“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.
“You’re gonna eat lightnin’ and you’re gonna crap thunder!”
Sylvester Stallone has an Oscar nomination. That is a fact that’s older than me, but no matter how may times I hear it, read it, or wake in a cold sweat thinking about it, it still seems insane. Sylvester Stallone is the dude who went toe to toe with Schwarzennegger for most of the 80s defining what an action movie was. He wasn’t a serious actor. But every five or six years, something compels me to watch Rocky. And every five or six years, I’m reminded that Sylvester Stallone was a serious actor and writer. And he earned his Oscar nomination like a son of a bitch.
Working as a leg breaker for a local loan shark, Rocky Balboa (Stallone) is a tough guy in a tough Philadelphia neighbourhood. But none of that is as tough as his hobby. An amateur boxer, Balboa submits himself to immense punishment in the ring, with nothing more than $40 to be gained even when he wins. But that side of his life is threatened when his trainer, (Burgess Meredith as Mickey) declares Balboa a bum and tells him to give up the sweet science. The one high point in Balboa’s life comes each night when he drops into a local pet shop to awkwardly flirt with Adrian (Talia Shire).
In the professional fight game, heavy weight champ Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) is in need of an opponent after his only serious contender is injured. Creed decides it’ll be a huge money spinner if he fights an unknown, an amateur, and dresses the gimmick up as some sort of underdog, American pride propaganda. He chooses Rocky and the bum / stand over man is all of a sudden thrust into the spotlight. Even Mickey comes crawling back, begging to be his trainer.
I’ve seen Rocky a few times over the years and I get why it’s so iconic. It set the standard and provided the blueprint for pretty much every other sports movie that’s come in the years since, good and bad. But one thing struck me this time that I’ve never noticed before. I don’t know if it was purely a product of the boxing world, or if it was a deliberate comment on race relations, but the choice to make Apollo, a black dude, this suit wearing, suave, business man, while Balboa is this dumb, low rent thug who only knows how to fight, seemed really interesting on this viewing.
Despite all of the cheap imitations in the last 40 years, Rocky still packs a punch (see what I did there?). The training montage has been aped infinite times since, but watching Balboa’s transform from street tough to athlete set to a few minutes of Gonna Fly Now is still a fist pumper. And that few minutes is a great summation of Rocky as a whole. It hits all the beats you expect, at the exact times you expect them. But because they were fresh at the time, they somehow still feel fresh today.
Best Actor (Stallone nominated, lost to Peter Finch for Network)
Best Actress (Shire nominated, lost to Faye Dunaway for Network)
Best Supporting Actor (Meredith nominated, lost to Jason Robards for All the President’s Men)
Best Original Screenplay (Stallone nominated, lost to Paddy Chayefsky for Network)