Sports In Film- Low Score At The Oscars

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Hollywood released plenty of sports films over the decades but few managed to score an Oscar.  Since 1929 when the annual prize gala debuted, 89 Best Picture awards were handed out and only three went to movies in the sports genre- (2004) Million Dollar Baby, (1981) Chariots of Fire, (1976) Rocky. 

Overall, 19 sports films won Oscars and 33 trophies were awarded.  Boxing, with its familiar subject matter of grit and hardship, leads the category with 16 statuettes. 

(1931) The Champ was the first to hold up an Oscar, winning Best Actor and Best Story. Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby tops the trophy count with four- Picture, Director, Actress, Supporting Actor.  Chariots of Fire is second with Picture, Original Screen Play, Original Score, Costume.  (1999) One Day In September is the only other Olympics winner, receiving Best Documentary for examining the terrorist massacre at the 1972 Munich games.  

The classic and iconic Rocky landed three- Picture, Director, Editing.  (1980) Raging Bull, a black and white masterpiece directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Robert De Niro as middleweight prizefighter Jake Lamotta, picked up only two.  (2010) The Fighter and (1956) Somebody Up There Likes Me were additional themes on fisticuffs that received two Oscars each.  Ali and Foreman’s captivating “rumble in the jungle” championship bout won Best Documentary in (1996) When We Were Kings. 

Beyond portraying the grueling struggles inside and outside the ring, Hollywood found fertile ground depicting life around smoke filled, seedy pool halls.  (1961) The Hustler cast Paul Newman and took Cinematography and Art Direction.  Twenty five years later, Newman resurfaced with an Oscar in another billiards piece, (1986) The Color of Money. 

Closer to family oriented  productions, (1944) National Velvet starring Elizabeth Taylor galloped away with two figurines.  The horse found popularity again in a Disney Documentary winner, (1960) The Horse With The Flying Tail; a generation later, (2003) Seabiscuit would take seven nominations, but no trophies. 

Since the early 1930’s, there was no shortage of baseball pictures on the big screen but only one film hit an Oscar home run - for Editing, (1942) Pride of The Yankees, a tribute to Lou Gehrig who died a year earlier; Gary Cooper portrayed the hero while Babe Ruth played himself.  Three football films scored an Oscar touchdown- (2009) The Blindside with Sandra Bullock for Actress, (1978) Heaven Can Wait for Art Direction, (2011) Undefeated for Documentary.  1979 coming of age comedy-drama Breaking Away cycled off with Original Screenplay and (1996) Jerry McGuire clinched with Cuba Gooding Jr. as Supporting Actor. 

(2016) O.J.: Made In America is nominated this year for Best Documentary- will sports have its 34th Oscar trophy ?

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THIS WEEK

10 years ago

AUTO RACING May 24, 2009  Brazil’s Helio Castroneves wins the 93rd edition of the Indianapolis 500, becoming the first foreign-born driver to claim the famed chase three times (2001, 2002). Starting out from pole position in car #3, Castroneves clocked the 200-lap race in 3:19:35. Placing 2nd at the 500 in 2003, 2014 and 2017, Castrovenes is regarded as the best driver who never won an IndyCar Series championship.

20 years ago

RUNNING May 18, 1999  American running champion Betty Robinson dies at the age of 87. The Riverdale, Illinois native was the first female to win gold at the 100m sprint when the race was introduced to women at the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam. She went on to claim gold again in the 4 x 100m relay at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin after the heavily favored Germans, who were leading, dropped the baton.

30 years ago

HORSE RACING May 20, 1989  Pat Valenzuela wins the Preakness Stakes aboard Sunday Silence, crossing the finish line in a time of 1:538 and edging out rival Easy Goer by just a nose. Both jockey and horse had won the Kentucky Derby earlier, but would miss out on a Triple Crown three weeks later at the Belmont Stakes after trailing Easy Goer by eight lengths.

40 years ago

BASEBALL May 16, 1979  The NL approves the sale of the Houston Astros by the Ford Motor Company (Credit) to John McMullen. The team would sign up pitcher Nolan Ryan, baseball’s first $1 million contract, and go on to reach the playoffs the following year for the first time in franchise history. Founded as the Houston Colt .45’s, the Astros were renamed in 1965 as a reference to the nation’s space center.