The Heart of the Game (Ward Serrill, 2005). This documentary on a high school girls’ basketball team draws inevitable comparisons to Hoop Dreams, but it lacks the epic nature of the earlier film. The focus is on two fascinating individuals, coach Bill Resler (who instantly became my favorite basketball coach of all time when he announced that the team will not have an offense, other than to run fast), and Darnellia Russell, his best player. Russell’s story makes her interesting (she had a baby, missed a year of high school, went to court to regain her eligibility to play, and made a triumphant return), but while she is photogenic, and a delight to watch when playing ball, Russell doesn’t always warm to the camera (for what I’m guessing are good reasons). Resler, meanwhile, is a ham who chews the scenery without even trying. His motivational techniques are odd, based in the vicious behavior of carnivores, but they seem to work. The film builds to the expected Big Game at the end, which can’t fail to excite. Still, the movie feels somehow unformed, as if Serrill gave everything equal importance (while apparently leaving out parts that might have changed our perspective). Still, The Heart of the Game is a very strong entry in the sports documentary genre. Phil had it at #13 on his Facebook Fave Fifty list.
Paths of Glory (Stanley Kubrick, 1957). Kubrick’s anti-war film is actually less about war than you might remember. The real targets of Kubrick’s attention are the highest-ranking officers of the French army. His takedown of the way the institution forces those officers to treat the soldiers under their command as cannon fodder is clinical. (David Simon has said the novel Paths of Glory was a big influence on The Wire.) There isn’t a wasted moment in the entire film (if, that is, you buy into the coda at the end with the German singer), and the tracking camerawork is a marvel. Those of us who think Kubrick did all of his best work by his mid-30s (he was 29 when he directed Paths of Glory) will scratch our heads in wonder. Can the man who created such perfection as Paths of Glory really be the same person who gave us 2001: A Space Odyssey, Barry Lyndon, and Eyes Wide Shut? #192 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time.
The Godfather and The Godfather Part II (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972/1974). My choices for #1 on my Facebook Fave Fifty list. #5 and #15, respectively, on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time.