The Academy Awards are Sunday, and once again despite having nine Best Picture nominees there isn’t a single sports film among them. EDDIE THE EAGLE WAS ROBBED!
But seriously, sports movies rarely get Oscar love. The last one nominated for Best Picture was “Moneyball,” and that was a movie about nerds and math and stuff. Other than that, it’s pretty much a bunch of boxing movies.
You’d think that latter fact would help hockey movies, but alas, they’re usually snubbed, outside of a couple of nominations.
So your friends at Puck Daddy have decided to hand out some Oscars of our own to hockey movies throughout history. Please keep in mind that some of these are hockey movies, and some of these are movies with hockey in them that we feel, well, capture the spirit of the thing.
Best Supporting Actor: Liev Schreiber, GOON
Ross “The Boss” Rhea is both the spiritual center of the raucous comedy “Goon” as well as its shark from “Jaws.” He’s forever looming as the fight Doug Glatt knows he’s headed for, an imposing bad-ass with a handlebar mustache and a mullet.
But Schreiber gives him a memorable world-weariness, talking about bleeding for the fans through his Newfoundland grumble of a voice. His diner conversation with Glatt might be the film’s highlight.
(Honorable Mention: Strother Martin, SLAP SHOT; Powers Boothe, SUDDEN DEATH; Mike Myers, MYSTERY, ALASKA)
Best Supporting Actress: Marguerite Moreau, D2: THE MIGHTY DUCKS
The “Velvet Hammer” herself.
As Connie Moreau, she was like a team ambassador to Gordon Bombay and generally skated into everyone’s hearts. Especially Guy Germaine:
We’ll give her the award for “D2,” simply because there’s no beating her delivery of “I’m no lady, I’m a duck!” Moreau went on to have a heck of an acting career, including the role of Katie in WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER, co-starring her cut-off jean shorts.
(Honorable Mention: Lindsay Crouse, SLAP SHOT; Patricia Clarkson, MIRACLE.)
Best Costume Design: YOUNGBLOOD
While other movies gave us memorable jerseys – looking at you, “The Mighty Ducks” – there’s no topping the goalie masks in “Youngblood.” Specially the nightmare fuel skeletal mask worn by Heaver, a.k.a. John Wick himself, Keanu Reeves.
(Honorable Mention: D2: THE MIGHTY DUCKS; MIRACLE.)
Best Animated Feature: INSIDE OUT
It is a hockey movie? Not in the traditional sense. But hockey plays a large enough role that it counts, if only because it gave the world the San Francisco Fog Horns and their Q*bert-like mascot.
(Honorable Mention: MIGHTY DUCKS THE MOVIE: THE FIRST FACE-OFF.)
Best Screenplay: Nancy Dowd, SLAP SHOT
One of the most memorable things about SLAP SHOT was that this gloriously vulgar exploration of masculinity was written by a woman. She was inspired by Ned Dowd, her professional hockey-playing brother who played for the Johnstown Jets whom the Charlestown Chiefs are based on.
The screenplay brilliantly ties together the vital nature of sports for small towns, the vital nature of sports for broken men and the vital nature of sports for the proliferation of unprintable jokes about sexuality. Just a perfect slice of 1970s life.
(Honorable Mention: Kevin Smith, CLERKS; Jay Baruchel and Evan Goldberg, GOON)
Best Visual Effects: STRANGE BREW
The adventures of Bob and Doug McKenzie features a classic hockey scene in which they take on Elsinore Brewery Stormtroopers. But this wasn’t just a drunken Canadian comedy – it’s a film that will make you believe a dog can fly.
(Honorable Mention: THE LOVE GURU, SUDDEN DEATH)
Best Director: Gavin O’Connor, MIRACLE
O’Connor does two things extraordinarily well in MIRACLE.
The first is coaxing a tremendous performance out of Kurt Russell as Herb Brooks, one whose contemplative moments are as effective as his inspirational ones. The second is filming some of the most realistic hockey footage ever seen on film, to the point where “make it look like ‘Miracle’” is a mantra for many professional hockey broadcasts.
Imagine what the ratings would look like if the NHL could capture the kinetic energy of the game on camera like O’Connor did with his ice-level action? In the sense that there would actually be ratings?
(Honorable Mention: George Roy Hill, SLAP SHOT; Erik Canuel, BON COP, BAD COP)
Best Actress: Moira Kelly, THE CUTTING EDGE
Playing the wet blanket is never the easy role. So while D.B. Sweeney gets to be the charming ex-hockey player bumbling his way in figure skating, Kelly has to be the ice princess he eventually thaws during their training. She makes the 1992 romantic comedy work, as well as it could.
(Honorable Mention: This probably isn’t going to shock you, but lead roles for women aren’t exactly commonplace in hockey films. It’s not like we’re going to toss Jessica Alba in THE LOVE GURU here just to fill space.)
Best Actor: Kurt Russell, MIRACLE
Oh, we know how divisive this is going to be.
How is this not Jean-Claude Van Damme in SUDDEN DEATH, right?
OK, the real issue here is Paul Newman in SLAP SHOT vs. Russell in MIRACLE. And there’s no really good answer. Newman is having the time of his life as Reg Dunlop. One moment he’s heartfelt, then he’s a father figure, then he’s an imp, channeling the movie’s intoxicating chaos through those stone-cold blue eyes.
He’s Paul [expletive] Newman. He had charisma to spare.
So does Russell, in nearly every other role, and that’s the point: He dials it waaaaay back as Herb Brooks. He packs on a few pounds and drapes himself in tweed. He submerges himself into this complicated workaholic, and there isn’t a moment you’re not buying his singular focus or his provocative tactics.
As Roger Ebert put it: “‘Miracle’ is a sports movie that’s more about the coach than about the team, and that’s a miracle, too.”
How many people walked into MIRACLE thinking it was going to be about the ragtag Americans who beat the Soviets, and walked out thinking Russell deserved an Oscar for what he just accomplished?
(Honorable Mention: Newman, SLAP SHOT; Roy Dupuis, THE ROCKET)
And finally …
Best Picture: SLAP SHOT
It’s no contest, really.
MIRACLE is a tour-de-force for one character. GOON, for all its virtues, owes a debt to SLAP SHOT and can’t quite get its off-ice relationships to the 1977 classic’s lofty emotional heights.
Which is to say that SLAP SHOT makes you feel something. Maybe it’s joy, as you listen to the trash talk and watch the Hanson Brothers energize the film with their bloody antics. Maybe it’s unease, as you watch Reg Dunlop working behind the scenes to save the Chiefs. Maybe it’s heartache as you watch Ned and Lily. Maybe it’s catharsis as you watch Ned skate to “The Stripper.”
SLAP SHOT is remembered for being a time capsule for hockey in the 1970s – gory play, ugly goons and nestled in its niche. But those who remember it like that don’t dig far enough beyond that surface, to see that it also represents other aspects of hockey’s legacy: The blue-collar aesthetic; the camaraderie; the honor among thugs; and the way the game can make families out of strangers, whether it’s in a locker room or on a fan bus of supporters.
And so we’ll remember Denis Lemieux explaining penalties and the Hansons putting on the foil and trying to listen to the [expletive] song and Dickie Dunn trying to capture the spirit of the thing. But the reason it endures, from repeat viewings at home to mandatory viewings on the team bus, isn’t just for the comedy high points – it’s for being a damn good film.
(Honorable Mention: GOON, MIRACLE)
Selections by Puck Daddy’s Ryan Lambert and Greg Wyshynski, a.k.a. the Academy.
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