Since the inception of his career with Capote in 2005, Bennett Miller has been on a shortlist of emerging American directors to look out for. After a six-year hiatus from behind the camera, Miller returned to Hollywood with Moneyball in 2011, an unorthodox sports film more fixated on statistics than players. His latest movie (the recipient of five Academy Award nominations) Foxcatcher, about a pair of Olympic wrestlers who unwisely hitch themselves to multimillionaire John DuPont, continues Miller’s streak of idiosyncratic, distinctive filmmaking.
On a characteristically overcast afternoon in San Francisco, Miller, who’s now up for an Oscar of his own for directing, allotted a portion of our interview to passionately discuss his favorite sports movies, which I added to with a few picks of my own from the Fandor collection.
Bennett Miller’s Top Sports Films
Bad News Bears
Perhaps one of the most underrated films, as loved as it is. There isn’t a performance in there that’s not brilliant. It breaks my heart that I think it would be impossible to make a film like that today. It’s such a time capsule of [an era] where you could have kids smoking cigarettes and drinking beer riding around on a motorcycle on a date, without helmets. It literally wouldn’t be allowed today.
The World’s Greatest Athlete
It’s one of the first films I ever recall seeing. [It] is probably a Disney film, and I probably have not seen it since. I was definitely a kid. It gave me so much energy I just wanted to run around the block and break records.
Weekend of a Champion
It’s with Jackie Stewart, directed by Roman Polański. It’s a phenomenal film.
Another baseball movie that is just fantastic.
… and a few sport-film favorites of mine.
Before being inundated by an endless stream of animated kitten gifs, there was Boxing Cats, W.K.L. Dickson and William Heise’s 1894 documentary short about a pair of circus cats duking it out in the ring. Trained by Professor Henry Welton (who also appears in the film), these felines were infamous attractions at vaudeville houses across New York during that summer of ’84. If you’re wondering what thirty-five seconds of unadulterated joy looks like, check out Boxing Cats.
Lyrical, elegant, and absorbing, in a little over three-minutes director Barry Jenkins shines a new light on King’s Boxing Gym in Oakland, CA. The images—men and women sweating, battling, beating one another—suggest machismo, rage, and violence. But the emotive piano score is a jarring juxtaposition to the combat, and a welcomed one. The score opens the floodgate, and out comes the emotion. Jenkins unveils the fragility and beauty off the sport. Barbaric as boxing may appear, it’s an art. And it always will be.
One Run Elmer
A baseball is hit, dissolving into popcorn. A bat is lodged with a bullet not a cork, firing off like a gun in the bottom of the ninth. A base gets attached to a fielder’s ankle by elastic. A stone-faced umpire is unfazed by the lunacy around him. These are the key ingredients to the slapstick trifle One Run Elmer. Dubbed an “educational star comedy special,” the twenty-minute short casts Buster Keaton as a man vying for the affection of a beautiful woman (played by Lona Andre). However, this elegant beauty is stuck in the middle between two lustful men looking to take her home after the baseball game. To decide who will be her suitor, she makes a proposition: Whoever wins the game wins me. Hilarity ensues.