Ahh, soccer films. Where to begin?
Between embellished, acrobatic (and seemingly unnecessary) bicycle kicks and overplayed acting, they can all veer a little off course with their trite and cliched execution. Few directors have mustered the ability to capture the pure essence of the beautiful game to the core, and the results, as such, have been rather disparate.
But not all have underwhelmed.
As 'Pele: Birth of a Legend' hits theaters today, we reminisce on the best of the past. Here are 5 soccer films that, in their own, unique way, are a cut above the rest:
Not to be confused with the subpar reinterpretation featuring Jimmy Fallon, Drew Barrymore and the Boston Red Sox (sorry, not sorry, baseball fans), the 'Fever Pitch' is the true cinematic portrayal of Nick Hornby's bestselling autobiographical novel and knocks it out of the park -- or hits the back of the net.
While the book recounts upwards of 30 years of Hornby's life, the film largely zooms in on Arsenal's vaunted title-winning season in 1988-99 through the perspective of a middle-class Gunners zealot. Add in a workplace romance, and you get a tug-of-war as the main character grapples with his two loves throughout. The end result? Football fandom at its peak.
The Damned United
Dubbed the "best manager England never had," legendary English gaffer Brian Clough will go down as much for his explosive and abnormal disposition as he will for his prowess from the sidelines. 'The Damned United' examines 44 of the darkest days of his career, spent as manager of Leeds United in the mid-70s in which his harsh persona saw him infamously ousted at Elland Road. Told through a collection of flashbacks, this film contains all the elements of a sports movie.
Goal! The Dream Begins
Who doesn't love a pipe dream turned into reality? Well, that's exactly what transpired in the blink of an eye for Santiago Munez, a young Mexican immigrant who goes from working in his conservative father's lawn-care business in Los Angeles to braving the rain and cold of Tyneside and playing alongside Alan Shearer for Newcastle United. Sure, the cliches mount as the movie eventually evolves into a trilogy, but it's the ultimate rags-to-riches tale that has stood the test of time.
Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait
On paper, having 17 synchronized cameras follow a player in real time through a 90-minute match may not be perceived as the most enticing viewing concept. Somehow, someway, video artists Douglas Gordon and Philippe Pareno make it work.
In 'A 21st Century Portrait,' a breathtakingly unadorned piece is constructed in which various conventions of fiction or documentary are abandoned in favor of art-house cinema. Cameras tail Zinedine Zidane, and only Zidane, in a 2005 La Liga game against Villarreal, tracking the Real Madrid star's every movement until his sending off late in the fixture. A must-see.
Green Street Hooligans
Not all football-related films strictly emphasize what happens on the pitch. Case in point: 'Green Street Hooligans,' which just shades 'The Football Factory' in terms of its depiction of hooliganism across the pond. The former offers a slightly more Hollywood interpretation and sheds light on an expelled Harvard student who joins the West Ham firm 'Green Street Elite' and is introduced to the culture of boozing and violence in the beautiful game.
Honorable mention: Bend It Like Beckham
At a time when David Beckham's brand was arguably at its pinnacle, 'Bend It Like Beckham' transmitted a transcendent, cultural memo. As the tagline reads, "Who wants to make aloo gobi when you can bend it like Beckham?"
Befriended by Jules Paxton (Keira Knightley), a soccer-mad Jess Bhamra's (Parminder Nagra) desire to represent England is stalled by her traditional Sikh family. But as we soon come to realize, racial tensions and cultural boundaries can be cast aside in an effort to fulfill one's dream.
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