrielle Union!). Plus, any activity that can put a girl in traction qualifies as a sport. — MRB

THE CINCINNATI KID
Unrated, 102 mins., 1965 (Warner)

Long before the World Series of Poker became a staple on ESPN, The Cincinnati Kid sat two Hollywood icons — Steve McQueen and Edward G. Robinson — down at the felt for an epic heads-up showdown. With a full house of supporting talent (Karl Malden, Ann-Margret, Tuesday Weld, and a young Rip Torn), Kid brought poker out of the back room and made it the main event. No need to bluff when you've got a pair of aces. — Andrew Clevenger

GLADIATOR
R, 171 mins., 2000 (DreamWorks)

Stadium? The Colosseum definitely qualifies. Rabid crowds in attendance? As bloodthirsty as the Raider Nation. Color commentator? The guy with the curly red hair is like John Madden at a toga party. Teams? Romans against slaves. Clear winner? Whoever's not dead. Strip away all the revenge and politics and Gladiator is a story of an athlete from the boonies who has a promising career in the minors, is called up to the majors, and finally gets his shot at the title. It's a movie about strength and honor, something every athlete — with the possible exception of Terrell Owens — can understand. — Marc Bernardin

SPELLBOUND
G, 97 mins., 2002 (Columbia TriStar)

Kid versus dictionary. Months of training, sacrifice, pressure, then thrilling drama, strained faces, arms raised in sweet victory — it's an Olympics for the mind at the National Spelling Bee. In tracing the disparate paths of eight boys and girls as they travel from rural Texas, inner-city D.C., coastal California, and elsewhere to the 1999 finals in Washington, D.C., Jeffrey Blitz's Oscar-nominated doc illustrates the American Dream. Still doubt it's a sport? Check out the broadcast each year on E-S-P-N. — Erin Richter

SEARCHING FOR BOBBY FISCHER
PG, 111 mins., 1993 (Paramount)

Compare chess to football: The fierce clicking of the timer in a two-minute speed game, rooks chasing kings with the dogged intensity of linebackers pursuing RBs. Foreseeing his opponent's every move, precocious Max Pomeranc's huge, soulful eyes can read a front line like a veteran quarterback. The braggadocio of Larry Fishburne's park-game hustler rivals the most boisterous end-zone showboating. Meanwhile, away from the board, trophies become the lifeline between father and son, delivering poignant insight into obsessed-sports-dad syndrome — and without a pigskin in reach. — Timothy Gunatilaka

THE HUSTLER
Unrated, 135 mins., 1961 (Fox)

Anyone who says pool players aren't athletes should check out the poise, stamina, and skill on display in the marathon games between Fast Eddie Felson (Paul Newman) and Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason). Newman's swagger rings true with every sports fan who's ever thrilled to a birdie putt or a touchdown pass. He may hustle suckers out of their money, but Felson's determination to be the best elevates him from mercenary to maestro. Added bonus: real-life Raging Bull Jake La Motta's cameo as a taciturn bartender. — AC

Originally posted Nov 11, 2005 Published in issue #851 Nov 25, 2005 Order article reprints