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Steve James picks hi 5 favorite sports films

  • FILE - In this file photo released by Universal Pictures, Ayrton Senna is shown in a scene from the film "Senna." (AP Photo/Universal Pictures, File)

    FILE - In this file photo released by Universal Pictures, Ayrton Senna is shown in a scene from the film "Senna." (AP Photo/Universal Pictures, File) Purchase photo reprints »

  • FILE - This 1980 file photo showing Robert De Niro as Jake La Motta in a boxing scene from Martin Scorsese's film "Raging Bull."  (AP Photo, File)

    FILE - This 1980 file photo showing Robert De Niro as Jake La Motta in a boxing scene from Martin Scorsese's film "Raging Bull." (AP Photo, File) Purchase photo reprints »

  •  FILE - This 1980 file photo from director Martin Scorsese's film "Raging Bull," shows Robert De Niro in character as Jake La Motta.  (AP Photo)

    FILE - This 1980 file photo from director Martin Scorsese's film "Raging Bull," shows Robert De Niro in character as Jake La Motta. (AP Photo) Purchase photo reprints »

  • FILE - In this file photo released by Universal Pictures, Ayrton Senna is shown in a scene from the film "Senna." (AP Photo/Universal Pictures, File)
  • FILE - This 1980 file photo showing Robert De Niro as Jake La Motta in a boxing scene from Martin Scorsese's film "Raging Bull."  (AP Photo, File)
  •  FILE - This 1980 file photo from director Martin Scorsese's film "Raging Bull," shows Robert De Niro in character as Jake La Motta.  (AP Photo)

Steve James made his name exploring the hopeful side of sports with one of the most acclaimed documentaries of all time: 1994’s “Hoop Dreams.” Now, he’s shining a light on the potential dangers of athletics in “Head Games.”

James’ latest documentary depicts the damage, depression and even dementia that players often endure after years of repeated concussions. He focuses mainly on football but points out that this kind of debilitating brain injury can occur in any sport, from boxing to women’s soccer, and he hopes that young, amateur athletes and their families pay particular attention.

With the film being available in theaters and on demand beginning this weekend, James was kind enough to take the time to choose his five favorite sports films. Here he is, in his own words:

— “Raging Bull” (1980): Scorsese’s masterpiece is the undisputed heavyweight champion. A biopic of Jake LaMotta that’s not really a sports film yet somehow manages to capture the sport in all its brutality and beauty, along with the rage, aspirations and impotence that fuel both its participants and fans.

— “Slap Shot” (1977): The funniest sports film ever. But also one of the most trenchant critiques of contemporary America I’ve ever seen in a comedy. George Roy Hill’s film is about violence, capitalism and unfulfilled dreams set in the world of minor league hockey. It holds up beautifully, too — it’s every bit as relevant today as it was when it was made.

— “Senna” (2011): A riveting documentary about the Formula One racing rivalry between legendary Brazilian driver Ayrton Senna and French driver Alain Prost that ultimately ended in tragedy. A formally groundbreaking documentary by Asif Kapadia that is drawn entirely from thousands of hours of archival television footage along with only the voices of contemporaries offering insights.

— “Fallen Champ: The Untold Story of Mike Tyson” (1993): Barbara Kopple’s overlooked great documentary was made around the time that Tyson was convicted and went to prison for raping Desiree Washington. It does a magnificent job of detailing his rise and fall without moralizing or painting him as a monster. An honest, human account.

— “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner” (1962): A great and angry film from the British kitchen sink realism movement of the early ’60s that tells the story of a troubled, blue-collar teen from a dismal family background who discovers running as an escape. Tom Courtenay gives a great performance in this gritty Tony Richardson film which has one of the most uncompromising climaxes to any sports film ever.

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