On Stallone the Oscar Nominee

On Stallone the Oscar Nominee


Sylvester Stallone was up for an Oscar last night. For anyone who’s ever seen “Rhinestone”, that might take a minute to sink in. I’ll just leave this here.

But we all have embarassing turns, right? Who amongst us don’t have a “Stop Or My Mom Will Shoot” somewhere in our past? Come to think of it, I’m not sure I’ve ever failed quite that hard. I’m sure we all have made mistakes and taken on embarassing personal or professional projects, but has anyone fallen as flat on his face as many times as Sylvester Stallone? Has anyone survived Cobra AND SOMMWS AND Oscar AND The Expendibles 3 and…and…and…

Factoring out serious issues like mental illness (Hey, Mr. Gibson!) or serious crimes and speaking from a place of assessing someone’s life’s work as an artist, there’s no one who has been dismissed and whose career has been “over” more than Sylvester Stallone. The man has a remarkable pattern of doing something personal and impressive, showing his chops, making a serious impact on the culture nad then following it up with the most head scratching of misstep. I’ve heard analysis that attributes the pattern of hits and misses to ego and there might be something to that, but I’m more inclined to think it’s a misread of his appeal, audience expectations and what the big bag of meat is capable of. The man who pulled off a wounded vet with such lean vulnerability and anguish turned around and, despite evidence to the contrary, believed he sounded good singing country music next to Dolly Parton (he really didn’t). The question I’ve been pondering is “who the hell does that and why the hell does he keep getting chances to do it again?”

The answer to the question is central to Stallone’s appeal – the dude has confidence and he puts in the hours. The story of what Stallone did to make “Rocky” is the stuff of Hollywood legend. He wrote the script and turned down lots of money to let someone else star and direct even though he didn’t have a penny to his name. The movie became a touchstone and Stallone became a legend. Add Rambo to that a few years later, which is a serious and somber reflection on how Vietnam veterans were treated, and Stallone was considered one of the great actors of his age. It’s hard to imagine now that we’ve seen “Bullet to the Head” but there was a time when the words “Stallone” and the words “Brando” existed in the same galaxy.

But then came “Staying Alive” and “Cobra” and “Over the Top” and he became a marble-mouthed action buffoon. It didn’t help that The Italian Stallion did little to stop that image from setting in the public consciousness, bulking up to a stupid size, marrying Brigitte Nielsen and making Rocky 4, one of the best “bad” movies ever made. There were a few winners in the 80s, but by and large it was hit and miss, hit and miss, miss and “oh dear God, no one can get up from that. His career is over.”

Then a funny thing happened – something lit a fire under the man’s ass and he started relying on himself again. It started with Rocky Balboa, which (up until “Creed”) was as perfect a revisit of a beloved character as there’s ever been. Stallone wrote it, he directed it, he starred and the entire enterprise is damn good. Then he did the same thing to the Rambo franchise, creating the most bat shit crazy mainstream movies of the past decade, easy. Resembling Frankenstein’s monster Stallone takes the Rambo character, which had been turned into a cartoon in the 80s, and turned it into the most satisfying, ugly yet somehow brilliant in it’s excess actual grindhouse movie. That movie is out of it’s damn mind and it was made by a man in his late 60s.

And just when you think he’s got it back, he falls back into derivative action flicks and “Grudge Match,” which is in the running for the worst DeNiro movie ever. Old patterns, right? That’s what I thought until I saw “Creed.”

In a career controlled by of ego, for better and for worse, Stallone made three unbelievable decisions when it came to “Creed.

  1. He allowd an untested, young director (Ryan Coogler) to take control of the franchise he created and shepherded through more than three decades
  2. He took a back seat to another actor (Michael B. Jordan, my current man crush) in a franchise he created and shepherded for more than three decades
  3. For the first time in his career, he showed vulnerability

In other words, it’s a performance as free of ego as you’re ever going to see and coming from Sylvester Stallone, it’s mind boggling. It’s unthinkable. And it was absolutely one of my favorite performances of the year in one of my favorite movies of the year.

SIDEBAR: The fact that Michael B. Jordan wasn’t nominated for “Creed” is evidence enough to burn the academy down and start over. Jordan had a mammoth job and he made it look effortless, flushing out Adonis Creed into a character that can stand right along side Rocky Balboa. He’s an amazing actor and I can’t wait to see what he does next. The academy, on the other hand, needs to look at the Oscars So White campaign and internalize it, be ashamed and make changes and anything less is shameful.

I have no idea why Stallone made the decisions necessary to make “Creed” a reality, but I’m very glad he did and I think his Oscar nomination is deserved. In my opinion, it shows that you can be an artist, lose your way, but still have a core that wants to create, explore and care about your work. Yes, “Rhinestone” should have been the end of Stallone’s career. But I’m glad it wasn’t.

That being said…

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