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Could “Creed” Be An Oscar Contender?

November 30, 2015

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Call it a comeback! It’s been nearly 40 years since a Rocky movie packed a punch at the Academy Awards, but Creed just might find itself fighting above its presumed weight class. The original 1976 Rocky scored an underdog victory, winning Best Picture, Best Director (John G. Avildsen) and Best Film Editing. It was nominated for seven more Oscars, including Best Actor and Screenplay (both for Sylvester Stallone), Best Supporting Actor (Burgess Meredith and Burt Young), Best Supporting Actress (Talia Shire), and Best Original Song (Bill Conti’s “Gonna Fly Now”).

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Rocky II got shut out of any 1979 Oscar nominations, but it did win Favorite Motion Picture at the People’s Choice Awards. And while 1983’s Rocky III earned an Oscar nomination, it was for Survivor’s instant kitsch-classic “Eye of the Tiger.” (I pity the fools who don’t agree with me that Mr. T got robbed of a Supporting Actor nod for his muscular work as Clubber Lang.)

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By the time 1985’s Rocky IV rolled around with Dolph Lundgren’s Ivan “I Will Crush You” Drago, the franchise had fallen into Razzies territory, winning Worst Actor and Director (both for Stallone), Worst Supporting Actress and New Star (both for his real-life love interest Brigitte Nielsen) and even Worst Score (Vince DiCola, anyone)? Somehow, James Brown’s “Living in America” was not nominated for an Oscar; I can only assume it wasn’t eligible, because that song is a national treasure.

As for 1990’s Rocky V, it was up for seven Razzies—Worst Picture, Director (John G. Avildsen!), Actor and Screenplay (both Stallone), Supporting Actress (Talia Shire), Supporting Actor (Burt Young), and Original Song (Alan Menken’s forgettable “The Measure of a Man”)—and lost them all.

Finally (or at least until Creed), 2006’s Rocky Balboa won only 2nd place at the Golden Schmoes Awards—nope, I’ve never heard of them either—for “Biggest Surprise.” And Burt Young was up for Worst Supporting Actor at something called The Bad Movies Stinkers Awards (nope, haven’t heard of them either).

So it’s a bit of a shock to say that Creed should be part of the Oscar conversation this year for Best Picture, Best Director and Screenplay (Ryan Coogler), Best Actor (Michael B. Jordan), Best Supporting Actor (Stallone!), and Best Supporting Actress (Tessa Thompson). It’s not just a crowd-pleaser, earning an A from Cinemascore audiences and making back its $40 million budget and change in its first weekend. It’s a top-notch boxing film, in a league with Million Dollar Baby, if not Raging Bull. Coogler and Jordan, who previously teamed on Fruitvale Station, could be the new Scorsese and De Niro; their creative chemistry is electric. The director finds a new way to shoot an age-old sport, bobbing and weaving his camera with the fighters.

Cop_land_movie_posterStallone (who should’ve earned an Oscar nomination for his underrated turn in 1997’s Cop Land) slips back into his old role like well-worn boxing glove. His sensitive, nuanced work reminded me of Paul Newman’s Oscar-winning 1986 reprise of pool shark Fast Eddie Felson in Martin Scorsese’s Hustler sequel The Color of Money. And Thompson is a true discovery as a hearing-impaired musician who challenges Jordan’s Adonis Creed (biological son of Rocky’s old frenemy Apollo Creed) to be a better man.

My only complaint about Creed is that it doesn’t make full use of Bill Conti’s original score. It hints and teases themes but never goes full out, mostly opting for hip-hop ear-sores like “Work Yo Muscle” by Eearz and “Chicken Curry” by Joey Bada$$. (Sorry, Joey, you’re no badass next to the original J.B.) Still, that won’t stop Creed on Oscar night. It’s gonna fly then.

 

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