10 soccer movies to watch while the sports world is on hold
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With the sports world on hiatus amid the global coronavirus pandemic, here's a look at 10 soccer movies worth watching while you're isolating at home.

'Diego Maradona' (2019)

Asif Kapadia's almost-entirely archival-based depiction of Argentina's flawed deity Diego Maradona is a marvel of documentary filmmaking. Plenty of recent soccer docs flatter the subject. This is not one of those films.

Maradona is portrayed as many characters. Some of those roles are contradictory, though all of them are engrossing.

Similar to the subjects in Kapadia's previous efforts, "Senna" and "Amy," Maradona grapples with stardom at a young age then encounters the consequences of tragically falling. His move to Napoli, and his beloved status in the south, form an ideal backdrop for Argentina's win over Italy in the 1990 World Cup - in Naples, no less - and is one of countless enthralling parts of Kapadia's meticulously detailed story.

'Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait' (2016)

The most unique and aesthetically gratifying entry on this list, this part documentary, part avant-garde composition used 17 synchronized cameras to trace Zinedine Zidane's every step during a Real Madrid match against Villarreal at the Santiago Bernabeu in April 2005.

It's hard not to sound pretentious when praising Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno's joint effort. Subtle Mogwai plays in the background during the pair's film that captures Zidane as both a catalyst and an observer.

In possession, the Frenchman prances with the ball invisibly tethered to his boots, and Zidane's off-ball movements are just as alluring. Sometimes, the sport is just about running toward spaces and after people. "Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait" makes it look like a ballet.

'Next Goal Wins' (2014)

There's something to be said about persistence in the face of complete and utter failure. Mike Brett and Steve Jamison's documentary chronicles the plight of American Samoa, the country that suffered the worst defeat in international football history.

After a 31-0 loss to Australia in 2001, the tiny nation's football federation balked at offers to cover the team before obliging Brett and Jamison.

Good thing, too, because while showing the squad's drive to qualify for the 2014 World Cup under Dutch-American tactician Thomas Rongen, the duo unearthed a tale of commitment through their truly captivating work. The star of the film is Jaiyah Saelua, the first transgender person to participate in a World Cup qualifier.

'The Two Escobars' (2010)

One of the crown jewels of ESPN's famed "30 for 30" series, "The Two Escobars" depicts the connective tissue of Colombian soccer and drug trafficking, and two of its best-known characters, Andres and Pablo Escobar.

Andres was murdered in his homeland following a fateful own goal against the U.S. at the 1994 World Cup that booked Colombia's ticket home, and Pablo was the larger-than-life Robin Hood-esque cocaine pusher who the lower class lionized. Andres tried to change the world's image of Colombia using sport, while Pablo perpetuated it.

Directors Jeff and Michael Zimbalist flawlessly illustrate just how much sports can mean to a reeling nation, for better or worse.

'The Damned United' (2009)

Michael Sheen was excellent as Robert Frost and Tony Blair, but he shines while playing English touchline thespian Brian Clough and conveying the manager's maniacal edge amid a disastrous 44-day spell in charge of Leeds United. Clough was destined to fail, and he reveled in the spotlight.

Previously critical of Don Revie's "dirty" Leeds side and its expertise in the dark arts, Clough took over for Revie sans the ying to his yang, the docile Peter Taylor.

Clough seemed hell-bent on either destroying himself or Leeds from within, and Sheen reflects that perfectly, showing him as an emblem of an era when managers and politicians used television to boost their flamboyant profiles. Strong performances from Sheen and others carry a razor-sharp character study of an obsessive crank.

'The Football Factory' (2004)

There's no shortage of films on hooliganism. Check out the 2005 "Green Street Hooligans" if you want to see Frodo Baggins fantasize about a pack of injurious West Ham bruisers with abhorrent Cockney accents. Or, better yet, watch "The Football Factory."

On the surface, Nick Love's adaptation of John King's 1996 novel is a tale of London-based hooliganism. A deeper look reveals booze, drugs, and punch-ups as a release valve for the perils of male ego and the tribal and toxic tendencies of male bonding.

Danny Dyer and Neil Maskell highlight a cast that's mostly likable, but not enough so that you pity them when they're on the receiving end of a beatdown.

'Bend It Like Beckham' (2002)

A whimsically heartfelt feature of Asian-British cinema that corralled Keira Knightley's swiftly rising star, "Bend it like Beckham" is a family-friendly film that's about more than curling a dead-ball delivery into the side netting.

Parminder Nagra's Jess is a Sikh Brit whose parents forbid her from playing football, and she dribbles past the obstacles of generational gaps and racial divides.

Jess forms a great on-pitch tandem with Knightley's Jules, and Jonathan Rhys Meyers' Coach Joe fancying both narrowly avoids registering on the problematic scale. At times schmaltzy and always enjoyable, the film adheres to a common cinematic framework while still feeling original. No movie on this list offers more universal appeal.

'Fever Pitch' (1997)

Before a butchered Americanized version starring Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore failed to captivate a single soul, 1997's "Fever Pitch" took an element of Nick Hornby's best-selling memoir of the same name and forged a romantic tale with Arsenal fandom at its center.

Paul (Colin Firth) juggles a teaching career and a burgeoning relationship with Sarah (Ruth Gemmell) while matchday nerves cripple him during Arsenal's First Division winning 1988-89 campaign. It all culminates with Paul taking in Arsenal's celebrated title-stealing victory over Liverpool at Anfield and Michael Thomas' last-ditch winner.

Firth is funny, and an engaging film provides a glimpse into the demographic change of English football as it shifted away from Thatcher-era working-class roots.

'An Impossible Job' (1994)

Pioneering voyeurism captures then-England manager and voluntary documentary focal point Graham Taylor during the Three Lions' failed 1994 World Cup qualification attempt.

Spoiler alert: For Taylor, it was an impossible job.

In hindsight, the surprisingly foul-mouthed gaffer should have said nay to director Ken McGill’s fly-on-the-wall concept, with baffling locker-room soliloquies and touchline antics during and prior to the qualifier against the Netherlands painting Taylor in a comically unfavorable light.

Perhaps Taylor missed a call to clairvoyance, telling fourth official Markus Merk, "you see, at the end of the day, I get the sack," after Ronald Koeman scored to put the Dutch in front in Rotterdam. We won't spoil the ending.

'Escape to Victory' (1981)

Sly Stallone. Pele. Michael Caine. A Nazi prisoner-of-war camp. Soccer.

It's like Ad Libs for Jason Statham fanboys in one of Hollywood's scant footy offerings not built on the premise that a girl resembles a boy ("She's the Man" in 2006), or the inverse ("Ladybugs" in 1992).

Caine plays a British pro-turned-POW who leads a motley crew of WWII Allied prisoners against German guards in a publicity-stunt match supplemented with dashing kits.

Suspend disbelief as Stallone channels his inner Lev Yashin to make an obscene save while Pele and the better part of Ipswich Town's early-80s first-team cement a comeback victory. Come for the tackles that would make Ryan Shawcross blush, and stick around for a pitch invasion with a special spin.

Additionally, kudos to an intrepid reddit user for compiling this list of 100 soccer documentaries to help pass the time.

10 soccer movies to watch while the sports world is on hold
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