6. Escape to Victory (John Huston, 1981)
This film is a very politically incorrect film as it clearly divides – without a shadow of doubt – the good guys from the bad guys. It tells the story of a couple of Allied prisoners of World War II who are being held in a German prison camp. The Allied prisoners form a football team, lead and coached by English Captain John Colby (Michael Caine), to play an exhibition match against the team of the German forces.
Colby, a professional footballer before the war, convinces a couple of other prisoners to be part of the team. The prisoners that make the team are played by professional football players at the time, including Bobby Moore and Pele. And then there is Sylvester Stallone.
The Hollywood action man plays Hatch, an American prisoner who is initially not chosen for the team, because of his poor football skills, but after nagging Colby day and night he becomes the team’s physical trainer. Hatch very much needs to be on the team due to his well-prepared plan to escape the prison camp.
Despite all of these background stories, the film really is about football and the sheer joy of the game even in the grimmest of circumstances. To the prisoners of war a victory in this exhibition match represents a huge morale boost and the pavement on the road to freedom.
5. The Damned United (Tom Hooper, 2009)
Quentin Tarantino once said that biographical films are boring and they’re really just excuses for actor to win Oscars. He also said that if you are going to make a biopic make it about a specific time-frame in that person’s life in order to make it more accurate and detailed and (most importantly) not to bore the audience.
“The Damned United” is the kind of film Tarantino was talking about. It is about legendary football manager Brian Clough’s 44 day tenure of the bench of Leeds United Football Club. Brian Clough remains (even to this day) one of the top goal scorers of the English Football League and has achieved fame as a manager with clubs like Derby County and Nottingham Forest. Still, this film concentrates on the ill-fated 44 days that he was the manager of Leeds United – most likely the darkest time of his career.
After coach Don Revie (Colm Meaney) leaves his successful job as coach of Leeds United, in order to take over the position as England’s National Side manager, a replacement is needed. In steps Derby County manager Brian Clough (Michael Sheen), a virulent critic of Leeds United and their aggressive football under coach Revie. This is an awkward decision on both parties as Clough always had a hate for Leeds and their style of play and made it public every chance he got.
One of the first things he does once he becomes manager is to tell the players to throw all their awards away as they are unfairly won. The he changes the team’s tactics radically from Devie’s vision without caring about any second opinions. This alienates his new players as they draw comparisons between him and their old coach. But, as they say in football, any mistake can be forgotten with good results.
Unfortunately this is not the case as Leeds has a disastrous beginning of season and Clough’s contract is terminated just after 44 days. The film doesn’t try to justify Clough’s actions and decisions but rather just shows the facts. As for the man himself, he is portrayed sincerely with his rights and wrongs.
At the time of its release they were voices who called the film one-sided a sympathetic towards Clough but facts are facts just as results are results and no one can take that away from the man who loved football more than anything else.
4. Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait (Douglas Gordon, Philippe Parreno, 2006)
This work of cinema is a brilliant documentary that strips the genre right down to its essence. It focuses purely on the player Zinedine Zidane during a football match. It does not even reference background, interviews from family or friends or any of those kinds of things.
It is just Zinedine Zidane playing for Real Madrid against Villareal CF on April 23rd 2005. During the last minutes of this particular match Zidane was sent off as a result of a brawl. There are a lot of close-ups of Zidane, during his play time in the match that show the intensity and the thrill of the game.
There were quite a few complaints against this film; there were those who argued that there are too many close-ups and that Zidane is shown as a static, opportunistic player instead of the football genius which he is. But the truth is that is not the point of the documentary at all.
The point is not to make a classic documentary in which a person is praised or not; the point is to experience Zidane as a football phenomenon and draw your own conclusions. Don’t expect interviews, don’t expect high appraisal but just football and Zidane himself.
3. Green Street Hooligans (Lexi Alexander, 2005)
In the past years it has become pretty obvious that football is more than a sport; it’s a phenomenon. People are willing to die and to kill for their favorite team. In some countries football has become a religion. It is the case of South American countries, Greece, Turkey and of course the country that started it all: England.
The film is very cleverly presented through the eyes of a neutral…and how is more neutral about this sport than an American. And so the story begins with American student Matt Buckner (Elijah Wood) who is wrongfully expelled from Harvard for cocaine possession. In order to keep his mouth shut about the identity of the real culprit he is offered a large sum of money which he uses to go to London and visit his sister.
It is here that the real movie actually begins. Matt befriends his sister’s brother-in-law Pete (Charlie Hunnam), a fanatic supporter of West Ham United who takes him to his first football match. It is here that Matt’s eyes are opened to a world he never dreamed of: the world of the hooligans.
Matt does not see the hooligans’ actions as violent and fanatic but rather of acts of loyalty and courage. He starts to hang out more and more with Pete and his friends and becomes knowledgeable in football; he even gets into fights with supporters of other teams in order to feel like a man again.
Alas the movie does not glorify hooliganism, as it shows the devastating effects that football fanaticism has on the human life, but it does try to show another side of this phenomenon; a side that is never showed in the media and press. But Matt chooses to embrace to the good side of this whole thing; the manly backbone and the courage of not getting hurt that are exactly what he needs to straighten his life back in the United States.
In the end it is up to the viewer to decide where they stand on the issue of football hooligans but this film most certainly opens a lot of unaware eyes in the most delightful way.
2. Maradona by Kusturica (Emir Kusturica, 2008)
This is an Emir Kusturica film. There are no gypsies, no absurd scenes, no surreal imagery, no loud music and no Goran Bregovic. This is a documentary made by a huge fan of Diego Armando Maradona as a testimonial of this football God.
The premise is very simple: director Emir Kusturica goes to Buenos Aires to meet Maradona and then lives alongside him for a while. Kusturica stated that, while shooting, he discovered three Maradonas: the football teacher, the politically incorrect citizen and the family man. The documentary precisely elaborates all the three sides of Maradona’s persona.
The film treats every aspect of the controversial footballer’s life and presents Maradona’s side of the story to every event: the hand of God incident, the tax evasions, left wing political sympathies, meeting with Castro etc. Maradona openly speaks about all this and does not seem to regret anything he has done in his life; because he has pretty much done it all and live to the fullest.
The film ends superbly with musician Manu Chao singing his Maradona ode with his back against the wall and his guitar in hand while The Man himself watches, overwhelmed in emotion and remembrance.
1. Goal Trilogy (Danny Cannon, Jaume Collet-Serra, Andrew Morahan, 2005, 2007, 2009)
This is one of the best sport underdog stories. It is also only the first film series dedicated to soccer. It features the story of Mexican football player Santiago Munez (Kuno Becker) who lives illegaly in Los Angeles. Although a very skilled football player Santiago is faced with poverty and with the illegal temptations that lurk the neighborhood in which he lives.
One day his skills are noticed by Glen Foy (Stephen Dillane), a former player for Newcastle United who couldn’t quite capitalize on his success and now works as a car mechanic. Foy sees in Santiago a younger version of himself and decides to try and help him out. He uses his old connections and manages to get him a tryout for Newcastle United.
Unfortunately things seem to be working against Santiago. First there is the fact that the South American football style is nothing like the English one and then there is Munez’s asthma which he hides from fear of being rejected. Santiago does his best to adapt to the power football practiced in England but his asthma prevents him from doing so.
After a couple of ordeals the team learns of his deficiency and forces him to follow a treatment in this sense. Even with his asthma problem under control he is still not good enough to make the first team so he is offered a contract with the reserve team. He accepts the contract, works really hard and of course – after some time – he makes the first team.
His talent finally begins to show as he plays a crucial part in Newcastle’s fight to win a place next year’s UEFA ‘s Champions League. This is only the first film of the series which has the subtitle: “The Dream Begins”.
Unfortunately – as is the case for most film trilogies – the first film is the better one. In the second film – subtitled: “Living the Dream” – Santiago Munez becomes one of Newcastle United’s leading players and draws a lot of attention from European football giants like Real Madrid.
After an extraordinary season with Newcastle Santiago fulfills his dream and joins Real Madrid. His efforts to make the first team are plagued by troubles with his girlfriend, his half-brother, who comes to visit from the United States with some disturbing news and his party animal friend and team mate Gavin Harris (who was also his team mate at Newcastle) who gets him into a lot of trouble and distracts him from his football.
Like the first film this also has a dramatic finally as Real Madrid play the Champions League final against Arsenal London. Santiago Munez comes on as a substitute but is instrumental in the winning of the trophy for Real Madrid.
The third film takes the focus away from Santiago Munez, who is now an aged and experienced player, and moves it to his best friends Charlie Braithwaite (Leo Gregory) and Liam Adams (JJ Field). All three of them represent their respective national team to the World Cup of 2006 held in Germany – Munez plays for Mexico and the other two for England.
All we learn about Santiago in this film is that he sustains an injury and the he is ready to return to England and play for Tottenham Hotspur. Instead we get a glimpse of the other two players’ struggle to make it big in the football world. Sadly this film went straight to DVD because of poor reviews and lukewarm reception from the public.
Above anything else (the stories, the biographies, the love affairs) this is a film about football and the passions that come with it. The football scenes in these films are absolutely amazing and they could help a non-believer fall in love with the game. The dedication, the passion, the commitment that this sport requires comes through perfectly in this film and brings forward the beauty and the sheer love of and for the game.
Author Bio: Horia Nilescu is a 30-year-old cinephile from Brasov, Romania. He works at a local bookstore as a multimedia & events manager (handling supplying issues in regards to cd’s and dvd’s and also organizing local events). He is passionate about film and fascinated by its diversity. He has created a local film club in Brasov (going of 3 years) in which he handles all aspects. He likes to talk and write about movies but most importantly he likes to watch them.