30 for 30 (2009 - 2010) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

30 for 30 (2009 – 2010)

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30 For 30 was created to celebrate ESPN’s 30th anniversary on the air.  The project called for 30 different documentary filmmakers to tackle 30 different sports stories of the past 30 years.  The filmmakers got to pick their projects and what resulted was 30 different stories told in unique ways about moments, people, and events that touched the director in a profound way.

The movies range in time from about 40-100 minutes and tackle a wide range of topics, some big stories (OJ Simpson, the 2004 Red Sox) and some really small ones (the saga of Marcus Dupree, the birth of fantasy sports).   Some of the people behind the camera are big names such as Barry Levinson and Peter Berg, but a lot of the time the directors are not widely known.

The one thing that all the stories, no matter the topic, length or style, have in common is there at least an idea that is interesting.  You don't have to be a fan of sports to love these documentaries because, more often than not, the sports aspect of the story is in the background; the meat of the film is about the people and the  consequences of their actions.  For example, the Allen Iverson film, No Crossover, has to do very little with his basketball skills and more to do about race relations and the actions of a small town.  Soccer might have been the backdrop of the excellent The Two Escobars, but the film was mainly about Columbia and the insanity that the country went through in the mid 90s.

While it would be the longest review piece ever if I talked about all 30 films, it is worth going to the website and checking out synopses for all of the documentaries. Here are some of my favorites:

A site that still makes Baltimore angry.

5. The Band Who Wouldn’t Die - Barry Levinson (Diner, Rain Man) is a lifelong and die-hard Baltimore resident.  It is evident in many of his pictures and is very clear in this documentary.  Nothing is worse for a sports fan than when you team moves. The feeling of being unloved, unwanted and unable to help is horrible and the way that the Baltimore Colts left town was salt in the wound.  The team left in the middle of the night, silently, quickly and without giving fans any chance to grieve.  Yet a small group of super fans did not take this lying down and never gave up their tradition of playing in the Baltimore Colt's Band.  For years after the demise of the Colts in the town, the band played on all over the country as both an outlet to their loss and as a giant middle finger to the owner who moved the team right from under them.  While the movie might be a little self-indulgent and the people interviewed  aren’t bashful about patting themselves on the back, this story of not letting go was very entertaining.

4. The U-  In the late 80s and early 90’s, people who watched college football either LOVED or HATED the Miami Hurricanes.  The Hurricanes were seen as what were wrong with modern day college football... or as what college football needed/should become.  The U celebrates this program, warts and all.  It portrays the people behind the scenes as what they were (and in many instances still are), namely brash, cocky kids that were able to back up their swagger on the field.   Here is a almost 2 hour documentary showcasing all the depravity, stupidity, and good times the Hurricanes had during a very special ten years.  Much like the program itself, this movie might rub people the wrong way, but, again, much like the actual football team, while it might make you dislike the people, there is no denying that it is an entertaining time.

Donald Trump, doing his best Emperor Palpatine Scowl

3. Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL - This Mike Tollin directed film was endlessly fascinating to me because I didn’t know anything about this spring football league until I watched the movie.  The fact that for a few years in the 1980’s, a second football league was a modern success is enough of a story to get my attention, but you add well known figures like Burt Reynolds and Donald Trump to the mix, you have a can’t miss movie.  While I never fully got how Trump was vilified for killing this league, I loved seeing the teams, mascots, stadiums and games that history has forgotten get another moment in the sun.  For anyone that can only remember the XFL and stadium football trying to steal some of the NFL’s thunder, this is a can’t miss film.

An image that we all know really well.

2. June 17,1994 - Through the 30 documentaries, I saw many different types of styles used.  There were dramatic reenactments, 1st person tales, interviewing the subject on a golf course and many cases of talking heads.  While most documentaries use talking heads either almost exclusively or at least a bit, June 17, 1994 does not use a single second of talking heads to tell its story, nor does it use a voice over.  The whole documentary is told with footage of the day from various news stations, cameras, and sports broadcasts.  The director Brett Morgan (Chicago 10, The Kid Stays in the Picture) constructs the movie as a day of footage from TV which turned out to be one of the craziest sports days in the last few decades.  With a huge Stanley Cup celebration occurring in New York, the opening of the World Cup on American soil, a decisive NBA Finals game between the Knicks and Rockets and Arnold Palmer was playing his last game of golf at the US Open, it looked to be an immense day for sports fans,  yet all of these stories took a back seat to O.J. Simpson and his slow police chase through LA.  The way Morgan uses the footage, from laid back and easy paced during the early hours of the day to the end of the day with lots of cuts to convey the craziness of the night, is perfect.  Some of the footage that is included in this documentary, including Bob Costas trying to get anyone to answer his question about whether NBC was going to show the NBA game or not is amazing.  Although I remember the craziness of that day well, June 17, 1994 shows us again how truly bizarre and jam-packed that whole day was with sports.

  1. The Best That Never Was- For the longest time, June 17, 1994 was my favorite film out of the series because it told a story and did it with flair, style and creativity.  I did not think any film would top it, and that was the case almost to the very end when I saw The Best that Never Was. While June 17, 1994 was a different kind of documentary, this story about a kid named Marcus Dupree was very traditional. Director Jonathan Hock found one of those 'couldn’t miss' blue chip high school players that ended up being everything that was promised but somehow still fell through the cracks.  Marcus Dupree was a football player on a totally different plain then anyone else on the field during his high school days.  He was big, fast and strong and seemingly could knock defenders out of his way with ease.  All the big colleges were licking their lips at a chance to sign him to their program, but Dupree ended up going to Oklahoma. There, it can be said, he did not so much fizzle but imploded.  Hit with some injuries and never seeing eye to eye with coach Barry Switzer, Dupree never got to reach his potential even though he showed flashes of brilliance his freshman year.  Near the beginning of his second year he had enough and left the team, never to return.  With that decision, the possibility of Dupree being one of the greatest football players (which he was quickly on his way to be) died a silent death.  While this could have been the end of the story, there is more to his tale that I would not spoil here.  I could always gauge how good the films were by the level of interest my wife showed in the films.  If she was reading a book or playing on the computer, I knew it didn’t hook her, but with The Best That Never Was, she, much like me, was sucked into the story quickly and never could stop rooting for Dupree, a guy who never fulfilled his promise.

There are many ways to watch these films.  All the films are available on I-Tunes, most are available on Amazon as a single movie, the first 15 films has just recently been released in a nice, affordable box set and some select films will be shown again through the holiday season on the ESPN stations.  Look at the synopsis, find out who is behind each movie and watch the ones that catch your attention, 30 for 30 is a great series that should be watched by anyone looking for well told stories.

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Posted by Ryan

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