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9 Oscar Winning Sports Films

by: Howard Cosmell On  Monday, February 28, 2011

Last night marked the 83rd annual Academy Awards, and for the first time in a long time, a sports-related film took home two Oscars. And while they may be few and far between, sports films have won several Oscars throughout the years. Here are nine examples.

The Fighter – Best Supporting Actress and Best Supporting Actor

As mentioned above, last night, Christian Bale and Melissa Leo each took home an Oscar for their work on this critically acclaimed boxing flick. Of course, Bale owes his award more to his character’s crack cocaine addiction than his boxing skills. Like Charlie Sheen says, stay off the crack, unless you can handle it socially, of course.

The Pride of the Yankees – Best Editing

The Pride of the Yankees tells the story of Lou Gehrig, as played by Gary Cooper. And as the film’s famous speech suggests, despite his debilitating disease, Gehrig considered himself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth. Unfortunately, that luck didn’t translate to the Oscars, where the film took home only one award for editing despite earning 11 nominations.

The Champ – Best Actor, Best Original Story

In The Champ, an alcoholic boxer played by Wallace Beery sobers up for the sake of his stupid kid. God, kids ruin everything. The movie won an Oscar for best original story, and Beery tied for best actor. The fact that you’ve never heard of Wallace Beery proves that all glory is fleeting.

Breaking Away – Best Original Screenplay

This film tells the story of a kid from Bloomington, IN who dreams of making it big in the Tour De France. IU alumni will enjoy references to infamous “Little 500” bike race, and everyone else will enjoy a good laugh at the thought of the evil “privileged kids” attending a state school in Indiana. Not that IU is a bad school, but it’s not like the Winklevoss twins are attending.

The Hustler – Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Cinematography

Is pool a sport? Sure, why not. That makes The Hustler, the classic movie about pool sharks, a sports film. It took home two Oscars for art direction and cinematography. Both were in “black and white” categories, which should tell even the most mathematically impaired movie lover that 1961 was a long time ago.

Chariots of Fire – Best Picture, Original Score, Costume Design, Original Screenplay

This 1981 film follows two 1924 Olympic runners, a Christian and a Jew, as they race for spiritual and political reasons. At the time of its theatrical run, it became the highest-grossing foreign film of all time. Almost all of the filming took place in Britain, including the iconic running scene on the beach of St. Andrews, Scotland, set to Vangelis’ “Chariots of Fire.” Chariots of Fire dominated the awards circuit that year, achieving critical as well as commercial success. It took home four of the awards, including the big guy, Best Picture.

Jerry Maguire – Best Supporting Actor

Having been nominated for a slew of Oscars, including Best Picture, 1996’s Jerry Maguire walked away with only one statue for Best Supporting Actor for Cuba Gooding Jr.’s over-the-top turn as professional football player Rod Tidwell. This coming-of-age/romance film is set in the world of sports (mostly football) as Tom Cruise’s character, the titular Jerry Maguire, finds his moral compass in an ethically bankrupt profession and deals with the fallout. Cuba Gooding Jr. famously shouted “Show me the money!” during his acceptance speech, which seemed to be his mantra in selecting all subsequent films. Boat Trip? Rat Race? Snow Dogs?

Raging Bull – Editing and Best Actor

This 1980 boxing saga follows Jake La Motta (played in a legendary performance by Robert DeNiro) through his life while examining his various flaws including jealousy and rage. DeNiro famously slapped on 60 pounds and donned some serious prosthetics to play the pugilist in his later years. The film also paired DeNiro with Joe Pesci, a coupling that we would see again and again in Goodfellas, Casino, and A Bronx Tale. The violent content and generally unpleasant nature of the film cooled initial critical reaction, though time has been kind, and now it is viewed by many as perhaps the greatest sports film ever made, and among the best acting performances in cinematic history by DeNiro.

Rocky – Best Picture, Director, and Editing

In hindsight, it seems like the film Rocky is mired in cliché, but that’s only because it was so instrumental in creating the very conventions that we now associate so closely with sports movies. However, the ending (which I’m not going to give away, even though if you haven’t seen Rocky by now, I should come over to your house and torture your pets) defies much of the convention and is a surprising twist in an otherwise straight film. Though he got a nod, Sylvester Stallone didn’t get the statue for Best Screenplay. Consequently, that facet of his career is often overlooked by people who are only familiar with the action-star persona of his later career. Of course, the original Rocky would spawn five sequels, including Rocky IV, were Rocky trains hard and single handedly stops the spread of communism, thus shifting the global landscape for all eternity.




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