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Monday, August 26, 2002
Best actors in a sports movie

Page 2 staff

And the winner is ...

Robert De Niro
No other actor dedicated himself to a sports role quite like Rober De Niro in "Raging Bull."
In the first of this week's daily lists about sports movies, Page 2 presents our choices for the best actors in a sporting role.

We'd like to see who our readers believe is the greatest actor in a sports film, so vote for your choice in the poll at right.

1. Robert De Niro in "Raging Bull" (1980)
De Niro won an Oscar for his portrayal of real-life middleweight champ Jake La Motta in this film. La Motta worked with De Niro while the actor prepared for the film, and De Niro somehow managed to be the young boxer's sweat, anger and intensity. He also gained a whole lot of weight and took us to the ex-boxer's lowest low, in the hole in a Florida prison. There's not a lot to like about La Motta in this film, but through the painful journey De Niro captures what makes the tough guy so abundantly human.

2. Kevin Costner in "Bull Durham" (1988)
Nuke's up-and-coming, Annie's here-and-staying, but it's Costner's portrayal of down-and-going catcher Crash Davis that pulls the Nuke-Annie-Crash love triangle together. He's cool, but really passionate. His strikeouts are fascist, groundballs are democratic ... and his philosophizing shows he's just as smart as the very smart Annie. Oh -- and he can play some ball, too.

Paul Newman
There's time to be wasted. So go on and write Paul Newman a letter.
3. Paul Newman in "Slap Shot" (1977)
Newman's portrayal of the aging Charlestown Chiefs captain Reggie Dunlop is so right-on it's amazing. You know he's smart, but he still has plenty of fun with the guys who don't have too much upstairs. He looks authentically battle-scarred, and has the swagger/stagger of the once-we-were-graceful down pat. He's doing his own skating, too.

4. Denzel Washington in "The Hurricane" (1999)
Washington, in playing the role of imprisoned boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, says, at one point, "Hate put me in prison. Love's gonna bust me out." This was a bust-out role for Denzel -- he was nominated for a best actor Oscar and he won a Golden Globe award for the role. Washington makes you believe that Carter's authentically strong emotions -- high highs and low lows -- are for real.

5. Jackie Gleason in "The Hustler" (1961)
"Minnesota Fats" doesn't say a lot in this film, but his presence is huge -- no pun intended. Gleason, who before this film was best known for his outsized comedic presence in "The Honeymooners," was nominated for an Oscar for best supporting actor for his performance -- he shows that he can do a whole lot with a little. Gleason knew how to play the game, too. As Paul Newman's "Fast Eddie" says to him during one of their battles, "Fat man, you shoot a great game of pool."

6. Gene Hackman in "Hoosiers" (1986)
Rocky Balboa
Sylvester Stallone hasn't had many better performances wince he played Rocky Balboa in the first "Rocky."
Dennis Hopper got some well-deserved props for his portrayal of town drunk/semiofficial assistant coach Wilbur "Shooter" Flatch, but let's face it -- Hackman's the man. He's brave enough to take on the disgruntled Hickory locals who think they know more about hoops than he does. He's smart enough to bring Shooter aboard his small-town Huskers' wild ride to the state championship game. He's sharp enough to coax a nervous, praying player onto the court with a soft, "Strap, God wants you on the court." And, in the end, he gets the girl.

7. Sylvester Stallone in "Rocky" (1976)
Sly created an icon. He wrote the words; he imagined the world. And he played the part of fifth-rate club boxer Rocky Balboa in an utterly convincing fashion. Stallone was nominated for a best actor Oscar for the role, but he didn't win it. But it don't matter, 'cause he went the distance. He weren't just another bum from the neighborhood. And the movie won an Oscar for Best Picture.

8. Burt Reynolds in "The Longest Yard" (1974)
Burt Reynolds
"The Longest Yard" is one of the grittiest football movies yet.
Reynolds plays former pro quarterback Paul Crewe in what still ranks as one of the funniest sports movies ever made. As Crewe, he walks straight between the warden and guards, who hate him for being a golden boy, and the inmates, who hate him for being soft and also for doing, as Caretaker puts it, that most un-American of crimes -- shaving points on a football game. Burt's specialty is acting with a permanent wink, and that fits Crewe's character to a T.

9. Wesley Snipes in "White Men Can't Jump" (1992)
Snipes is Sydney Deane, a Los Angeles streetballer who plays off Woody Harrelson's Billy Hoyle to perfection. As Deane says, "It's like this, you either smoke or you get smoked." In this role, Wesley smokes.

10. Ed Norton in "Rounders" (1998)
Ed Norton (or, as the New York Times film critic Janet Maslin puts it, "the wildly changeable, always startling Edward Norton") is one of the best actors in any genre, and he's terrific here as sort-of-slimy, hustling, risk-taking, card shark Lester 'Worm' Murphy.

Also receiving votes:
  • Burgess Meredith in "Rocky"
  • Burt Young in "Rocky"
  • Paul Newman in "The Hustler"
  • Denzel Washington in "Remember the Titans"
  • Denzel Washington in "He Got Game"
  • Kevin Costner in "Field of Dreams"
  • Kevin Costner in "Tin Cup"
  • Brad Pitt in "A River Runs Through It"
  • Wesley Snipes in "Major League"
  • Ray Milland in "It Happens Every Spring"
  • Robert Montgomery in "Here Comes Mr. Jordan"
  • Al Pacino in "Any Given Sunday"
  • Jamie Fox in "Any Given Sunday"
  • Gary Cooper in "Pride of the Yankees"
  • Nick Nolte in "North Dallas Forty"
  • Mac Davis in "North Dallas Forty"
  • Bill Murray in "Caddyshack"
  • Tom Cruise in "Color of Money"
  • Paul Newman in "Color of Money"
  • Woody Harrelson in "White Men Can't Jump"
  • Don Johnson in "Tin Cup"
  • Cheech Marin in "Tin Cup"
  • John Malkovich in "Rounders"
  • John Turturro in "Rounders"
  • Stacy Keach in "Fat City"
  • Charles Bronson in "Hard Times"
  • Burt Lancaster in "Jim Thorpe: All-American"
  • James Caan in "Brian's Song"
  • Billy Dee Williams in "Brian's Song"
  • Humphrey Bogart in "The Harder They Fall"