By JESSE LIEBMAN
While I did attend a school renowned for its film program, the art of cinema was not my particular field of study. Fooling around with Lego bricks and a stop-motion camera in my youth was as close as I will ever get to directing a full-length movie, but over the years I have seen a respectable number of movies and short films that span multiple genres and formats.
So it seems apt — and after some prodding from my fellow co-editor — that I should list my favorite hockey films of all-time. Some are obvious, while there are others that will raise some eyebrows. Feel free to re-rank and classify them as you see fit, and offer your own thoughts.
- 7) Mystery, Alaska: 1999, Hollywood Pictures – For whatever reason, this film never spoke to me. Yes, Russell Crowe actually is convincing as the rugged Sheriff John Biebe, and Hank Azaria’s turn as the manipulative Charles Danner was played to great effect, but not even Burt Reynolds as Judge Walter Burns or Mike Meyers as a Don Cherry-esque caricature could save this film.
- 6) Youngblood: 1986, United Artists — Rob Lowe plays Dean Youngblood, a speedster from New York who crosses the border into Ontario to compete on the junior circuit, only to find he must add a nasty streak to compliment his raw talent if he wants to make it to The Show while playing for the Hamilton Mustangs. The late Patrick Swayze plays the Mustangs’ captain, and a young Keanu Reeves plays the team’s French-Canadian goalie.
- 5) The Mighty Ducks series: 1990s, Walt Disney Pictures — The movie franchise that served as the inspiration for a real-life NHL club, the tandem of Emilio Estevez as a down-on-his-luck alcoholic lawyer turned pee-wee hockey coach and Joshua Jackson as the plucky Minnesota youth who leads his teammates to glory had its share of slapstick comedy and cameos from NHL superstars such as Mike Modano, Paul Kariya and Wayne Gretzky, but ultimately doesn’t hold a candle to some other hockey flicks, eschewing campiness for actual devotion Not to mention the fact that the “Flying V” could never actually be employed in an actual game without incurring an offside infraction. Still, the film garners some brownie points for casting Eldon Henson as Fulton Reed; Henson attended Emerson College, my alma mater.
- 4) Goon: 2011, Magnet Films — Jay Baruchel’s ode to the hockey enforcer is filled with laughs and an existential look at a culture that is deemed barbaric by some and misunderstood by others. But there is also heart, and Sean William Scott delivers in spades as Doug “The Thug” Glatt. Meanwhile, the underrated Liev Schreiber — he of HBO’s “24/7:” narration fame — delivers as journeyman Bob Probert doppelgänger Ross Rhea.
- 3) Miracle: 2004, Walt Disney Pictures — Kurt Russell gave the performance of a lifetime as the late Herb Brooks. Equally impressive was the choreography of all hockey scenes, as well as director Gavin O’Connor perfectly encapsulating the sentiment of utter helplessness that Americans faced prior to 1980. Bonus points go the casting crew for selecting Billy Schneider to play his father — Buzz Schneider — who played on the Miracle team, along with having legendary sportscaster Al Michaels re-record much of his commentary from the game, but preserving the final call from the original ABC broadcast.
- 2) Maurice Richard/The Rocket: 2005, Alliance Atlantis Vivafilm/Universal Pictures — Few American hockey fans can truly appreciate the impact Maurice Richard had on the sport. Even fewer are able to comprehend what Richard meant to French Canadians as a cultural icon. Roy Dupuis’ stoic portrayal does that and more.
- 1) Slap Shot: 1977, Universal Pictures — Would you have expected anything else? The movie that serves as the gold standard of all hockey films. The movie that forever altered Paul Newman’s speech patterns. The movie that prompts us to ask, “Who own ‘da Chiefs?” The Hanson Brothers…need I say more?
Entire posts could be devoted to the majesty that is Slap Shot, and they still would be incapable of doing this epic piece of sports cinema justice. The Emerson connection rears its head yet again, as Paul D’Amato — Tim “Dr. Hook” McCracken — played for the Lions hockey team during his time on Beacon Street in the late 1970s.
- The Dilemma: 2011, Universal Pictures – While not a film where hockey drives the plot, several scenes take place at the United Center during Chicago Blackhawks games, and an early moment involves quoting Kurt Russell’s infamous “This is your time!” monologue. Vince Vaughn showcases his love for his hometown team, which we know to be genuine, if only because of his penchant for taunting Canadian goaltenders.