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The State of Sports Movies

The State of Sports Movies (photo)

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If you’re like me, you’re trapped in the house under two feet of snow and you’ve got a lot of time on your hands. So it’s the perfect day to read “The Sports Guy” Bill Simmons’ lengthy treatise on the state of sports movies on ESPN.com. It is an interesting (if a tad long-winded) read but, hey, what else are you gonna do? Shovel the driveway? I didn’t think so.

Simmons begins by identifying what a down year 2010 was for sports movies: besides “The Fighter,” you had the inspirational horse drama (obviously — all horse dramas are inspirational) “Secretariat,” the basketball romantic comedy “Just Wright,” (in the proud tradition of “Forget Paris”) and the “Bad News Bears”-y girls’ basketball movie “The Winning Season” starring Sam Rockwell. The dearth of sports movies, a typically dependable cinematic staple, coupled with all the talk about how hard it was for Mark Wahlberg to get “The Fighter,” led Simmons to wonder how sports movies have evolved over the last few decades.

Though he has a bunch of interrelated points (and I encourage you to go to his entire piece to read them all), the big — and I think quite astute — picture is this: that sports movies thrive on familiarity, while modern mainstream Hollywood’s bigggest selling point is what I would call “enormous newness.” Here’s Simmons:

“The movie industry is battling the same issue as every professional sports league: How do you keep dragging consumers to your theater/stadium when (A) the home experience keeps improving (better televisions, surround sound, Blu-rays, season packages, the Internet), and (B) because we’ve become a nation of multitaskers, some people don’t want to spend two or three hours sitting in the same seat focusing on one thing?

So in essence, with so many entertainment options at our disposal, and so many different ways to consume media, what reason is there for audiences to come to the theater instead of waiting for films to come to them? Hollywood’s answer, at least in the short term, is spectacle: provide a 3D action-o-rama that can’t be replicated even on the finest home theater set-ups (and you better believe the studios are sweating bullets at the thought of 3D televisions catching on). A new movie has to be something you haven’t seen before and can’t see at home: hence, “enormous newness” like “Avatar.”

That makes sports movies like “The Fighter” an endangered species, since originality is anathema to their success. Ironically, since they involve men and women pushing themselves to accomplish nearly impossible physical feats, we like sports movies not because they challenge us, but because they reassure us. As Simmons notes, “We’re so accustomed to seeing every boxing movie end the same way — with our hero winning the big fight — that even though we love having curveballs thrown at us in the theater, it always feels disconcerting if a boxing movie ends unhappily.” He’s right; even the “Rocky” films that end with Rocky losses in the ring involve greater and higher spiritual or moral victories; he goes the distance, proves he’s still got a champion’s heart, etc. Sports movies are cinematic comfort food: we know “Rocky III” isn’t particularly good for us, we know it won’t teach us much about cinematic technique (other than, say, how to make an effective training montage) but, dammit, they make us feel so good.

In a sense, sports movies are victims of their own enormous success. We grew to love sports movies so much, that we could only envision them one way: the “Rocky” way, the “Bad News Bears” way, the underdog-makes-good-and-warms-our-hearts-way. Now when a new sports movie comes out it has to try to distinguish itself in some way to earn our money (and to convince us not to wait two years until it’s playing Saturday afternoons on basic cable to see it) while still fulfilling all of the classic sports movie cliches. The easiest and most common way to do that is to simply change the setting and the sport: from boxing to baseball, from little league to kids’ hockey. But that grows tiresome too. From that perspective, sports movies’ decline was inevitable. What else should we expect but decline if we refuse to let a genre evolve?

With all of these issues, plus the proliferation of good sports documentaries and reality television series, Simmons wonders if we still need sports movies at all. Ultimately, though, he believes “there’s more than enough room for both.” If a filmmaker can “just tell the story and tell it well,” he says, then “the rest will take care of itself. You hope.”

I’m not sure if that’s wishful thinking or resigned sarcasm on Simmons’ part. But “The Fighter” tells a story well, and it isn’t exactly lighting up the box office charts. According to BoxOfficeMojo.com, in one week of limited release and two weeks of wide release, the film has earned about $28 million, decent returns for a relatively small film, but certainly not enough of a hit at this point to reverse the decline in sports movies. Because that’s what it’s really going to take. Not a remarkable story of heartwarming courage that demands to be told on the big screen, or a really inventive take on the old formulas; just cold hard box office numbers. A new sports movie renaissance can only start with one massive sports movie hit. Only then others will follow, like the hundreds of kids who trailed Rocky through the streets of Philadelphia in the training montage to “Rocky II.”

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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