Newman was in a league of his own

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, Last Updated: 7:50 AM ET

The point? Celebration.

Yeah, yeah, Christmas and all that, obviously.

But I haven't stopped celebrating a life that left us this year.

As in Paul Freakin' Newman.

That's one reason why I'm again putting Slap Shot at the top of my last-minute Christmas shopping list.

There has been many a praise heaped on what is unarguably the best hockey movie, and, arguably, the best sports movie, period.

Hype from a fan-boy?

No.

Two-hours of brain-dead entertainment does have therapeutic value. But there's a reason great movies survive repeated viewing: Depth.

Depth in the writing, depth in characters, depth in the "cinematic" quality and -- the trickiest of all -- depth in the humour.

That's one thing the Adam Sandler generation of film-makers have little grasp. Man falling off, falling into, or falling over a toilet may be funny for 10 seconds. But unless there is a sense of depth, there is no buzz past the those 10 seconds.

The goofiness of Slap Shot works because there is a reality to the situations, a reality behind the characters.

There's a reality to how much the local sports team can matter to a small town -- particularly to anyone who has grown up or lived in one. That's expressed in Slap Shot by the authentic portrait of Johnstown, Penn., with a soon-to-be-closed steel mill looming in the background. Anybody who has seen a mine close in a one-industry town, or who has been axed at the hand of bean-counters, know that reality.

But, enough of that. This is about Paul Newman, 1925-2008.

I've said it before and will never stop saying it: Coolest actor ever.

Anybody that has seen any movie with Newman in it knows that underneath the immediate surface of "Hollywood movie star," the dude was a great craftsman as an actor.

If the slapstick of Slap Shot obscures the qualities of the writing and acting, it also obscures one of the best performances of the great man's career.

A guy thing? (Like heading to the video store for last-minute Christmas shopping?) No.

Check out these words from the website of blogger Kim Morgan:

"It's about the coaches, it's about the towns, it's about the politics and, with almost transcendent gusto, it's about the dirt.

"There's star Paul Newman who, in his older, ruggedly handsome visage, carries the picture with an odd sort of foul-mouthed dignity we simply don't see in movies these days (and so naturally -- if an actor is doing blue, it's always so damn obvious)."

And, don't forget, Slap Shot was written by a woman: Nancy Dowd.

- Newman had a physical smoothness and grace that translated well as an actor -- and he did learn to skate enough to fake his on-ice scenes in Slap Shot -- but apparently it didn't translate with typical team sports. Didn't stop him from being maybe the best all-around actor in sports movies. There's the 1956 film Somebody Up There Likes Me, a dated but quality bio-flick of middleweight boxing legend Rocky Graziano. There's Fast Eddie Felson, the pool shark he played as the protege to Jackie Gleason's Minnesota Fats in 1961's The Hustler, and as the mentor in 1986's Color of Money.

Newman did finally find a sport where his motor-skills applied: Motorsports. Get the 1969 Indy 500-based film Winning and witness the beginning of a passion he pursued for the rest of his life.

- All who know him say the world is a poorer place without Paul Newman the person. Thankfully we'll always be able to see Paul Newman the actor.


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