Rotten Tomatoes: 67% IMDB: 6.8/10
Ali getting the nod at 10 is more so about the man, a couple of fantastic performances by Jamie Foxx and Jon Voight; and less about the actual film. Will Smith in no way tarnishes or ruins the iconic figure, but it wasn’t a great performance. Much like trying to play Elvis, JFK or any icon it’s one of the harder roles to pin down and then to pull off. I find myself constantly comparing Smith to the real Ali. There’s just too much raw footage on Muhammad Ali, and there is no one like Muhammad Ali. To find yourself in awe of Smith’s performance means you knew nothing about Muhammad Ali. His role was, serviceable. The film focuses on the grip Islam held in his life, a lot. A sensitive topic that may turn off many viewers. Ali also looks at his infidelity, brash behavior and refusal to fight for his country. The many controversial sides of Muhammad Ali are all touched, neatly rolled together and unpacked over 2 hours and 47 minutes. Michael Mann does well focusing on well, the man – but it’s just too Will Smithy… The actual boxing is very well done, the scenes are beautiful, it’s filmed well, Foxx as Drew ‘Bundini’ Brown and Voight as Howard Cosell are flawless. The score captures you, pulls you in and the reenactment of Malcolm X’s assassination is sadly triumphant and crippling. The epic Rumble in the Jungle is also a highlight of the film. I like this movie. It’s one that we will all like more 25 years from now.
9) Rocky IV
Rotten Tomatoes: 38% IMDB: 6.8/10
Ultra-action, ultra-villain, ultra-underdog all here for you as Rocky battles a massive Russian robot pumped full of all kinds of go-fast goodies that prime him to knock Rocky’s head off of his shoulders. But wait, there’s more! The Heart of a Champion ain’t having it. Rocky IV enters the top ten purely because I love Stallone winning this thing. There’s not a ton here. It’s entertaining. It’s very much not believable, bit its good and high quality entertainment. The 80’s overkill is a bit much, and you often feel like you’re watching a music video, but it’s still super fun to watch. I’m allowed one guilty pleasure here. This is the one. Critics say I’m wrong. This is why I’m a blogger and not a movie critic.
8) Bleed for This
Rotten Tomatoes: 70% IMDB: 6.8/10
Miles Teller is a brilliant, young actor. This film receives little fanfare and that’s a shame. Teller plays Vinny “The Pazmanian Devil” Pazienza who’s seriously injured in an automobile accident. Forced to literally bring himself back from the dead, he manages to not only function, but restart his career and continue to box after only one year of rigorous training, and doing so while wearing a large and likely uncomfortable contraption around his head. Had you only seen stills you would’ve thought a SAW movie. Like any great comeback story, you’re pulling for the guy and that enhances the viewing experience but Teller is truly great in this movie. Doctors say no. Odds say no. Logic says no. Vinny says so what? The power of Bleed for This is much deeper than boxing as it displays a once able man reduced to handicapped and refusing to settle. One year after the accident, he’s back in the ring. While this film isn’t a TKO, it sweeps the scorecard.
Rotten Tomatoes: 95% IMDB: 7.6/10
I mean this is the fifth installment of the Rocky series correct? I imagined Rocky V? That’s not real? Sue me for what? As much as I found Tommy Gunn strangely enjoyable and Ron King was fun to watch, Creed is what Rocky purists were looking for… it may seem weird to reference ‘Rocky purists’ in a film driven by a hip hop soundtrack, but the grass-roots, small budget, bare bones filming and acting are the basis of the series. In Creed we get back to the fundamentals, basic blocking and tackling – and they score, regularly. This is a really good movie. I first saw Michael B Jordan in Fruitvale Station, and he is basically the same dude here, which I might add is pretty good. A what-you-see is what-you-get acting approach. Stallone is perfect in every way. If there is an emotion in the stratosphere that Sly doesn’t take you through in this movie you’re not paying attention. We love this damn guy. We always have and he is exactly what he should be. Jordan, the underdog fighting with and against his dad’s legacy is strong. With Rocky training as he does it, it’s beastly. Director, Ryan Coogler inserts as much Rocky bloodline and nostalgia as he can into an urban film. The real brilliance of Creed is how much sadness and happiness we feel at the same time for Rock seemingly the entire film.
6) Cinderella Man
Rotten Tomatoes: 80% IMDB: 8/10
You probably guessed if you’ve been following along – it’s a story of a come up from the depths of doom to glory. Yep… Boxing flicks where the guy grew up loaded with a silver spoon aren’t really a thing. Cinderella Man is no different. The true story of dormant athlete and boxer James Braddock battling extreme poverty, Russell Crowe playing Braddock literally has to work each day to feed his family EACH DAY while fighting other fellows for work in his same predicament. Braddock serves as a shining light for those back home when his rejuvenated career begins to show promise once again. Temporarily retired from the sport due to injury, a much older Braddock must scrape and crawl to get a chance again. Originally plugged in as an old somebody to take a beating, the unexpected happens. He wins, and continues to win. Set to the Great Depression James Braddock brings about a powerful, positive story during a time when a nation was hurting. Great performances across the board from every major and minor player. Paul Giamatti is exactly what he is, a stellar actor and Crowe is equally as good.
5) Million Dollar Baby
Rotten Tomatoes: 90% IMDB: 8.1/10
Clint Eastwood does a lot of things, one thing he doesn’t do is make bad movies. His last flick The 15:17 to Paris aside. Million Dollar Baby is an unlikely story of a female boxer, Hilary Swank – who absolutely slaughters the role. Co-starring Eastwood as Frankie Dunn and Morgan Freeman as Eddie Scrap-Iron Dupris who are up to task to do some slaughtering of their own. Dunn’s had a hard past and is in the midst of a rough beat, losing his prized fighter only to be stuck training a girl. Good news is, this girl is pretty good. Other news is, there’s quite the plot twist. Million Dollar Baby teaches lessons in respect, family, morality and so much more. Critically acclaimed and rightfully so, it goes way past boxing and right to the soul of, even if I saw that coming – am I okay with that? Is this real? The film can make you question religion and spirituality, and again puts Dunn at odds while feeling large piles of guilt sinking him into the dirt. The storybook ending, the classic At-A-Girl – not sure you’ll find that here and to not spoil for the few people who haven’t seen it, but this film is powerful and really good.
4) The Hurricane
Rotten Tomatoes: 83% IMDB: 7.6/10
It takes roughly two hours and eleven minutes for me to stop saying “what the f*ck man, this poor bastard can’t get a break,” but it eventually does happen. The word triumph is basically Denzel Washington in The Hurricane. Hate locked him up, but love busted him out. The sad yet brave and harrowing true story or Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, a former middleweight contender who spends his prime boxing years in the penitentiary for a crime he did not commit. Well before DNA was a thing, he was battling the system. In the 1980’s a group of Canadians seeking freedom for those wrongly convicted centered on Rubin and helped set him free. He does some amazing work with most of the film taking place in a small cell, on the phone or visiting area of the prison. Washington is not a stranger to power-housing and working the leading man role, but he is sensational in The Hurricane. This is one of the single best acting performances I’ve ever seen. To say this is Denzel’s best role ever is by no means a stretch. The movie is sad, but more so a deep study on resiliency and a beacon of inspiration.
3) Raging Bull
Rotten Tomatoes: 95% IMDB: 8.2/10
Classic, historic, painful, poetic and brain-wrapping is the Bull. Martin Scorsese is one of the few guys that can one-up Eastwood in the not making bad movies category. Raging Bull is biopic on Jake LaMotta and really is perfect. LaMotta’s self-destructive ways are less about his brutal profession and more about his inability to soften, love and be ‘normal’ because all he knows is hard and hurt. The Rage in the Bull leads LaMotta to a very lonely existence. His insecurities are masked with a tough exterior and his yearn to beat something up, but they are killing the man inside. These things are all very evident in what I feel is Robert De Niro’s best role, and possibly Scorsese’s best picture. The vivid violence and no-hides approach to the film is clear in the way it’s filmed. Nothing is left on the table. You ultimately feel bad for a man who may have never felt bad for himself. Many years before CTE was a thing, you watch a man bloodied, beat and unwilling and/or incapable of doing it any other way.
2) The Fighter
Rotten Tomatoes: 90% IMDB: 7.8/10
The Fighter is one of the best films I’ve seen, period – let alone boxing films. I think Raging Bull is De Niro’s best performance. Hurricane is arguably Denzel’s best performance. I KNOW this is Christian Bale’s best performance. Director, David O. Russell managed to take an inept actor on most fronts, Mark Wahlberg and make him a worthwhile contributor to a film loaded with sensational performances. The Fighter chronicles “Irish” Micky Ward’s and his brother, Dicky. He struggles with addiction but it doesn’t mean he’s lost a step training. A good boxer in his own way – Dicky is the piece that keeps Micky and The Fighter on its toes. Amy Adams and Melissa Leo give blockbuster, Oscar-worthy performances and they are recognized as such. The movie provides elements of fun, loyalty, family and gives you the hard-working town Boston, MA exactly how you’d picture it. Once the Fighter starts you can’t stop it, you can’t pause it and you don’t want it to end.
Rotten Tomatoes: 93% IMDB: 8.1/10
The daddy of all Rocky films is still the original. I had a tough time keeping Rocky III out of the top ten and even struggled with II, the only doubt I didn’t have when making this list was Rocky was number 1. We first meet some of the most memorable characters cinema has ever seen in the first installment. Paulie, Adrian, Rocky and Mickey. Stallone brilliantly portrays not the smartest of guys but a guy with enough common sense to be one of the most practical characters we’ve ever seen on the screen. The heartbeat of the film is the message that some really cool stuff can happen to really good people. Your standard hard-working Philadelphian who seemingly falls into a big fight. He remains incredibly humble and down to earth all while falling in love. Sly writes and stars in what is a shot to the human spirit. Rocky may be the best feel good movie ever made. When Rocky wins. We win. This is my undisputed Champion of the world.