On DVD, a Basketball Elite Eight
Tuesday, March 24, 2009; 12:00 AM
Even the most buzzer-beater-obsessed among us sometimes need to take a break from March Madness. And by take a break, I mean watch something basketball-related on DVD.
As popular as the NCAA Tournament is, it's amazing how few really good movies and TV shows focus on the game that inspired it. Seriously, start naming football and baseball films. You can go on for hours, right? Now try to do the same thing with basketball. Trust me, it won't take long before you're scraping names like "Juwanna Mann" off the bottom of the imdb barrel.
Still, some quality basketball DVDs are well worth viewing during those key pauses from bracketology. Consider the following elite eight suggestions.
"Glory Road" (PG, on DVD and Blu-ray), has all the cliche montages and soaring emotional moments one expects from a Disney sports movie. But it deserves credit for compellingly telling the story behind a historical 1966 moment: the first appearance of an all African-American starting line-up in an NCAA championship game. "Glory Road" also stands as one of the rare Hollywood films to capture some of the excitement of March Madness, as it follows the Texas Western Miners through a series of victories that lead to that climactic Big Dance finale against an all-white Kentucky squad.
Many consider "Hoosiers" (PG, on DVD and Blu-ray) the gold standard of basketball movies. Personally, I think it's a tad overrated. (Exhibit A: the distinctly 1980s-era score, which sounds completely absurd as the soundtrack for a comeback story set in the '50s.) But because I'd like to avoid receiving hordes of angry e-mails from Indiana basketball loyalists, I will concede that it's strong enough to be included here, based on the presence of the always exceptional Gene Hackman. By the way, if you crave a quality selection of DVD features, go with the two-disc collector's edition of "Hoosiers," which offers more extras (including a making-of documentary and deleted scenes) than the more recent, but comparatively skimpy Blu-ray release.
If "Hoosiers" isn't the greatest basketball movie of all time, then what is? Easy. It's "Hoop Dreams" (PG-13, on DVD), the immensely moving, epic 1994 documentary about a pair of inner-city Chicago friends struggling to raise their prospects on the court and someday make it to the NBA. This isn't just the finest basketball movie you'll ever see, it's one of the finest documentaries ever made.
It's tempting to refer to "The Heart of the Game" (PG-13, on DVD) as "Hoop Dreams" for females. But that would be an insult to this 2005 doc, which follows a Seattle girls high school basketball team through several roller coaster seasons and works just beautifully on its own terms. Though focused largely on star player Darnellia Russell and the life-altering event that briefly sidelines her career, "Heart" shows what can be achieved when a group of young ladies are empowered to make their own decisions, "draw blood" on the basketball court and stick by each other, no matter what.
Hardcore sports nuts may think 2000's "Love & Basketball" (PG-13, on DVD) spends too much time on the love and not enough on the basketball. But most viewers will appreciate Sanaa Lathan's grounded performance as a ferocious female baller who demonstrates that a woman can be even more devoted to the game than her man is.
In the mood for some retro b-ball? Well, sadly, the disco-flavored "The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh" is not on DVD. But while you wait for that flagrant oversight to be rectified, check out the first two seasons of "The White Shadow," the Emmy Award-winning CBS drama that ran from 1978 to 1981 and starred Ken Howard as the former NBA player-turned-high-school basketball coach at L.A.'s Carver High School. Serious issues -- from race relations to teen pregnancy -- are tackled while players with nicknames like Salami and Hollywood dominate the court in short shorts and tube socks up to their knees.
The "your mother" jokes and the slick moves come fast and furious in "White Men Can't Jump," (Rated R, on DVD) a con artist comedy that lets Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes work their street ball magic, and gives co-star Rosie Perez the opportunity to become a "Jeopardy" champion by showing off her knowledge of foods that begin with the letter Q. Now that's impressive.
If all this year's tourney excitement merely makes you hunger for more, then skip the movies and TV shows and get a copy of "NCAA March Madness: The Greatest Moments of the NCAA Tournament," a DVD released last month that contains 75 minutes of comebacks, buzzer beaters and classic performances by legends like Bill Walton and Michael Jordan. Of course, not every key game gets its one shining moment; the 1985 Villanova upset over Georgetown, for example, is notably absent. But there is enough here to satisfy most fans, especially those who still haven't seen that 1992 Christian Laettner shot enough times yet.