Race Weekend Central

Reel Racing: Looking Back at 2023’s Racing Films

OK, OK, I know it’s almost halfway through 2024, but I realized I never did a wrap-up of the motorsports films from 2023.

I already wrote extensively about all three films that came out last year, but here’s a quick, comprehensive rundown and where you can check them out. All three — two films, one miniseries — are respectable entries, but I’ll rank them for the sake of argument.

1. Brawn: The Impossible Formula 1 Story

Miniseries, especially well-done ones, will always get the nod when it comes to ranking things. SB Nation‘s The History of the Seattle Mariners (though it did get compiled into one 3.5-hour supercut) and ESPN’s The Last Dance were my two favorite productions of 2020, even though that year was kind of at a disadvantage when it came to big things releasing for obvious reasons.

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That said, when I finally sat down and watched (and wrote about) this series chronicling the rise and/or trials and tribulations of Brawn GP in Formula 1 in the late 2000s, I was blown away. The best part is that our narrator, the one and only Keanu Reeves, evidently has a genuine interest in the subject matter. That goes a long way when it comes to something like this, rather than just having Generic Narrator Man behind the mic or off-screen during interviews.

Even better, we get everyone involved: the team principals, drivers Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello, competitors of the team and Formula 1 brass are all interviewed and all sit down with Keanu.

That’s how to fully realize a comprehensive docuseries — get as many people as possible, or almost all of the key players, who were involved in the subject to be a part of the retrospective.

Available to watch via Hulu subscription.

2. Ferrari

I was lucky enough to sit down with Ferrari stunt coordinator Robert Nagle for a conversation last December, in which he and I discussed the upcoming film as well as his work on productions like Mission: Impossible, Baby Driver and John Wick.

And all of the action in Ferrari is really, really solid, as it balances racing scenes with the interior drama of Enzo Ferrari’s life and Adam Driver does a helluva job in the lead role. This sits 10th on my 2023 list (75 movies in total) but kind of flew under the radar and ended up a little underrated.

Ferrari’s wife is portrayed by Penelope Cruz, who really should’ve gotten a Supporting Actress nomination at the Oscars (Nyad? Really? Come on, Academy), and the cast is rounded out with Shailene Woodley, Patrick Dempsey (a driver himself) and more.

We’re able to see how Enzo wrestles with the morality of racing, as especially during that time the cars were essentially coffins on wheels. He has drivers die on his watch, win on his watch and disappoint on his watch, all while he’s trying to salvage his marriage, retain his team and succeed in Formula 1.

Ferrari was helmed by Michael Mann, the man who brought us instant classics like Heat, Collateral, Thief and Manhunter (the predecessor to Silence of the Lambs). The man knows how to make a damn movie.

Plus, there’s one scene — I won’t spoil it — that left our entire theater (and, reportedly, quite a few across the country) in dead-silent shock when it happened. You’ll know it when you see it.

Available to watch via Hulu subscription, as well as by renting it on Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, Apple and more.

3. Gran Turismo

Frontstretch‘s Michael Massie and I went and saw this at the good ol’ Regal Cinemas in Short Pump, Va., last fall, and I subsequently wrote about it. This is one of those movies that’s trying to simultaneously appeal to the racing fans in the theater seats as well as general audiences, so things definitely come across a bit hackneyed at times.

There’s definitely issues — the movie looks pretty cheap and green-screened at times, the video game elements feel forced a lot of the time and the final scene, which is supposed to take place at Le Mans, is recognizably not all filmed at Le Mans (there’s portions of the Hungaroring, among others). This sits 54th of the 75 movies I’ve seen from 2023.

It’s also two hours and 15 minutes long, to the point where it kind of wears out its welcome after a while. Massie and I ended up cracking jokes for a good portion of the second half, but that might’ve also been because of how late a showing it was.

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I won’t lie — I just rewatched the climactic scene at Le Mans on YouTube, and I remembered almost nothing from that. It just didn’t leave as much of an impact as I’d hoped, though it is probably one of the best movies to date based on a video game IP (though it helps that it’s based on a real story).

It’s fine. That’s all I got. The oddest thing is that this was directed by Neill Blomkamp, usually the mind behind sci-fi productions like District 9, Elysium or an abandoned Alien entry.

Available to watch via Netflix subscription or by renting it on Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, Apple and more.

In 2024 so far, we’ve already had three racing movies hit theaters or TV: I Am Kevin Harvick, Race for Glory: Audi vs. Lancia and The Lionheart. I’ve already written about the latter at length and don’t have enough to say about the dull Race for Glory for a full article, but the Harvick TV doc is definitely the best of the three to date. Stay tuned for more on that later on.

And stay tuned for my comprehensive look at movie paint schemes throughout NASCAR history. We’ll also probably do band schemes and TV schemes, but that’ll all be coming soon.

Until then, please get out to the movie theaters. Furiosa, The Fall Guy, In a Violent Nature and more are all playing on the big screen. Grab popcorn, a drink and a seat and support cinemas — they’re truly becoming underappreciated.

Follow @adamncheek

About the author

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Adam Cheek joined Frontstretch as a contributing writer in January 2019. A 2020 graduate of VCU, he covered sports there and later spent a year and a half as a sports host on 910 the Fan in Richmond, VA. He's freelanced for Richmond Magazine and the Richmond Times-Dispatch, and also hosts the "Adam Cheek's Sports Week" podcast. Adam has followed racing since the age of three, inheriting the passion from his grandfather, who raced in amateur events up and down the East Coast in the 1950s.

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Deacon Blues

Once again, your film coverage is phenomenal – thanks so much, Adam!

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