Top 5 Boxing Films of All-Time (1980)
My buddy Al Bernstein - the boxing guru - challenged me to list my top 5 boxing films of all-time.
I'll try and go the distance.
- Raging Bull (1980)
This may be director Marty Scorsese's best film. Many critics thought Raging Bull was the best movie of the decade of the '80s. Not just the best boxing film, but the best movie.
Robert DeNiro won the Best Actor Oscar for his withering, intense portrayal of Jake LaMotta. He captured reckless violence and raw rage. DeNiro's performance may well be the best ever of a boxer.
If DeNiro's performance is unforgettable, the direction by Scorsese is brilliant. He shows the combat in the ring in several different ways -- the bouts are stylistically unique.
Paul Schrader (honing Mardik Martin's first-draft script) adds depth, symbolism, and impact.
The divine Thelma Schoonmaker -- Scorsese's life-long editor -- also won an Oscar for her phenomenal editing.
- Rocky (1976)
Maybe since I'm a Philly guy, I'm especially drawn to this fable of an underdog.
Rocky is one of the happy accidents in the history of movies. Stallone's original script was harsh and naturalistic, and he insisted on starring in and directing the picture.
But fortuitous changes were made.
The tone was redone, John C. Avildsen became director, and the ending was changed. A fairy tale was born.
Rocky went on to win the Oscar as Best Picture, and Avildsen won for Best Director.
Stallone did direct Rocky 2-4 and 6. And Avildsen returned to direct Rocky 5 (1990).
Ironically Avildsen once hired Scorsese as a go-fer when Marty was a student at NYU.
I was present at the Rocky press conference, when his young blonde wife was his still photographer. Times changed quickly.
- Fat City (1972)
Director John Huston always was drawn to literature. He made Fat City from a novel by Leonard Gardner, who also did the screenplay. Huston, as a young man, was Amateur Lightweight Boxing Champ of California.
Huston, with exceptional cinematographer Conrad Hall, captures the drab existence of down-and-out fighters. Kris Kristofferson's "Help Me Make It Through the NIght" is the film's evocative anthem.
Stacy Keach and Jeff Bridges portray the struggling fighters. And Nick Colasanto has a major role in the film -- Colasanto was "Coach" in tv's Cheers (1982-85).
- The Set-Up (1949)
Directed by Robert Wise, this film is 72 minutes in the life of a "washed-up" boxer, who is supposed to throw a fight. Robert Ryan is superb as the boxer at the end of his ropes. This is another film in which atmosphere dominates beautifully.
- Million Dollar Baby (2004)
I interviewed Clint Eastwood, Hilary Swank, and Morgan Freeman just before the release of this film [the interview with Clint is on my site]. I appointed myself as their lucky talisman -- all three won Oscars (Clint as Director), and the movie was awarded Best Picture.
Paul Haggis wrote the screenplay from the stories of F.X. Toole -- pen name of boxing trainer Jerry Boyd.
As Clint's character walks down the hall and out a door, the penultimate image seems classic.
He's gone the distance.