Swim Against the Current

Liz Parkinson/Netflix

Nyad (2023)

“Nyad” is a movie about the body that has almost nothing to do with sex, so of course it’s about lesbians of a certain age; but the lesbianism at the core of this story is both utterly essential and completely irrelevant. Diana Nyad’s (Annette Bening) sexuality is very much a part of her, but it comes second to her frankly irritating self-belief; and she doesn’t worry about that because she has delegated her interpersonal skills to her best friend, Bonnie Stoll (Jodie Foster). The closeness of Bonnie and Diana is beyond sex, and almost beyond friendship, in that it’s two people who love and need each other without their bodies coming into it. But Diana’s body is at the core of the story – will she, a woman now in her 60s, be able to complete a 105-mile swim from Cuba to the Florida Keys without dying? – and the way in which the movie asks these questions without being weird about the body at its core is remarkable.

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Legends of the Ball

Moneyball (2011)

Melinda Sue Gordon/Columbia Pictures

Steven Soderbergh was unceremoniously fired from “Moneyball” about two years ago after revising an alleged grand slam of a screenplay from Steven Zaillian into a quasi-documentary that would devote 10 percent to interviews of real-life figures and another 10 to “reenactments of real events as remembered by the people playing themselves.” Those who read his script confirmed it was that bad, although we’d like to give Mr. Soderbergh the benefit of the doubt after seeing what he did with “Erin Brockovich.” At the very least, this biopic about Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane starring Brad Pitt could have been inspired and fun in Mr. Soderbergh’s hands. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about the final score achieved by his late-inning relief, Bennett Miller.

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A Driving Force to Be Reckoned With

Senna (2010)

2011 Sundance Film Festival

“The main motivation for us all is to compete for a victory.” In a simple, single phrase, Brazilian Formula One icon Ayrton Senna betrayed the unrelenting drive and intensity of his ambition that led him from junior karting in his homeland to become the most exciting racing driver of his generation and the multiple Formula One world championships that came with it. It was, too, this inherent sense of purpose and passion for his sport that led to his tragic death at the age of just 34 at the infamous Tamburello corner at San Marino’s Imola circuit on a fateful May Day weekend in 1994.

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Bend It Like Cantona

Looking for Eric (2009)

Festival de Cannes

With "Looking for Eric," Ken Loach, purveyor of the socialist struggles of the working class, unexpectedly delivers an uplifting, exceptionally funny film. Yes, there are the expected Loachisms running throughout – the broken marriages and the errant kids – but Mr. Loach and screenwriter Paul Laverty manage to suffuse this tale of middle-aged postman Eric Bishop (Steve Evets) dealing with a mid-life crisis with some heart.

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Fighting the Raging Bull

Tyson (2009)

Larry McConkey/Sony Pictures Classics

Love him or hate him – and at this point most people probably opt for the latter – there’s no doubting the imprint Mike Tyson has left on the past two-and-a-half decades of popular culture. From his dominant run as undisputed heavyweight champion in the 1980s to the precipitous fall from grace surrounding his rape conviction and his resurrection as an ear-biting, heart-munching sideshow, he’s never been far from the spotlight.

That profound link between Mr. Tyson’s public identity and the zeitgeist at large makes him a worthy subject for a documentary, but only one made by a filmmaker willing to resist hagiography and ask the tough questions. James Toback has done that with “Tyson,” a film that presents the entire arc of Mr. Tyson’s life in his own words, without the armchair psychological diagnoses of talking head experts. Whatever the reason – probably their longstanding personal relationship – Mr. Tyson deeply trusts Mr. Toback and opens up about his failings as honestly as could ever be expected.

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Road Warrior Makes Hollywood Detour

Love the Beast (2009)

Michael Klein/Tribeca Film Festival

Many people chase stardom, but the vast majority don’t make it far beyond auditioning by day and waiting tables by night. Ironically, the relative few who do make it often have other unrealized aspirations. Some actors prefer playing in a rock band, while others would rather be making shoes. Eric Bana wishes he could be a racecar driver. He dedicates his directorial debut, the documentary “Love the Beast,” to his lifelong obsession with a 1974 Ford XB Falcon Coupe. It’s his first car, one that he and his mates have spent endless hours fixing up while hanging out in his parents’ garage. But it’s also because of his unexpected brush with fame, that Mr. Bana has managed to perfect his ride and enter the Targa Tasmania, an imposing five-day rally and race in Australia.

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Love & Basketball

Dime Western Productions

One could almost bet the farm that “Lady Trojans” director Elizabeth Hesik was the little sister of the focus her film, Annameekee Hesik. Known as Anna, she played basketball throughout her high school career in early 1990s' Tucson, Ariz., and the team and its players were the means through which she discovered her sexuality. A quick Google reveals, to my surprise, the director is actually the older sister, who appears to have been away at college during the events depicted. (Good thing I don’t have a farm.) This closeness to, yet distance from, the events depicted in “Lady Trojans” gave her the means to make this film, perhaps it didn’t also give her a sufficient remove to be objective about the story she is telling.

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