Monitor Picks

To commemorate the start of the MLB season, Monitor film critic Peter Rainer recommends the five best baseball movies ever made. ("Field of Dreams" isn't one of them!)

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With the new baseball season almost upon us, this is a perfect time to recommend a few standout movies about the sport – not that there have been many. Some of the most acclaimed, like "Field of Dreams" and "The Natural," are so overblown they might as well be about the Knights of the Round Table. Monitor critic Peter Rainer selects five that continue to give us pleasure.

Pride of the Yankees (1942)

This highly romanticized but affecting biopic about Lou Gehrig stars Gary Cooper at his most homespun and appealing. Gehrig's career is traced from his tryouts with the Yankees to his famous farewell speech at Yankee Stadium. Even as re-created here, it's enough to move one to tears. The co-screenwriter, fresh from "Citizen Kane," was Herman Mankiewicz.

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The Bingo Long Traveling All-stars & Motor Kings (1976)

Set in 1939, John Badham's jamboree stars Richard Pryor, Billy Dee Williams, and James Earl Jones. It's about black ballplayers who defect from the Negro Leagues and barnstorm the country by challenging white teams. Poetic justice was never so funny.

Eight Men Out (1988)

John Sayles's adaptation of Eliot Asinof's book about the 1919 Black Sox scandal, in which the Chicago White Sox sold out the World Series for $80,000, is remarkably intelligent – so much so that you may forget you're watching a "baseball movie." The tiptop cast includes David Strathairn and John Cusack.

Bull Durham (1988)

Ron Shelton's R-rated classic, set in the minor leagues, is the best baseball movie ever made. Kevin Costner is the game but over-the-hill catcher "Crash" Davis, Tim Robbins is the loopy pitching phenom "Nuke" Laloosh, and rabid fan Annie Savoy, played by Susan Sarandon, is the understandable object of their ardor.

The Rookie (2002)

Based on a true story, this sensitive and well-crafted drama stars a first-rate Dennis Quaid as a high school baseball coach who, thanks to his 98-m.p.h. fastball, realizes his dream of pitching in the major leagues.

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