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DID YOU READ

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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Final Countdown

The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at IFC.com

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Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…