Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000 to 2009.
Disney ended the Zeroes in a good place from a business sense — still the front door for Pixar, reviving its traditional animation with The Princess and the Frog, getting into the motion-capture game with 2009’s A Christmas Carol and becoming the exclusive distributor for DreamWorks. But in early 2004, the studio sat on the verge of being passed over by Pixar for future projects and had shuttered its animation division.
But Disney excelled at inspirational live-action sports films all decade long — especially Miracle, about the improbable run to victory by the 1980 United States hockey team in the Winter Olympics. Made up of no-name college kids, the team dusted the juggernaut Soviet team en route to the gold.
Authentic, classy and impeccably recreated by director Gavin O’Connor and cinematographer Dan Stolof, Miracle is anchored by a flawless Kurt Russell performance as the team’s coach. Herb Brooks was a pragmatist who acknowledged only the existent chance, not the unfavorable odds, of going home with the gold.
In capturing that, Russell makes the tried-and-true motivational speeches uncommonly good. He alternates between fiery-tongued intensity and outstanding reserved moments, such as when he delivers bad news to a player that he’s been cut.
Miracle’s crisp pacing loaned it immediacy even while viewers knew how it ended — successfully honing in on the details, personal motivations and fears of the people involved. The approach perfectly tapped into the competitive spirit to drive for excellence and the emphasis of team play over individual talent.