Monday, January 18, 2016

Oscar Talk: Creed


I'm not a big fan of sports films, but like everybody else I saw the first couple Rocky movies and found them moving.

So when I read that a promising new movie took up the Rocky story for a new generation, I went to see it.

I liked it very much, but a Los Angeles Times film writer described the appeal best:

        In a world in which reboots, sequels and spinoffs are typically the product of bottom-
        line-minded studio groupthink, "Creed" has an unusually personal back story, one
        befitting a franchise that has always been about heart, determination and beating long
        odds. And it all comes back to (Ryan) Coogler and his dad.

Bingo.

"Creed" was released at the end of November 2015 and by the end of December grossed $118 million, the 28th highest seller in 2015.  It breathed new life and the promise of future movies into a Rocky franchise that had gasped its last breath 10 years earlier.


Ryan Coogler

Coogler grew up in Northern California, the son of a father who loved the Rocky movies and shared them with his sons.  When Ryan got to college, a writing teacher noticed his talent and suggested he reconsider his early plans to go to medical school.  He went to film school at USC instead.

His first movie, "Fruitvale Station," was well received and won two awards at the Sundance Festival in 2013.

Later, at a moment when his father was ailing, Coogler began to reflect on the Rocky movies they had shared and, we can guess, the importance of fathers or father figures in their sons' lives.  With a friend, Coogler wrote a screenplay based on the theme of a young fighter convincing an older Rocky to foster and train a younger man whose father had died but who was hungry for glory in the way Rocky had been.

Coogler did all this before he pitched the idea to Stallone.  Coogler admitted afterward that he wasn't optimistic that he could convince the older star, who wrote all six Rocky screenplays himself, to buy into the project.  But Coogler prevailed; in a way, Coogler is a sort of Rocky character himself.


Oscar Nominations

"Creed" was nominated for a single Academy Award:  Best Supporting Actor for Sylvester Stallone.  Stallone is great in the film; he's never won for acting, he's 69 years old and people seem to be favoring the old guy on this one.

Some African Americans in what Southern California calls "The Industry" are objecting that Creed did not attract other nominations, and I tend to agree with them.

From the first black Academy Award (Hattie McDaniel for Best Supporting Actress in "Gone With the Wind in 1939) to the 2014 Best Film Award ("Twelve Years a Slave" in 2014), significant Oscars have recognized African Americans for their struggle, for being African American, for being different.

 To me the general trend reeks of condescension.

"Creed" is a movie about a young man (yes, African American) and an older father-figure who have much in common.  It is not about racial differences.  Like the early Rocky series, it is not about race but the merits of skill and perseverance in a brutal, almost primal, sport.

Coogler's next project is a film titled "Black Panther," and my guess is that it will be good.

But we are a broad culture now -- young, old, immigrant, ethnic, racial -- and I'd like to think that, in his future films, he will be allowed to take these broader views into account.


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