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Best Movies I Watched in 2016

I’ve not done a countdown in a long while and it’s that time of year when countdowns make sense as a means for recollection, so here’s a new countdown. I watched a number of movies this year. They covered a huge range of genres, styles, ages, and tones. Most of them entertained me, and all of them engaged me. These are the ten best movies I watched for the first time this year. Please note that this is not a list of films released this year. I didn’t go to the movie theatre that often, so I didn’t see many of the best films of this year according to critics, like La La Land, Moonlight, or Manchester by the Sea. I saw a few, but most of the films are from earlier years, some from the black and white film era. Here we go. 

Honorable Mention: V For Vendetta (2005)

There’s a used book store in Cambridge called Rodney’s that is one of my favorite hangout spots. They sell DVDs for very cheap, and I’ve gotten a few films from there. I’ve wanted to watch V for Vendetta for a while, so when I saw it for so cheap, I bought it. I had a free afternoon after class, so I made lunch and watched the movie. That was a good choice. 

The political themes and messages of the film are compelling and thought provoking. The world feels controlled and chained. They nailed the feel of the movie, with Natalie Portman acting as a vessel for us to walk in futuristic, fascist London. Portman is excellent in the film, but the highlight is absolutely Hugo Weaving as V. He is spellbinding. His home feels like a haven, his actions and speeches are grandiose, at times infuriating, but as you learn his backstory through the course of the film, you appreciate how complete this character is. It takes some commitment to watch it and some of the messaging is a bit much, but the political intrigue, suspense, and charm make V for Vendetta well worth watching. I can’t put it into the top list, but it deserves a mention. 

10. Rogue One (2016)

The annual Star Wars release that we will get for the rest of all time just barely scrapes into my top 10. I did a full writeup of the film, so I won’t spend much time on it here. Short version, its good. Plenty of good action, amazing Darth Vader moments, and enough world building to expand the Star Wars universe and add some grit to the world make it a worthwhile addition to cinema’s most sacred franchise. It’s flaws are just big enough to keep it down to the 10th spot here.

9. The Revenant (2015)
For the first and only time on this list, I will say I didn’t like this movie much. This is a rare experience for me. I appreciate the technical mastery and how well made and directed the film is, but I still can’t bring myself to like it. 

Positives first. The scene composition, camerawork, lighting, and cinematography are nothing short of amazing. The film feels real and brutal. The score isn’t distracting or ear catching, but it compliments the film perfectly. The theme of survival is well explored and Tom Hardy is an excellent villain. There is plenty to enjoy and it deserved every technical Oscar it won. However, as stated previously, I didn’t like it. I saw this film at the very end of its theatrical run while on Spring break with family. We went to a lovely little theatre called the Chatham Orpheum, in Chatham, Cape Cod, which might be my favorite theatre I’ve ever been to. We sat there and suffered through it. 

It felt like a gore fest that took so much effort to stomach and watch Leonardo DiCaprio fight through. It is a brutal movie that pushes its lead to his physical limits, but doesn’t flush his character out anymore than that. In fact, none of the characters other than Hardy or the Native guide halfway through the film caught my attention or were that memorable for me. When the film is so focused on beating the lead to his limits, that’s tough to watch. The CGI by Industrial Light and Magic to bring the bear to life is the best CGI work I’ve ever seen, and I could barely watch it. You feel every cut, arrow, rock, and punch that hits Leo. It’s so hard to watch at times that I can’t say I like it. If you can’t stomach violence, stay far away from this movie. If you can handle it, then you’ve got a technical masterpiece to enjoy here. 

8. Airplane! (1980)

I’ve never laughed so hard watching a movie. This film is vulgar, insulting, full of swearing, death, and nudity. And it is a work of comedic genius. This came out at a time when disaster movies were popular. Think The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno, and Zero Hour!. It takes the seriousness of disaster movies and plays every bit of it for laughs. The characters and jokes are perfectly written and it is so quotable. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar talks about dragging Walton and Lanier up the floor every night for 48 minutes with a kid who just told him he doesn’t try , except during the playoffs, while he is trying to pass himself off as an airplane pilot and is wearing his Laker uniform underneath his pilot garb. That kind of absurdity is just par for the course when talking about this movie. This isn’t a film to watch for cinematography, character arcs, or any of that stuff. You watch this because it was funny in 1980, and it is just as funny today. 

7. Finding Dory (2016)

Pixar is the best animation studio going today. I have loved almost every film I’ve seen from them, and liked Cars and Cars 2. When the sequel to 2003’s Finding Nemo was announced years ago, I was excited. When the movie came out, it was a must watch for me. I saw this with my mom on the Cape over the summer. And wow did Pixar do a phenomenal job. I actually like this a little more than the original. 

The animation is sensational. The sound design is perfect. The voice acting is just as good as the first movie. There are bits which are nonsensical, like the truck falling off the cliff as “What a Wonderful World” plays, but the film holds together well enough despite the silliness. The returning characters are as good as expected, but the new critters are awesome additions. Namely Hank, my favorite character in the film. His arc is heartwarming and his natural characteristics, as an octopus, allow Pixar to flex their creative muscle with him on screen. I think this is a worthy sequel to Finding Nemo and a worthy addition to Pixar’s lineup. 

6. City of God (2002)

After my final exam wrapped up at BU, I had a week to relax on campus. During Senior Week, I went to Red Sox games, explored the MFA, celebrated my graduation with my friends, and enjoyed the city I’ve come to love so much. One night, I got together with some guys from the BU Catholic Center and we wanted to watch a movie. My friend David, an avid film buff, suggested City of God. None of us knew anything about it, just that it was supposed to be good. Our blind faith was rewarded with a surprisingly gritty and touching film about growing up in and trying to survive in the slums of Rio de Janero. 

It is in Portuguese, and has accompanying subtitles to make it watchable for those who don’t speak Portuguese. It provides enough lighthearted moments to make living in the ironically titled City of God seem better than it actually is. Only two disappointments show up for me. There’s a romance between the lead and a girl he likes that is dropped part of the way through the film and is never resolved. There’s also one important character who goes from being likable to dispicable in a heartbeat. It just seems a bit extreme. All things considered though, this is a phenomenal movie. It does require some willingness to endure blood and guts, but nowhere near as much as The Revenant

5. Million Dollar Baby (2004)

I love sports movies. With all the sports posts I’ve got, it’d be a shock if I didn’t. Gran Torino is one of my favorite films, and I heard that Million Dollar Baby was similar in tone and even better. After an insane week of driving all around New England, I needed a night to breathe. I made myself dinner and put in Million Dollar Baby. This movie is emotional. Hillary Swank plays the southern hick perfectly. The chemistry between Morgan Freeman and Clint Eastwood is perfect. It is a little slow, but it’s a Clint Eastwood film. He takes his time. This is a sports movie that gets you thinking “that’s not fair!” just after showing you something heartwarming and exciting. It is a well balanced movie, and well worth your time and effort to try and watch it.


4. Sunset Boulevard (1950)

My family has a penchant for watching classic movies. We’ve watched such classics as Casablanca and Citizen Kane and plan on watching On The Waterfront, and other classics as time goes by. Over spring break, Dad suggested we watch Sunset Boulevard, a classic film noir about how age and fame can drive a person into insanity. And wow is this movie engrossing, unsettling, and fantastically creepy. Gloria Swanson plays Norma Desmond masterfully and delivers one of the most famous lines in cinema history: “Alright Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my closeup.” I thought this film was a lighthearted look at the entertainment business. I was wrong, and the finale of the film leaves you with a sense of “I can’t believe that really just happened…” It is from a completely different era of film making. The writing, pacing, and tone of the movie are relics of its time, and I wish we could go back to that age. If you like old school movies, go watch this. You’ll love it. 

3. Inside Out (2015)

In late October, I went with my dad to Green Bay, Wisconsin, to take in a Green Bay Packer game at Lambeau Field. It was a highlight of the year. The next day, we hopped on a plane to Chicago. We then went our separate ways, with me going back to Boston and Dad going to San Fransisco. When I sat down for my flight, I noticed the seatback monitor had a Disney tab. I poked around the movie selection and found Inside Out listed there. I remember many people raving about how good this movie was, and I had one friend tell me about how emotionally charged it is. I took their word for it and watched it on my flight home. Simply, wow. 

Again, Pixar is the best animation studio working now and Inside Out is the most imaginative film they’ve made. The idea of emotions being managed like a company with a board of emotions managing it all is brilliant. The tale of a young girl struggling to figure out her new situation is compelling and relatable to every human being on the planet. The animation and score are perfect. The writing for every character is phenomenal, and my friend who called it emotional was not exaggerating at all. I couldn’t watch some sections of the film because I had lived it and I didn’t want to look at it in movie form. That makes the final act and the ensuing catharsis more meaningful. This is a masterful movie and one of my favorite Pixar films. Go watch this if you haven’t yet. 

2. Rocky (1976)

Yes, I somehow never watched Rocky before this year. When I got my job writing for Inside Hockey and covered games up at the University of Vermont, I stayed overnight at my family’s place in Quechee, VT. After finishing my writeups I checked out the Xfinity OnDemand listings. I went to the Free Movies tab and saw Rocky. Instantly, I thought “Yes. This is happening.” I was missing out, this film is awesome. 

Sylvester Stallone as the title character is absolutely the best part of the film. He’s simultaneously so stupid and wise with an underlying good nature that you can’t possibly root against him. Apollo Creed, played by Carl Weathers, is a respectable adversary for Rocky, but never feels much like a villain. There’s a healthy respect between the two leads. The romance between Rocky and Adrian, played by Talia Shire, is sweet and touching. It looks and feels very real, with Rocky being such a gentleman in a way only a bumbling guy can be. It makes the final scene so memorable. The best sequence of the film is undoubtably the fight. The “Going the Distance” song is one of the finest pieces of film score ever written, and you pull so hard for Rocky. It is a masterclass of pulling for the underdog and creating a character that everyone wants to be, and at points through life, has been. This film is required viewing.

1. The Godfather (1972)

Of all the great movies I wanted to watch and hadn’t gotten to yet, this is the one that people were the most baffled by my not seeing. This is considered one of the greatest movies ever made. I had heard about the horse head, the baptism, the Sicilian wedding, and how perfect the casting was. So after the craziness of the Whitecaps baseball season and the musical wrapped up, I had a free night. I cooked a bowl of pasta with tomato sauce and sausage, poured a glass of red wine, killed all the lights in my house, and watched The Godfather. Simply put, all the praise of the movie was justified. 

In a way, this is the weirdest film on the list because it doesn’t feel like a movie. It feels like a novel being told by actors. It was based on a novel, but it feels like a book and not a movie, which is normally a problem. Not here. Also the film starts with immediate exposition about a daughter being brutally attacked. No music, no credits, no build up or set up. Just a cold start. It’s so different, and it works so well. Marlon Brando is magnificent as Don Corleone. Al Pacino’s ascent as a member of the family is so compelling to watch. Every supporting character is cast absolutely perfectly. There are so many quotable lines. I feel more cultured after having seen this movie. This is up there as one of the greatest accomplishments in cinematic history. This, like Rocky, is required watching, but watch this first. The Godfather is a cinematic marvel that will never get old or be forgotten. 

Why Pittsburgh Won the Stanley Cup

Well, my prediction for the Stanley Cup finals was wrong. I got the six games part right, but not the team right. The Sharks and Penguins treated the Hockey world to an excellent series and showed the sports world how exciting the sport can be when played at the highest level. Ultimately, Pittsburgh skates away with their fourth Stanley Cup. So what made the difference?

1. Sharks Lack of Bite.

When the San Jose came into the series, they came in on the back of a strong defense and excellent goaltending by Martin Jones. They had a good and effective offense, but did not rely on it. The lack of good offense came back to bite them. The Penguins outshot the Sharks in every game in the series, with Pittsburgh averaging 34.3 shots a game and San Jose only averaging 23.4 shots a game. San Jose lost the only game in which they outshot the Penguins. They got outstanding goaltending from Martin Jones, but could not support their goaltender with a top line performance on the offensive side of the puck.

2. Pittsburgh’s Defensive Forwards.

I predicted that the Sharks would win based on their strong defensemen. They did their jobs rather well, but the surprising performance came from the Pittsburgh forwards. In tonight’s game 6, they blocked 33 shots. Sidney Crosby has a reputation of being a skilled offensive player who doesn’t have much toughness. But he showed that he can play some good defense as well.

3. Matt Murray’s Coming Out Party.

Both goaltenders were unheralded coming into the series. Martin Jones probably did have the better individual series, but Murray walks away with the Stanley Cup in hand. Murray came from obscurity sitting behind Marc-Andre Fleury to winning the Stanley Cup in place of an injured Fleury.

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Ultimately, these are the biggest reasons I can give for Pittsburgh’s victory over San Jose in the Stanley Cup Finals. The NHL now gets to take a nice summer break before coming back in October. Thanks for an awesome season NHL!

 

Top 10 NBA Finals

The NBA is lined up to get a rematch in this year’s finals that could go down as one of the greatest matchups of all time in the Finals. Cleveland and Golden State combined for an excellent Finals series last year, and the second round promises to be just as good, if not better. Before we dive into the next series, let’s take a look back at prior NBA Finals matchups and appreciate the legendary duels of Finals past. I did a list like this for the Stanley Cup Finals earlier this week, and I’m keeping the same criteria. The order of this list is comprised of what series featured the best competition between the two teams. The games should be consistently competitive, with both teams standing a chance of winning the series. This also isn’t going to be a collection of the greatest moments in the history of the NBA Finals. Michael Jordan’s “Switching Hands” layup against the Lakers in 1991 is one of the great plays, but that doesn’t make a 5 game series where it was clear who was better by the middle of the fourth game an all time series. The whole series had to have been a good battle and both teams need to have had a chance to win. I’m also not including the 2015 Finals on this list because we still need a little more time to process where that finals fits in the pecking order. With all that said, let’s get started.

  1. 1978, Bullets vs SuperSonics: Bullets in 7

The late 1970’s were the dark ages for the NBA. The teams were losing money, the quality of play had declined, and the League was in trouble. There was still great basketball to be found in the dark ages though. The Washington Bullets (now called the Wizards) met the Sonics in 1978, and the teams played in the most forgotten Finals series ever played. Dennis Johnson, the most underrated player in NBA history, let his defense against the Bullet backcourt do the talking, but the forces inside for the Bullets named Wide Wes Unseld and Elvin Hays were too much for the Sonics to handle. Game seven saw the Sonics cut the Bullets lead down late despite their best player, Dennis Johnson, missing every shot he took in the game. Ultimately, the Sonics could not stop Hays and Bob Dandridge inside. It was an excellent matchup, but the timing of the series in the middle of the NBA’s dark ages, lack of influence on the league, and the simple fact of no one ever remembering it prevent me from putting it higher than #10.

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  1. 1974, Celtics vs Bucks: Celtics in 7

The Bucks used to be great. They won a championship in their third season in 1971 and remained a dominant team throughout the early 1970’s behind the dominant duo of Oscar Robertson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. They had a team that made it back to the NBA Finals in 1974 and ran into a revamped Celtics team featuring a few holdovers from the Russell dynasty, John Havlicek and Don Nelson, and new stars, including JoJo White and Dave Cowens. The ensuing battle became a quickly forgotten classic. Without Lucius Allen, an old Oscar Robertson got pushed around in game one, with the Celtics going ahead. The teams then traded wins for the rest of the series. The teams didn’t have many close games in the series, but game six makes up for all that. This classic game produced two all time NBA moments. First, Dave Cowens dove for a loose ball at the end of the fourth quarter, showing his determination. Then in double overtime, the great Kareem Abdul Jabbar sank a sky-hook to put the Bucks ahead and make game seven in Milwaukee a reality. The Celtics responded with pride and enthusiasm, and went to Milwaukee and won their 13th NBA Championship. The Bucks never rebounded, as Oscar Robertson retired after the 74 Finals and Kareem was traded to the Lakers in the fall of that year. The rematch never happened, but the one duel was outstanding. It is an underrated series, but its still a great matchup. But I can’t put it higher than ninth because it had only one legendary game.

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  1. 1994, Knicks vs Rockets: Rockets in 7

Breaking up the running of the Bulls that the 1990’s turned into, the Knicks and Rockets provided the NBA with a beautiful mix of throwback and new school basketball. Its a throwback because the focus was on the duel of centers Patrick Ewing and Hakeem Olajuwon. The physical grit and toughness of the Knicks also added to the old school feel of the series. The play of Hakeem and shooting skill of the Rockets, meanwhile, added a new school flavor to the series that fitted the 90’s perfectly. The teams traded games at the Summit and Madison Square Garden, with New York taking a three games to two lead to game six in Houston. John Starks had a shot late in the game that could’ve won it. Instead, Hakeem blocked the shot on the outside and forced a game seven. Hakeem was too much for the Knicks in the end, and the Rockets won this underrated classic.

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  1. 2005, Pistons vs Spurs: Spurs in 7

This series is criminally underrated. I think that’s because the Detroit Pistons are the only modern team to win a championship without a clear Hall of Fame player on their roster. Outside of that, the series was a dream matchup. The last two NBA champs, the two best teams in the league led by two legendary coaches with attitudes fit of being champions. The buildup to the series was outstanding and the payoff was even better. The teams split the first four games and most of them were not close by the end, especially games three and four in Detroit. The Pistons won by 31 in game four and ran the Spurs off the floor early in game five. Luckily for NBA fans outside of Michigan, the rest of game five was a classic game worthy of archive in NBA lore. The Spurs escaped Detroit with a victory on a great late game performance by Robert Horry, with him making a last second three pointer to cap a 21 point performance. The Pistons won game six and forced the first game seven in the Finals in eleven years. The final game was a defensive war, a reflection of the way both teams played the game. Ultimately, Finals MVP Time Duncan was too much for the Pistons and the Spurs claimed their third championship since 1999. Both teams proved to be worthy competitors, and the series proved a classic.

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  1. 1997 and 1998, Bulls vs Jazz: Bulls in 6 both times

Ok, this is completely cheating. I can’t just leave the best player in the history of the NBA off this list. But I can’t figure out which series belongs here. He never played in a seven game NBA Finals, only in the Eastern Conference Finals and Semi-Finals. He did play in six NBA Finals. But which one is deserving of being here? Well not 91, that was only a five game series. 92 and 93 were good series, but watching the tape makes me think that neither the Trail Blazers or the Suns could mount a major challenge to Air Jordan. 96 was a good series, but the Sonics didn’t feel like they could mount a big enough threat after falling behind three games to none. Then we get to 97 and 98 and for the life of me, I cannot separate these two series. They both felt like close series, both saw the participants execute their game plan to high levels, and showed how good they were. So I’m going to combine these two series into one listing.

So what happened in these matchups? Well in 97, the Jazz finally broke through the Conference Finals and went to the NBA Finals. They met the greatest dynasty of the age and played well to open the series. But Karl Malone missing free throws, Michael Jordan making a game winning shot at the buzzer of game 1, and defensive lapses in game two resulted in a 2-0 series lead. Utah tied it up after a dominant game 3 win and an overtime win on a long pass from Stockton to Malone. This set up a great matchup in game five. With momentum hanging in the balance, Michael Jordan got sick. The Jazz capitalized and took a big lead early. Jordan responded with the heart of a champion and scored 39 points to lead the Bulls to victory. Back in Chicago, game six was a hard battle that went right down to the wire. A last second shot by Steve Kerr and a late steal by Scottie Pippen ultimately ended the duel.

The next year was a chance at revenge. The Jazz now had home court advantage and won game one in overtime. The Bulls responded with three consecutive victories. The wins included a messy win in Utah, the worst performance by one team in Finals history when the Bulls won game three 96-54, and a tight win in game four. The Bulls lost a chance to close out the series at home and Utah could force a game 7 back in Salt Lake City. The teams engaged in a legendary duel in game six with their stars carrying them down the stretch. When down three in the final minute of play, Jordan single handedly won the game with a layup, a steal from Karl Malone, and the famous “Hold the pose” shot over Bryon Russell to seal the win for the Bulls. Both series were epic, both teams were essentially the same in both series, and both deserve recognition. Because of that, both series are being listed together and here in the middle of this list. I can’t put them higher because the series never went the full seven. These series did push the great Michael Jordan to his limit and that merits the 97 and 98 finals landing on this list.

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  1. 1969, Celtics vs Lakers: Celtics in 7

The oldest series on this list and quite possibly the one with the most interesting backstory. The Celtics had won ten championships since Bill Russell arrived in 1956, beating the Lakers six times in the finals in that time. The Lakers needed to add a center to the formula that already included Hall of Famers Jerry West and Elgin Baylor. They traded for Wilt Chamberlain, and were favored to beat the aging Celtics. Through the first six games, the home team defended their home court. Game seven was in LA, and the owner of the Lakers, Jack Kent Cooke, was so confident his team would win that he printed the celebration plans on papers that were taped to the seats. Bill Russell found a sheet before the game, read it to his players, and used it for motivation in one last duel. The Celtics jumped out to a lead early, then held on for dear life as Jerry West launched a personal assault on the Celtics. Don Nelson’s miracle shot at the end helped the Celtics down the Lakers one more time with Bill Russell at the helm.

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  1. 2010, Celtics vs Lakers: Lakers in 7

I am a massive Celtics fan. They are my second favorite team in professional sports and Paul Pierce is my favorite athlete of all time. This only makes the 2010 matchup against the Lakers more soul crushing. Like other series on this list, its a rematch series, and was a rekindling of the greatest rivalry in the sport. The teams met in 2008, and Boston walked away with a massive victory in game 6. The rematch was a duel that the NBA had to wait two years for, but it was worth the wait.

The Celtics and Lakers battled through Ray Allen’s record setting game two, Derek Fisher’s heroics in game four, the Boston bench winning game four by themselves, the Celtics grinding out game five, and Kendrick Perkins tearing his ACL in a game six blowout. This set up a game seven, and the final game was a brutal war. The Lakers came back late in the game, capping the first Celtics loss in a game seven in the NBA Finals with Ron Artest’s three pointer and Sasha Vujicic’s free throws. The Lakers won the rematch and the Celtics have still not recovered from the loss.

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  1. 2013, Spurs vs Heat: Heat in 7

The most recent series on this list will be talked about for years to come. It deserves it, the Spurs and Heat have been the two best organizations in basketball for the first half of the 2010’s. They finally met in the 2013 Finals, and the teams combined for a duel for the ages. Tony Parker won game one with a soft kiss off the beackboard. The teams then traded victories until the most famous game in the series, game six. The Spurs were one game away from winning the championship, and held a lead late into game six. However, when the final seconds arrived, the Heat refused to die. Ray Allen’s famous three pointer in the corner tied the game and forced overtime, which the Heat won, and then game seven was just as good and tense. Tim Duncan missed a bunny in the lane that would’ve tied the game late, and LeBron James closed the series for his second championship.

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  1. 1988, Pistons vs Lakers: Lakers in 7

If you’re from Boston, this series was a moment you looked at and said, “Who do I hate more?” The Lakers were the main rivals of the Celtics in the 1980’s and could run anyone off the floor, but the Pistons were much more physical and more difficult to play as a purely physical and mental matchup. This clash in basketball styles, and the friendship between the two point guards, made the matchup compelling and interesting. The Lakers were favored, but the Pistons did not yield ground. The teams split the first four games of the series, and traded blows in the middle of it. When the series shifted to LA for game six, Isiah Thomas wanted the win and had a quarter for the ages in the third. He rolled his ankle badly, and in the same quarter, scored 25 of his 43 points. Isiah’s performance kept the Pistons close, but it could not seal a win. Kareem hit two late free throws to win game six, then James Worthy won game seven almost by himself as the Pistons were denied a championship for one more year. The war was brutal but beautiful and memorable for all basketball fans, even in Boston.

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  1. 1984, Celtics vs Lakers: Celtics in 7

The greatest rivalry in all of basketball, the greatest players of the day, and the renaissance of the NBA all were on full display in this matchup for the ages. Magic Johnson and Larry Bird has won three of the first four championships contested in the 1980’s. But they hadn’t met for the championship since the 1979 NCAA Championship game. In June of 1984, they led their squads into the NBA finals for a renewal of basketball’s greatest rivalry. LA opened with a big win in game one, then choked away game two when Gerald Henderson stole James Worthy’s pass and Magic Johnson dribbling out the clock in regulation of a tie game. After that, the Lakers ran away with game three in LA. Boston countered with Kevin McHale clotheslining Kurt Rambis and winning game four in overtime. Boston sweated out game five in a hot Boston Garden, and LA won game six in the Forum. Game seven proved to be the matchup the NBA wanted to cement their place as a seminal sports league, with the highest ratings for any show for CBS that year. Cedric Maxwell led the way in scoring and assists for the Celtics, and the Lakers were finally downed. It had close games, important historical impact, and a legendary cast of characters. Nine players in this series are in the Hall of Fame and both coaches are in the Hall too. For the level of competition and for historical impact on the NBA, the 1984 NBA Finals take the top spot on this list.

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Top Ten Stanley Cup Finals

Top 10 Stanley Cup Finals Series

It is that most special time of year for hockey fans: The Stanley Cup Finals!!! The final round to determine the best team in the world, the stage for the best players to put on the greatest show the sport has to offer. If you look back through the history of the NHL, there have been many magical moments, games, duels, battles, and memories in the final series of each season since it began in 1926. But what are the greatest Finals series ever contested? Well that’s what I’m looking at here.

To be considered, the series doesn’t have to have gone the full seven games, though that does help. What makes the series great is the quality of hockey played. Did both teams play like champions and well enough to win the ultimate series? Could either team have won if a few events went the other way? These factors will help determine my list here. Also, there have to be multiple truly great games to land a series on here, not just a few stellar moments. My apologies to Bobby Orr, but game 4 of the 1970 finals does not get that series on this list. The Bruins dominated the Blues during the rest of the series which was not close or very interesting. The games need to be close, entertaining, and the series has to be tight, with both teams getting close to a title. As the Penguins and Sharks prepare to battle for the Cup, we can only hope that their duel joins this list someday. So here we go!

10. 2014, L.A. Kings vs New York Rangers, Kings in 5.

The closest five game series ever played. That’s the universal description of the 2014 Finals between NY and LA, and I can’t argue against that. All but one of these games were decided by one goal, and three of them required extra time to decide, including double overtime thrillers in games 2 and 5. The Kings won their second Stanley Cup, sealing a reputation as a resilient hockey team. They came back from down 3 games to 0 in the first round of the playoffs against San Jose, and won three game 7’s on the road. The Rangers managed to make it to the finals despite almost impossible scheduling of their games. Because Madison Square Garden expected little of the Rangers and overbooked Billy Joel, the Rangers had to play 5 playoff games in 7 nights, including two sets of back to back games. Somehow, a captain-less Ranger team rode Henrik Lundqvist to the Finals and battled the Kings in the most unlucky series they could possibly have contested. The Rangers played admirably and had several chances to win all the games they lost, except game 3. But because they didn’t I can’t justify this series going any higher than #10.

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9. 2006, Carolina Hurricanes vs Edmonton Oilers, Hurricanes in 7

An unexpected classic and one that began to restore the luster to the Cup after the lockout season. That’s how the 2006 finals should be remembered. Both teams missed the previous playoffs, and got into contention behind great goaltending, experienced defensemen, and young offensive talent. The Hurricanes tied the record for the biggest one game comeback, coming back from down three goals to win the opener 5-4. The Oilers continued in freefall, losing 2 of the next three games badly. They had to use three different net minders, and somehow forced a game 7. Cam Ward was too good in game 7, and Carolina won their first Cup. The NHL won fans back with a great final series a year after a labor strike cost the entire 2004-2005 season. It lands this series at the 9th spot here.

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8. 2001, Colorado Avalanche vs New Jersey Devils, Avalanche in 7

The winningest goaltenders of all time lead the best teams in the league to the finals and play seven games to decide the final. That’s a dream set up for the league, and that’s exactly what hockey got in 2001 when Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy led the Devils and Avalanche respectively to the finals. The teams alternated winning each game throughout the series. Ultimately, Colorado’s home ice advantage and Alex Tanguay’s 2 goal game in game 7 won the Avalanche’s second Stanley Cup. This was the last time that the top seeds in each conference met in the Finals. The series met all expectations, and was an instant classic.

Roy

7.2009, Pittsburgh Penguins vs Detroit Red Wings, Penguins in 7

Round one between these teams in 2008 was good. The rematch was even better. The Red Wings won the 2008 Stanley Cup over the Penguins, winning the final game on Pittsburgh’s home ice. The next year, the teams made it back to the finals and war ensued. The teams combined for a brutal battle, capped by a game 7 for the ages at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. Pittsburgh took a 2-0 lead early in the third when Tyler Kennedy scored his fifth goal of the series. Kris Draper cut the lead in half with 12 minutes to go in the season, and Detroit’s fans yelled lustily for their team to tie the game. Marc-Andre Fleury shut down Detroit the rest of the way to secure a revenge win for the Penguins. A great series heightened by the revenge factor. This year’s Penguins team should take notes on the way their ’09 counterparts performed. 2009-Stanley-Cup-Final_4_1

6. 1987, Edmonton Oilers vs Philadelphia Flyers, Oilers in 7

For all the great moments Wayne Gretzky had in hockey, he was only in one great Stanley Cup finals, this underrated gem. The Oilers and Flyers played different ways and finished with the best records in the league. Edmonton played like their star, Wayne Gretkzy: with finesse, passing, and an overwhelming offensive skillset. The Flyers depended on a classic Philly recipe: grit, toughness, physical play, and great goaltending, in this case from Vezina Trophy winner Ron Hextall. Philly also had revenge on their mind. They lost the 1985 finals to Edmonton in 5 games. The contrast in styles and revenge factor made for a masterful series. The Flyers fought back from being down 3-1 in the series to force a game 7. After a 2-man advantage in the first minute of play they claimed the early lead. The Flyers just did not have enough defense to contain Gretzky, Messier, and a legendary Edmonton offense in game 7, however. Edmonton won their third Stanley Cup and sealed their place as one of hockey’s great dynasties. 2_cupfinals

5. 1942, Toronto Maple Leafs vs Detroit Red Wings, Leafs in 7.

This is the oldest series on the list. It also is among the most historic in all of sports. This was the first finals series to go the full seven games. More historically, it was the first time in any major team sport that a team came back from down three games to none to win a series, and this remains the only time it has ever happened in a championship round (Yes, the next time was the 2004 comeback by the Boston Red Sox over the NY Yankees in the league championship series). Detroit went up three games to none over the heavily favored Leafs before disintegrating in game 4. Red Wing Coach Jack Adams punched a referee and was suspended, while the team could not seal the series on home ice. They were obliterated 9-3 in game 5, then outscored 6-1 over the final two games to seal their infamous spot in hockey history.  pin_apps01

4. 1950, Detroit Red Wings vs New York Rangers, Red Wings in 7.

Another old match up from ye olde days of the NHL when there were only six teams. And another series where the Rangers were affected by wonky scheduling. This is the only series where one team didn’t play a single home game. Madison Square Garden annually booked the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Baily’s Circus for Mid-April, so the Rangers couldn’t play a game in the Garden. Two games were played in Toronto and the other five were played in Detroit. And somehow the Rangers forced the series into a seventh game, and forced that deciding game into double overtime. Detroit won the game on Pete Babando’s 2nd goal of the game, his only two goals of the playoffs in his only season with the Red Wings. An incredible moment and marvelous series.  146599594

3. 2004, Tampa Bay Lightning vs Calgary Flames, Lightning in 7.

This series matched up two teams from small markets who had enjoyed little success at the time. Calgary had missed the playoffs for seven straight years before riding Jarome Iginla’s back to their first Finals since 1989. The Lightning had made the playoffs only twice in their twelve year history when they earned the best record in the Eastern Conference and powered their way to their first finals appearance. The series opened with uninteresting games one to three, but the teams amped it up for the final four games. Game 4 was a 1-0 goalie duel to Tampa. Game 5 went to Calgary in overtime. Game 6 also needed overtime, with the Flames holding a 3-2 lead in the series and a chance to win the Cup on home ice. Instead, Tampa escaped with a 3-2 victory in double overtime. The Lightning then survived a game 7 battle at home to win their first cup. This classic series left the world clamoring for more hockey that they would not get for a full year.

Stanley Cup Finals: Flames v Lightning

2. 2013, Chicago Blackhawks vs Boston Bruins, Blackhawks in 6

Two vanguard franchises of the NHL met to duel for the title in 2013. Both teams were recent Cup champions; both had remarkable runs to get to the finals in 2013. Both teams played with every ounce of energy they could muster. They combined for six competitive and dramatic games. They opened with a triple overtime classic, then immediately followed with another overtime game 2. There would be one more overtime game, but the most memorable game of the series ended in regulation. Needing a win to stay alive, the Bruins took a 2-1 lead into the final minutes of game 6 in Boston. Chicago put two goals behind Tuuka Rask within 17 seconds of each other to steal game 6 and the Cup on the road. It’s a painful memory for Bruins fans, but a legendary moment from a great series. It belongs high on this list. Stanley-Cup-Finals-Game-6-1

1.1994, New York Rangers vs Vancouver Canucks, Rangers in 7

The 1990’s had very few great battles in the Finals. Five of the decade’s series were sweeps, including four consecutive sweeps from 1995 to 1998. In the middle of the decade, there lies a gem that cannot be ignored. The Rangers and Canucks were two denied franchises who had magical years and playoff runs in 1994. Mark Messier took his winning resume from Edmonton and gave New York the belief needed to be champions. They met a physical Vancouver team that looked to finish an improbable run from the 7th seed to the Stanley Cup. Vancouver won game one in overtime before getting beat up in games 2-4. The Canucks won games 6 and 7 in convincing fashion to force game 7 in the Garden. This is one of the best remembered games in Stanley Cup history. New York jumped to a 2-0 first period lead, and Messier put in a second period power play goal that gave the Rangers a lead they would not relinquish. New York won the game 3-2, and earned an emotional title for their long-suffering fans. It tops the list of most dramatic and greatest series in Stanley Cup History.

New York Rangers Mark Messier, 1994 Stanley Cup Finals