5. The perfect sidekick
That's Paul Giamatti as Braddock's fast-talking trainer, coming off like a good-natured version of his sleazeball radio exec who tortured Howard Stern in "Private Parts." And there was some luck here it took them nearly two years to complete this movie, and during that time, "Sideways" was released and became a surprise hit. So Giamatti's involvement raised everyone's hopes (including mine). Although they could have thrown in a "I'm not drinking [bleeping] merlot! I'm not kidding! I will walk out of there!" scene.
6. The perfect wet blanket girlfriend
That's Renee Zellweger as Braddock's resilient wife, perfect casting because nobody from the '20s and '30s was that attractive they all had squishy faces and bad haircuts (just like Renee in this movie). Ever since she gained all that weight in "Bridget Jones," I'm not sure what happened to her, but she doesn't even look normal anymore. Still, she's a good actress, and when she starts pulling the inevitable "I don't want you to get killed" routine, you're liking her and hating her at the same time. She's like Talia Shire crossed with Ellen Barkin.
So when Howard throws these elements together, then executes the first grueling hour of the movie flawlessly when Braddock's life slowly falls apart, and you're just dying for the guy your expectations start climbing. Holy crap. What a movie! I can't wait for the boxing scenes! And then the first fight just clunks. So does the second one. And the third one. By the time the championship fight rolled around, I was zoning out and thinking about things like "Did I remember to cash checks this week?" and "Am I going to make it home in time to beat the transaction deadline in my roto league?" From a rewatchability standpoint (a crucial element for any great sports movie), I can't imagine sitting through this thing a second time. Oh, well. It's still worth seeing, if only because of Crowe. Just be prepared to be mildly disappointed (as well as mildly cross-eyed) by the time it's over.
Anyway, "Cinderella Man" got me thinking ...
My Comcast cable system carries about 75 movie channels. HBO alone is represented with eight different channels: HBO, HBO2, HBO3, HBO On Demand, HBO Family, HBO Comedy, HBO HDTV and HBO Latino my favorite, because I've seen "Boogie Nights" so many times, the only way I can enjoy it anymore is by watching it in another language. Soy la estrella más grande aquí! Usted no es el jefe de mí! But I always find myself wishing that they distinguished the channels better than the generic brand names. For instance, I watched "Copland" last weekend on a channel called "Encore Mystery," which was funny in itself (that they actually spun off Encore). But you know what you're getting with Encore Mystery. You're getting mysteries. Same with HBO Comedy or Black Starz (another one of my favorites, since you could never get away with a channel called White Starz).
So why not go further? Why can't every channel more clearly define its territory? HBO 2 could change its name to HBO Inferior. Cinemax 2 could become The Naked Channel. I want a Big Stars Channel (just Eastwood, Cruise, Stallone and the other megastars). I want a Sports Movies Channel, an Unintentional Comedy Channel, even a Mafia Movie Channel. Most of all, I want an Unrealized Potential Channel (UPC for short) for movies that should have been fantastic but somehow left you strangely disappointed. "Copland" was definitely like that for me (the ending was too preposterous). Same with "Casino," "He Got Game," "Beverly Hills Cop 2," "Boomerang," "Can't Hardly Wait," "Magnolia," "Any Given Sunday," "Ransom," "Ali" and about 250 other movies that bothered me even as I was somewhat enjoying them.