Frank's Faves: Movies about the Winter Olympics

Frank's Faves: Movies about the Winter Olympics

"Why? Why? Whyyyy? ... " — Nancy Kerrigan, former Olympic figure skater

The 2018 Winter Olympics, also known as the XXIII Olympic Winter Games, open this week. In the hometown of Bonnie Blair (the former Champaign speedskater who remains the most decorated American woman in Winter Olympic history, if your memory needs refreshing), this is a big deal.

So why is there not yet a feature film about Ms. Blair? A gross oversight, if you asked me — although she did just appear in last year's sports-equality documentary, "On Thin Ice." (Anyone see that? Me neither.) But without a single scandal to her credit — nothing but a measly half-dozen Olympic gold medals — Bonnie is clearly no Tonya Harding, so an Oscar-caliber biopic with Margot Robbie playing her is probably out of the question.

Of course, that doesn't mean that there haven't been a number of reasonably good movies about the Winter Olympics — only that there haven't been any about the greatest U.S. female athlete ever to compete in them, who happens to have gotten her start on the road to Olympic glory right here in Champaign! Why on earth would that bother anybody?

OK, OK, I'm done ranting. I shall collect myself, and like a speedskater at the starting line, I'll focus on the goal ... which happens to be the topic of this week's Faves:

The Winter Olympics — which happen not to be the equal of the Summer Olympics, in a great many sports fans' eyes (my boss's included). As for myself, who am I to cast Olympic stones? Is figure skating any less a sport than synchronized swimming? Is snowboarding any gnarlier than BMX cycling? Or bobsledding less Olympic than beach volleyball? OK, I give the edge to the latter on the last one, if only by virtue of the team outfits, but you get my drift.

The Olympics are about healthy competition on a world stage, and while that may take a lot of bizarre forms — whether winter or summer — both always produce a wealth of inspiring human stories to go along with all the bling handed out on the medal stand.

And where there are great stories, you can bet your torch there are some decent movies striving to tell those stories while making some box-office bling of their own. As "I, Tonya" proved again a few weeks ago (although I've yet to see that one either), there have been more than enough movies about Olympic figure skating — although, admittedly, that most recent entry in the genre is reportedly a triple axel up from the previous likes of "Ice Castles" (1978) and "The Cutting Edge" (1992).

But if you want a Winter Olympic sport that demands strength, power, grace, coordination and conditioning — as well as the ability to take a full-body check into the boards while keeping your balance on a pair of steel blades, you need look no further than the game of hockey. And for the best movie about that manliest of Winter Olympic events — as well as the best movies about a handful of others — you need look no further than (cue the trumpet fanfare):

MY FIVE FAVORITE MOVIES ABOUT THE WINTER OLYMPICS

— "Miracle" (2004). It's hard for today's young'uns to fathom what a big deal it was for the U.S. men's hockey team to beat the Russians in the 1980 Winter Olympics in front of a home crowd, but Disney's movie starring Kurt Russell as the player-turned-coach who helped make it happen comes as close as cinematically possible to faithfully re-creating the times and the circumstances that made a single game so significant to so many Americans. Russell gets to deliver one of the movies' greatest speeches in the locker room before the game — and gets it pretty close to the original, by most reliable accounts.

— "Cool Runnings" (1993). John Candy is the disgraced coach of the first Jamaican bobsled team in this sports comedy from director Jon Turteltaub, loosely based on a true story from the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. While featuring one of the best "slow-clap" scenes ever, this film is also recalled sadly for being the last one starring Candy to be released before the big guy's death. Still a great feel-good film.

— "Downhill Racer" (1969). Robert Redford plays a rare character for his career — a mostly unlikable jerk who lands a spot on the U.S. skiing team through an injury to one of its top skiers. Danville native Gene Hackman plays the team's coach who butts heads with the talented but arrogant loner. The film, which marked the directorial debut of Michael Ritchie (who would team up with Redford and Hackman again three years later on "The Candidate"), features some gorgeous Alpine photography as well as a keen examination of the single-minded "fanaticism" required to be a champion.

— "The Other Side of the Mountain" (1975). Marilyn Hassett won a Golden Globe for her portrayal of ski racing champion Jill Kinmont, who was a top U.S. prospect for a medal in the 1956 Winter Olympics when she was paralyzed in a near-fatal downhill accident. Beau Bridges plays her fiance and fellow skier who inspires her to keep living.

— "Blades of Glory" (2007). Until I see "I, Tonya" for myself, I'm going to venture outside my comfort zone and recommend this Olympic parody starring Will Ferrell and Jon Heder as rival ice skaters banned from singles competition, who find a loophole to compete as an all-male pairs team. I submit this one not necessarily on its own merit, but because Olympic figure skating deserves just such a spoof.

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