Quarantine Film Festival
Movies That Hit It Out of the Park
By Noah Gittell
The crack of the bat. The roar of the crowd. The smell of stale beer. Paying $6 for a bottle of water. If you’re anything like me, you’re going through baseball withdrawal right now, and it hurts. We don’t yet know when or if baseball will return in 2020, but cinema has got you covered. While you can only watch “Bull Durham” or “The Natural” so many times, the baseball movie canon is deeper than you might realize. Here are some films off the beaten (first base) path that are currently available to stream at home.
“Fear Strikes Out”
This 1957 drama about real-life pro baseball player Jimmy Piersall (Anthony Perkins), who suffered a nervous breakdown on the field, cares very little about getting its baseball right. There are hilarious continuity errors, like when a wide shot of a game at Fenway Park cuts to a medium shot in a completely different ballpark. But it deserves a watch for its bold depiction of a toxic father-son relationship and the riveting lead performance by Perkins.
“The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings”
This 1976 comedy features Billy Dee Williams, James Earl Jones, and Richard Pryor in a breezy tale of Negro League players who, tired of the abuse from their overbearing owner, create their own barn-storming independent team. With exuberant performances and surprising insight on the intersection of race and class, why isn’t this one in the canon? Likely because baseball culture has become more conservative and whiter over the years, and “Bingo Long” is just a little too radical.
Who threw the fastest pitch in baseball history? That’s what the filmmakers of this clever documentary set out to determine. Featuring interviews with legendary pitchers and journalists, “Fastball” looks back at historical attempts to measure the speed of baseball’s greatest pitchers, then uses data analysis to compare pitches through generations and finally settle the debate of who is the greatest fireballer of all time. The answer may surprise you.
“The Battered Bastards of Baseball”
In the 1970s, an independent minor league team called the Mavericks captured the heart of Portland, Oregon. The team, owned and operated by a former TV actor, was a roster full of blue-collar, hard-partying guys who lacked the talent for the majors but were good enough to compete with — and often dominate — the rising prospects in the Pacific Northwest league. This documentary chronicles the rise and fall of the Mavericks with a deep love for the game and misfits who gravitate to it.
“Little Big League”
Overshadowed by its inferior cousin, “Rookie of the Year”, “Little Big League” is the best film about a kid who ends up in the majors. The twist here is that he’s a manager, not a player. Twelve-year-old Billy Heywood (Luke Edwards) becomes the owner of the Minnesota Twins after his grandfather dies and bequeaths it to him, and before long he installs himself as the skipper, leading his team on an unlikely winning streak and earning the respect of the baseball community. Yes, clichés abound, but the screenplay imbues Billy with a knowledge of the game that makes his success believable and the film eminently watchable.
Before they graduated to the Marvel Cinematic Universe with “Captain Marvel,” filmmaking duo Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden made this gritty, heartfelt drama about a young Dominican player’s struggles in the minor leagues. Featuring a movingly naturalistic performance by first-time actor Algenis Perez Soto that captures the pain and humiliations of the game, “Sugar” is the only film on this list that could reasonably be called an anti-baseball movie.
“Everybody Wants Some!!”
Set in the fall of 1980, when Jake (Blake Jenner) arrives at a big Texas university to join the baseball team. “Everybody Wants Some!!” follows him and his sophomoric teammates as they try to score with girls, drink endless pitchers of beer, and even sneak in a little baseball. Writer-director Richard Linklater’s keen understanding of the various archetypes of male athlete is on full display. Even more engaging are the substantial philosophical ideas that emerge — perhaps unknowingly — from his dazed protagonists.
This adaptation by the Peter and Bob Farrelly (“Dumb and Dumber,” “There’s Something About Mary”) of a Nick Hornby novel has a bad reputation among sports fans, perhaps because it holds a dark and nuanced view of fandom under its sunny surface. It traces the relationship between Lindsay (Drew Barrymore) and Ben (Jimmy Fallon), a die-hard Red Sox fan with season tickets who has never let a woman get in the way of his perfect attendance record. There are some goofy moments throughout, but it harbors profound truths about how fandom can turn toxic and keep us from committing to life outside the baseball diamond.