Out of 30, two

Even ESPN has better movies than the multiplexes.

Even ESPN has better movies than the multiplexes.

As if the summer-movie season wasn’t discouraging enough, two of the best films this year are playing on ESPN, the 24-hour sports behemoth that usually airs unwatchable travesties like professional poker, Colin Cowherd and the 2010 Chicago Cubs.

Both movies aired on 30 for 30, a documentary series that celebrates ESPN’s 30th anniversary by telling oft-overlooked sports stories of the last few decades. Previous entries like “Small Potatoes” (about the short-lived United States Football League) have been glibly entertaining, but little more than glorified clips shows (I’ve only seen one dud, the ill-conceived rotisserie baseball story “Silly Little Game”).

The first episode to buck the trend was “June 17, 1994,” a dizzying and profound montage about one of the most surreal American sports days in recent memory. June 17 began with the New York Rangers victory parade, continued through Arnold Palmer’s final round at the U.S. Open and ended with Game 5 of the NBA Finals.

However, it was also the day that O.J. Simpson made his famous flight from justice in the white Bronco, a story that creeps into the conversation as the day wears on, slowly eclipsing everything that came before and after. Director Brett Morgen (The Kid Stays in the Picture) expertly creates tension, context and emotional resonance entirely out of found footage.

On June 22, 30 for 30 presented Jeff and Michael Zimbalist’s brilliant “The Two Escobars,” a probing and emotional look at the connection between the Colombian drug cartels and the sudden rise of Colombian soccer as an international power in the late 1980s.

“The Two Escobars” shows the innumerable links between Medellin drug kingpin Pablo Escobar and Medellin-born footballer Andres Escobar, whose own goal at the World Cup led to his assassination. It’s a story you’ve probably never heard, and one that you won’t soon forget.