My Top 5 favorite hockey movies
The sport of hockey takes a back-seat to basketball, football and baseball in the US of A in terms of popularity. So that explains why there aren't that many hockey movies coming out of Hollywood yet alone great ones. Even the latest hockey flick GOON (which prompted the inception of this list) isn't really a US flick. Sure it stars two name American actors (Seann William Scott and Liev Schreiber), but it was directed by a Canadian (Michael Dowse), written by two Canadians (Jay Baruchel and Evan Goldberg) and was shot in Canada (Manitoba, Canada). With that; I initially wanted to do a TOP 10 of my favorite hockey movies to celebrate GOON's release, but I quickly realized there weren't enough solid ones to do a list that vast. So here are the 5 hockey movies that warm my pucks the most. Game on!
I grew up with this story, so I had to include it here as it holds a special place in my heart. The Hockey Sweater (also known as An abominable maple leaf on the ice) was a (Quebec French) short story by Roch Carrier that was put out in 1979 and eventually made into an animated short film (by the National Film Board of Canada) in 1980. The short is about a French kid, who like his pals, idolizes Maurice Richard of the Montreal Canadiens. One day he gets a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey as a gift and is forced to wear it on the rink. It doesn’t go down too well. The short of course addressed the tension between the French and the Anglophones in Quebec, Canada, one that still lives on to some degree today. And it captured that strain brilliantly. Granted the animation is crude by today’s standards, but it's part of its charm in my opinion. To give you an idea of how much impact the short and its subject matter had and still has here in Quebec: A scene from the short is the image behind our 5 Dollar bill. If curious, you can watch it here! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZkJzV3x9Rd0
Slap Shot was the first hockey movie I ever saw, then again, I think it was the only hockey movie in existence at the time, if you don't count the 1937 “farmer becomes a hockey player to finance his farm” Idol of the Crowds, starring John Wayne. Slap Shot was mostly hated by critics upon its initial release, I guess the mix of cussing overload, bleak drama, raunchy comedy and on ice violence turned many off. Well for me; it was the total opposite. Slap Shot is a blast! I really got into king shit manipulator Reggie Dunlop's (Paul Newman) plight and dug the theme of fight heavy hockey versus "old-time hockey". The hockey bits were well shot as well, the actors tops and of course the body-check masters that were The Hanson Brothers quite the treat to watch. The reason why it's not higher up on the list is that I never liked how the final match was resolved. Kind of anti-climatic for me. The flick is a sturdy classic here in Montreal, Quebec, for obvious reasons, we're a hockey town driven by the sport. And although I never watch American films dubbed in Quebecois French, Slap Shot is the only exception. I find it funnier that way. Nothing like hearing a slew of “tabarnac” and “colis” to put a smile on my face!
Before director Gavin O'Connor hopped onto the ring in last year's (MMA) fight flick WARRIOR, he hit the ice with the 2004 Miracle. The film was based on the true story of the USA hockey team that snatched the gold medal away from the big, bad Russians during the 1980 Winter Olympics. This underdog story carried much more weight to it than the norm, since its happenings truly went down. One aspect of the picture that truly engrossed me was that lots of it was told from a coaching point of view. Here it was more about what goes on behind the bench and Coach Herb Brooks mission, or quest if you will, than the dudes in the team. Coupled with Kurt Russell's astounding performance, it made for a heavy hitting through line. Tag to that some of the most realistic hockey sequences ever put to celluloid, an effortless pace (impressive for a 135 minute long movie) and all kinds of rousing moments and you get a hockey movie that stands tall and proud as one of the best. Don't let the fact that Disney produced this scare ya, this isn't The Mighty Ducks yo! See it!
Goon is based on the book Goon: The True Story of an Unlikely Journey into Minor League Hockey by Adam Frattasio and Doug Smith (which is the latter's tale). People have been calling it the new Slap Shot and it's easy to see why. The flick celebrates the fourth liners of the world, the violence in the sport and is all about raunchy humor. Where Goon surpasses Slap Shot though is in the gore department. Yup; this had to be the most violent hockey movie I have ever seen. In addition; Seann William Scott made for an affable protagonist to follow around, dim witted but kind hearted and really good at what he does; mucking people up. The cute love story, inventive hockey action (loved the skates POV shots) and Liev Schreiber as the quasi villain were also big plus-es. In terms of the latter, I so grooved to his Canuck accent and his overall physical presence in the film. Needless to say that the build up of the old timer Goon versus new Gen Goon confrontation was a knee slapping blast to say the least. I have seen GOON four times already, yup four times; it's an easy, funny, charming and entertaining watch! Hockey fans don't get their movies very often but when they come, they come in hard. Goon owns!
Who knew director Jay Roach (Austin Powers, Meet the Parents) had this baby in him! This story about The New York Rangers versus a bunch of lowly Alaskans always gets me! It's a witty, uplifting and board smashing ride! I actually watch this movie every Christmas. There's just something about it that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Is it the colorful characters, the poignant underdog story, the striking snowy scenery, the raunchy humor or the clever dialogue? Yup it's all of it and then some! This flick pulls off being a multi tone movie like a pro! It also sports a stand out cast (Russell Crowe, Hank Azaria, Mary McCormack , Burt Reynolds, Ron Eldard and the list goes on!) and some pretty electrifying hockey action. The final game always has me on the edge of my seat. There was also a theme of hockey purity versus big business hockey running throughout this gem that snagged me deep. I mean these Alaskans skate on a pond! They live, breathe and take poundings for the sport. Shit the whole town functions and is fueled by hockey. So yeah, a good old Canadian boy like myself can definitely relate to that! NOTE: My fav line in the film: “I play hockey and I fornicate, 'cause those are the two most fun things to do in cold weather.” LOL! Amen!
French Quebecois hockey player Maurice “The Rocket” Richard was a humble and simple man who only had one objective on the ice, to score goals. People from Quebec know the impact he had on the French, Quebecois population here when he was a player. He’s often cited as the man who started the quiet revolution. Since he was given the limelight, Richard took to the press to fight the discrimination the French folks were enduring at the hands of the Anglophones. He rose up and said “enough” which prompted the French people to do just that (it eventually culminated into a riot in front of the Old Forum; now called The Richard Riots). So for a movie to address such an iconic figure; it better be good and thankfully director Charles Biname’s The Rocket is more than just good, it’s fantastic, easily my favorite hockey movie of all time thus far. Much like Richard was in real life, this flick told his tale in a low key yet intense and earnest way. Roy Dupuis was ideal casting as the reserved, internal and passionate Richard and he also knew his way around an ice rink hence lending validity to his hockey sequences.
Dupuis was well backed by a stellar cast. Gorgeous Julie LeBreton was amazing as Richard's wife Lucille, Stephen McHattie often stole the show as ferocious coach Dick Irving and I dug the NHL star cameos: Ian Laperierre (Boom Boom Geoffrion), Stephane Quintal (Dollard St. Laurent), Sean Avery (playing goon Bob Dill, a perfect fit), Vincent Lecavalier (as the great Jean Beliveau) and Mike Ricci (Elmer Lach). Visually, Biname had a knack at capturing moments in a stirring and quasi poetic fashion and the photography was morose, echoing the dire period most of the movie took place in. The production design were on the money, the score by Michel Cusson was heartbreaking while Richards many exploits were reconstituted here with panache. For example, there’s a scene where Richard goes to the net with an enemy player on his back, literally, but he still forges forward with that big hulk of a man on him and he freaking scores a goal. The scene itself is masterfully shot with potent slow motion, blinding back lights and audio/visual aesthetic that send shivers down my spine. That bit is not only representative of the flair of the picture but it also says a lot about the drive and determination Richard had within him to overcome obstacles and to win! Yup, now I gotta watch it again…