Is this the year the US finally gets it about soccer, I mean football? The biggest sporting event on the planet is the World Cup, taking place this year in South Africa. Now is a great time to recognize the beauty and skill of the world’s most popular game with soccer movies.
1. Bend it Like Beckham A young woman from a traditional Indian family living in London joins a soccer team in this delightful comedy about fitting in and standing out. Parminder Nagra stars along with Keira Knightley, Jonathan Rhys Meyers (“The Tudors”), and Archie Panjabi (“The Good Wife”)
2. The Cup is a gentle and utterly beguiling story of a group of Tibetan monks who go to great lengths to watch the World Cup.
3. Gracie Gracie Bowen (“Mean Creek’s” Carly Schroeder) is the only girl in a soccer-mad blue-collar family in New Jersey, based on the true story of actress Elisabeth Shue, who plays Gracie’s mother. Her younger brothers tease her without mercy, but her older brother Johnny, a star athlete, always encourages her. When he is killed in an accident, she decides to make his dream of beating the rival team come true by taking his place on the team. The boys’ team.
4. The Damned United The star and screenwriter of “The Queen” and “Frost/Nixon” explore some of the same themes of ambition and celebrity in this fact-based story of the soccer coach who took one team to the top and then nearly took a top team to the bottom. Michael Sheen plays Brian Clough, a man whose talents were almost as great as his ego.
5. “The Other Final” When the Netherlands did not qualify for the 2002 World Cup Finals, a Dutch fan came up with the idea of an “alternative” final between the two lowest ranking countries in the world. That would be Bhutan (202nd) and Montserrat (203rd). Neither side had a coach and three days before the match they still didn’t have a referee.
6. A Shot at Glory My friend Desson Thomson, former movie critic for the Washington Post, knows as much about movies as anyone and more about soccer than everyone. He says this movie is worth seeing but not for its story and warns that you should probably turn the volume down when Robert Duvall attempts a Scottish accent. But he assures me that the soccer scenes, featuring real professional players are very well done.
7. Air Bud: World Pup The sports-playing dog joins the soccer team in this family-friendly series entry featuring real-life U.S. Women’s Soccer Team champions Brandi Chastain, Brianna Scurry, and Tisha Venturini.
8. Shaolin Soccer This king fu fantasy movie about an underdog soccer team from writer/director/star Stephen Chow is a genre-bending delight with out-of-this-world special effects.
9. Fever Pitch (1997) Forget the pallid US remake about the Red Sox with Drew Barrymore. And ignore the inflammatory DVD cover art and poster. This version, stars Colin Firth, based on the Nick Hornby book about a teacher whose love for his underdog team begins to interfere with the rest of his life, and it is a sharp, funny, and affectionate portrait of the tribal world of the passionate fan.
10. The Miracle Match (originally called “The Game of Their Lives”) In one of the great upsets in sports history, the US beat England for the World Cup championship in 1950. Gerard Butler and Wes Bentley star in this movie from the people behind “Rudy” and “Hoosiers.”