Friday, September 19, 2014

Rocky (Best Picture 1976)

Rocky is the perfect example of a film that deserved to win the Academy Award. The story is of a beaten-down guy in Philadelphia who had dreams of being a prize fighter. Unfortunately, life got in the way; he turns out to be a collector for a local loan shark. Then one day the Heavyweight Champion of the World, Apollo Creed, is in need of a sparring partner for a fight that has already been scheduled in Philadelphia. Desperate for an opponent, he picks Rocky Balboa, "the Italian Stallion," out of a list of possibilities. They like his "style," and believe he has no chance of winning. However, Rocky doesn't want to embarrass himself. At first, he refuses the offer. Then faced with the great cash offer, Rocky reluctantly accepts. Where Apollo and his staff see a promotion, though, Rocky sees a chance to prove himself. He trains hard for the fight, and gets support from people he didn't know cared. By the time of the fight, he thinks he will lose, but he knows he is also going to do his best. He wants to "go the distance." Apollo believes he will knock Rocky out in three rounds, but miraculously, Rocky DOES go the distance, lasting all fifteen rounds. He is a bloody mess, but he is still standing.
This is exactly what the film Rocky did, too. The clear underdog against high-profile films Network and All The President's Men, Rocky won only Film Editing, losing all other nominations, until the very end....when it scored with its knock out one-two punch, Best Director and Best Picture.
Sylvester Stallone wrote this screenplay, and would not sell the script to any studio that would not let him play the title role. Although film critics have had a field day with some of his later roles, he is truly magnificent as Rocky, the "big lug" with a heart of gold. Burgess Meredith, most famous today as "The Penguin" on TV's BATMAN series, plays the equally rough and mean Mickey, almost as  desperate for a chance at success than Rocky. 
Talia Shire plays Rocky's shy love interest, Adrian. Watching them together at the beginning of the film is painful, as they are both so shy and afraid of getting hurt. Their scenes reminded me of another Best Picture, Marty, starring Ernest Borgnine and Betsy Blair. Their love for each other allows both to blossom, and by the end they make a very cute couple indeed. Burt Young plays Rocky's friend Paulie, Adrian's brother. His character is the most difficult to warm up to, as he is consistently self-centered, drunk, and feeling sorry for himself. All four of these actors were nominated for Academy Awards, but none won.

Lastly, Carl Weathers as Apollo Creed owns every scene he is in. You really get to feel some affection for his character, a Mohammed Ali-type self-promoting fighter who realizes too late that "the show" to him is "the fight" to Rocky.

*Academy Award Best Picture of 1976*
Produced by Irwin Winkler & Robert Chartoff
Directed  by John G. Avildsen
Screenplay by Sylvester Stallone

Also Nominated:
(in alphabetical order)
All The President's Men
Bound For Glory
Taxi Driver
This year's nominees is a list of Best Movies of The Seventies. All The President's Men is Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford as the journalists who uncovered the Watergate scandal. If you don't know what that is, go watch this movie. It's one of the best "newspaper" movies ever made. Bound For Glory is the biographical film about Woody Guthrie starring David Carradine. Network is the satirical take on network television that was 40 years prescient. If you haven't seen it or haven't seen it lately, watch it. It will remind you of what is going on in television right now. And Taxi Driver is Martin Scorcese's creepy film about Robert DeNiro and Jodie Foster. In this company, it really was a surprise for Rocky to win! 

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