The Sochi Olympics come to a close this weekend with Sunday's gold-medal hockey game, and film fans undoubtedly will be reminded of "Miracle," the 2004 dramatization of 1980's "Miracle On Ice."
Kurt Russell stars as coach Herb Brooks, who led a ragtag team of amateurs to victory over the Soviet Union's hockey juggernaut in Lake Placid, New York. Russell's hard-nosed but accessible performance is the highlight, though the hockey action is probably the best ever committed to film, thanks to the casting of unknown actors with on-ice experience.
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"Miracle" is available now on Blu-ray, DVD and video on demand services.
But my favorite hockey movie...
... isn't "Miracle," or Paul Newman's bawdy "Slap Shot," or Seann William Scott's recent Netflix hit "Goon," or even Disney's "The Mighty Ducks."
It's a mostly forgotten 1999 gem from the director of "Austin Powers," the creator of "Boston Legal" and the star of "Gladiator."
"Mystery, Alaska" stars Russell Crowe as the sheriff of a small town obsessed with the game. When a native son (Hank Azaria) comes back to write a Sports Illustrated article about the "legendary" local pond hockey team, the NHL smells a marketing opportunity and sends the New York Rangers up north for a televised exhibition game.
But director Jay Roach and co-writer David E. Kelley weren't content to deliver a standard sports drama, and instead crafted a funny, warm and decidedly R-rated portrait of a quirky community that suddenly has stars in its eyes.
A solid team of familiar faces and character actors -- Burt Reynolds, Colm Meaney, Lolita Davidovich, Michael McKean and even Mike Myers -- scores big in this little film that gave us this bit of wisdom from interestingly named puckster Skank Marden (Ron Eldard): "I play hockey and I fornicate because those are the two most fun things to do in cold weather."
Crowe, whose character is also the aging captain of the hockey team, plays some wonderful scenes with Mary McCormack ("In Plain Sight"), who finds herself drifting away from her preoccupied husband. Coming in 1999, Crowe's performance is unburdened by the stardom he would find one year later in "Gladiator" and feels real and relatable.
Of course there is a big hockey game to be played, and "Mystery, Alaska" ends with an exciting one, although everyone can see the outcome coming a mile away. (This is a sports movie, after all.)
Sadly, "Mystery, Alaska" almost never plays on cable. You can watch it online with Amazon Instant Video, vudu, Xbox Video and other on-demand services, or you can pick up the DVD for a dirt-cheap price. (No Blu-ray yet.)
The film is so small that its gorgeous, wistful score by regular Coen brothers collaborator Carter Burwell was never commercially released on CD or iTunes; thankfully, the composer has provided free MP3s to download at carterburwell.com.
• Sean Stangland is a Daily Herald copy editor and a tireless consumer of pop culture. He's fast on skates, but never perfected the hockey-stop. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanStanglandDH.