Anti-sports folk, look away now: today marks the beginning of the 2014 World Cup, and we're a little bit excited. We know that it's hardly the biggest deal on the sporting calendar for much of the U.S, but we love the beautiful game, and the month-long festival of soccer (or football, as people who name games in an accurate manner call it) is pretty much unbeatable when it comes to seeing the best of the best play their trade.
So we've already drawn the Playlist office sweepstakes, but we are aware that not everyone is as keen on live sport. But we figured that the cinephiles and the sports fans must be able to find some compromise, and so to celebrate the start of Brazil 2014, we've dug up ten great, and in some cases not so great, cinematic takes on the Beautiful Game in the hope that they might give those of us who are excited something to watch between games, and those of you who don't care something to talk about with your friends. Take a look at our picks below, and let us know your own favorite soccer movies in the comments section below.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with a good old fashioned crowd-pleaser, and Gurinder Chadha’s “Bend It Like Beckham” wears that designation with pride. Even though it’s only ten years old, they truly don’t make ‘em like this anymore—a genuinely enjoyable comedy that you can actually watch with your mom and not worry that a penis joke or boobs are suddenly going to appear. Yep, it’s wholesome but also the kind of multi-culture picture people continually ask for and that we still don’t see too often at the multiplex. Parminder Nagra stars as Jess, the daughter of Indian immigrants who not only loves soccer, but has the talent to make it a career. Her best bud Jules (Keira Knightley) and coach/quasi-love interest Joe (a surprisingly subdued Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) are thrilled, but of course, her parents aren’t. Yes, it’s a familiar formula, but spirited, sincere performances and a light but insightful script by Chadha keep things fresh and involving, even if you know where every beat of the story goes next. ‘Beckham’ effectively captures the passion for the sport that infects players and fans worldwide, and allows viewers to feel it as well, all while deftly weaving the story against the backdrop of a teenager forced to make very adult decisions about her life. Warm and earnest, ‘Beckham’ doesn’t need tragedy or upheaval to sell the pure joy of soccer.
It always helps with a sports movie if it focuses on your own team. And so it was with "Fever Pitch." Nick Hornby's breakthrough 1992 memoir focuses on his life-long obsession with Arsenal F.C., who happened to also be Playlister Oli's local club, and his first true love. He'd read, and not really understood the book (to be fair, he was ten years old at the time), but in 1997, it came to screens, adapted by the author and starring Colin Firth, who'd recently become the nation's favorite heartthrob thanks to the TV miniseries of "Pride & Prejudice." In David Evans' film, the material was fictionalized and turned into a rom-com, with Firth playing Hornby surrogate Paul, a North London schoolteacher who's lived for Arsenal since going with his Dad as a boy. He sparks up a romance with colleague Sarah (Ruth Gemmell), but as Arsenal head towards a game against Liverpool on the final day of the season that will decide the title, Paul may be forced to decide between the girl and the game. It's a modest, conventional little entry in the post-'Four Weddings' run of British rom-coms, and certainly outshone by the adaptation of Hornby's "High Fidelity" three years later. But Firth is winning (as is a young Mark Strong, as his best friend; one can see why their relationship in "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" has added weight), there's real insight into the world of obsessive fandom and the toll it can take on your relationships, and it's pretty fitfully funny. (Side note: the team had also featured front and center in another film, 1939's "The Arsenal Stadium Mystery," an oddity of a pre-war thriller).
"Kicking & Screaming" was hated early on in some small cinephile circles for having the gall to steal its title from Noah Baumbach’s 1995 disenfranchised post-college comedy of the same name. While the corporate entity of Universal won the battle (there was some talk of exploring a lawsuit, but it quickly fizzled out), Baumbach’s film won the war—the original is now regarded as an indie-classic and has the Criterion stamp of approval, while the Will Ferrell-starring soccer movie is largely regarded as mediocre and forgettable. And it is... but it also isn’t. Directed by Jesse Dylan (“American Wedding”), the story and filmmaking is about as pedestrian and predictable as it can get. The story centers on a easy-going family man (played by Ferrell) who suffers the lifelong abuse of his father's (Robert Duvall) competitive nature (the casting of the veteran seems to nod to "The Great Santini"). But the mild-mannered man transforms when he takes on the coaching duties of his son’s pitiful ragtag soccer team. Pitted against his father who is coaching a crackerjack team of youngsters, Ferrell’s Phil Weston soon snaps and turns into a raging dysfunctional asshole obsessed with winning and beating his father. While it’s rated PG, and therefore seemingly safe as milk in many ways (though it feels like a PG-13 film), fans of Ferrell will at least appreciate the second half of the movie when he turns into a ballistic animal. Scenes of the comedian screaming insanely at children are good stuff and the absurd caffeine-addiction subplot (which is supposed to be part of the reason he turns into a maniacal fiend), which culminates in a coffee shop meltdown, is deliciously funny. Again, while kinda dumb, avid soccer fans will appreciate some of it, including the two Italian ringer kids brought in to help Ferrell’s horrendously untalented team get into the playoffs. Co-starring ex-Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka and Kate Walsh, it’s difficult to vouch too hard for this fairly forgettable comedy, but soccer and Will Ferrell fans should get at least a tiny kick out of some of the actor’s pricelessly moronic freak-outs and breakdowns.