As we start to refresh our memories on moguls, axels, lutzes, salchows and other winter sports jargon to get into the Winter Olympics – which opened in Pyeongchang, South Korea, on Friday – you might want to watch some sports movies to get into the mood.
The movie I, Tonya, directed by Craig Gillespie, which opened throughout Israel this past Thursday and is nominated for three Oscars, including Best Actress (Margot Robbie) and Best Supporting Actress (Allison Janney), is partly set during the 1994 Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway.
That was the Olympics that came just after the infamous incident where a goon attacked Tonya Harding’s top US competitor, Nancy Kerrigan, after the US figure skating championships. The goon, it transpired, was hired by Harding’s ex-husband to take Kerrigan out of the competition, but the plan failed and Kerrigan won a silver medal at the games, while Harding, understandably distracted by her legal problems, finished in eighth place.
I, Tonya explores Harding’s hardscrabble background – Kerrigan was from an equally working-class background, but had hired a sports agent to groom her as an “Ice Princess” type – and particularly Harding’s fraught relationship with her crazy and demanding waitress mother (Janney, who is the favorite to win Best Supporting Actress).
Figure skating is filled with pretty young women in skimpy, glittering costumes and features a lot of competition, so it’s no surprise that it has been the focus of a number of movies – even the ‘80s mega-hit Flashdance had a figure-skating subplot. The 1978 film Ice Castles, however, is perhaps the Citizen Kane of ice-skating films. It stars cute real-life skater Holly Johnson as a competitive skater who is going blind, and Robby Benson as the guy who falls for her because of her fortitude. It was remade in 2010 with Taylor Firth and Rob Mayes.
A lot of little girls enjoyed Ice Princess, a 2005 movie about a teen (Michelle Trachtenberg) who gives up on academics to put skating first. Joan Cusack plays the mother who is disappointed her daughter won’t be going to Harvard, and Kim Cattrall is the coach who inspires her.
There are a several other movies in this vein. The Cutting Edge (1992) breaks the mold a bit, with Moira Kelly as a spoiled figure skater who is paired up with a rough-edged, failed hockey player (D.B. Sweeney). Several sequels followed in this series more than 20 years later.
But the figure-skating movie that is like no other is Blades of Glory (2007), a comedy that turns all the ice-princess stereotypes upside down. Will Ferrell plays a macho, flashy athletic skating champ, while Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite) is his rival, a fey, wispy skater, an ice prince.
After they get into a fight following a competition, they are both banned from individual skating. They team up as a pairs duo and are a big hit. This movie isn’t exactly subtle, but it is often funny.
The current Aaron Sorkin movie Molly’s Game features Jessica Chastain as a champion skier who takes a freak fall and derails her career just as she is about to qualify for the Olympics and goes on to run a high-stakes poker game.
There have also been a number of skiing movies. The best known is Michael Ritchie’s Downhill Racer (1969), which stars Robert Redford at the height of his handsomeness as a rather glum downhill skiing champion who is wholly focused on winning. Roger Ebert called it “the best movie ever made about sports,” and it features lots of long takes from Redford’s point of view as he plows down the slopes.
Ritchie went on to make several other sports movies, among them The Bad News Bears and Semi-Tough, the best football comedy ever.
You might not think that there would be too many funny hockey movies, but there are quite a few. The Spinal Tap of the ice-hockey genre is George Roy Hill’s 1977 Slap Shot, which is one of the best comedies of that decade, even if you know nothing and care less about the sport. It’s also oddly timely. It stars Paul Newman as Reggie, the aging coach and fading star of a hockey team in the Rust Belt. Reggie learns that the local factory that sponsors the team is closing, and wants to generate interest in the perpetually losing team so it can be sold.
To do that, he acquires three incredibly brutal, marginally literate French-Canadian brothers and an Ivy League hockey star (Michael Ontkean, whom some of you may remember from the 1970s television series The Rookies, and later from Twin Peaks), who does not fit into the working-class atmosphere. The movie is also remembered for the rousing hit song, “Right Back Where We Started From” by Maxine Nightingale.
Other hockey comedies include the Mighty Ducks franchise, with Emilio Estevez as a hotshot lawyer sentenced to do community service after a drunk driving conviction by coaching a ragtag peewee hockey team, which inspired several sequels.
Mystery, Alaska (1999) is a slice-of-life movie about a small town where there is a regular Saturday hockey game on a frozen pond, that becomes famous when a Sports Illustrated reporter publishes an article about the talented locals. Soon, the New York Rangers are coming to play an exhibition game and all kinds of city slickers show up to try to corrupt the town’s innocence. Russell Crowe plays the aging coach here, with Burt Reynolds as a judge.
But perhaps the most enjoyable winter sports film of all is Cool Runnings (1993), a fictionalized account of the first Jamaican men’s bobsled team, which made a big splash at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. This year, for the first time, there will be a women’s Jamaican bobsled team competing in the games, so it would be nice to revisit this comedy, directed by Jon Turteltaub and starring the late John Candy as Irv, the coach, and with Doug E. Doug and Leon.
A warm beverage and any of these flicks will go great before or after the Winter Games.