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Rocky (Best Picture, 1976)

First thought: boxing shorts? Not flattering. They create a weird illusion of body proportion and posture, making the stomach look distended and the back Rockyhunched.  Somehow the torso AND the legs look abnormally short, as though the groin/tush area is way longer than it should be.

Or it’s possible that it’s Stallone, not the shorts.

Anyways.  Coming into this film, I had Sylvester Stallone pegged as a not-all-that-talented but attractive jock, willing to be beat up on film, who could deliver the lines well enough and looks nice onscreen.  I mean, I know he did a turn on THE MUPPET SHOW not long after this film, and I wasn’t all that impressed.  Stallone’s face has this droop around the eyes that makes him look soulful, but I’m never sure how much goes on under the surface.  He’s either the best actor in the world or he’s simply playing himself if he were a not very bright boxer.  And let’s face it – Stallone DID write the script.  He got a Best Original Screenplay nomination at the Oscars, too.

If I’m feeling sympathetic, ROCKY is about someone who is lonely, who has fallen short of all of his goals for himself, and who is stuck doing unpleasant things when he’s actually a good guy.  He tries to keep a neighborhood girl away from a bad crowd.  He works as an enforcer for a loan shark but refuses to break debtors’ fingers because he figures if they can’t work, they can’t pay.  He’s in love with a quiet pet store employee named Adrian (played by Talia Shire, who in this role bears a remarkable resemblance to Felicia Day, if Day had short dark hair and cat-eye glasses).

If I’m feeling less sympathetic, I might complain about how Stallone talks CONSTANTLY.  When he’s not fighting, he’s yammering in that voice that always sounds like he’s suffering from nasal congestion.  I’m also not much of a fan of excessive machismo, and some of his interactions with Adrian make my teeth hurt.  They even do the “take off the plain girl’s glasses” routine – was that tired even then?  Other times Rocky’s like a child, wanting to show off his pet turtles.

It’s interesting to me that this movie won the Best Picture award for 1976.  To me it does not get close to the technical genius of any of the films from the last several years.  Admittedly, GODFATHER PART II is an impossible act to follow.  Instead, this film harkens back to an earlier age of Hollywood, in which films used somewhat flimsy stories to inspire and entertain.  And what is ROCKY if not a fairy tale? It’s the ultimate American story, winning the Academy Award for Best Picture in the year of the bicentennial.  An unknown fighter of limited means and education, almost washed-up, gets a chance out of nowhere to fight the world champion for the world championship.  The film knows this is an American story, too.  They keep hammering home the idea that the underdog, the unknown, is American.  America was discovered by an Italian, so why not fight one?

ROCKY is no GODFATHER.  It’s not subtle in its message, and it’s not an intellectual challenge like the other 1970s movies so far.  It’s occasionally pretty darn obvious in its slightly oppressive patriotism.  There’s nothing wrong with pure entertainment that leaves you happy at the end of the film, though.  It’s nice to see the 1970s had an occasional glimmer of sunlight and uncomplicated emotion.

Annie Hall (Best Picture, 1977)

I watched ANNIE HALL about ten years ago, and I so did not appreciate it.  It’s hard to appreciate a neurotic movie about failed relationships and breakups when Annie Hallyou haven’t actually dated anyone yet.

For me, the jury’s still out on Woody Allen.  I haven’t seen many of his films, I admit, but I go back and forth on the ones I’ve seen.  MIDNIGHT IN PARIS was a lovely picture, but on the other hand SLEEPER is just plain weird.  A lot of people describe ANNIE HALL as a comedy, and I suppose it is.  For me, though, it is not the kind that makes me laugh out loud.  I appreciate the New York Jewish neurotic humor, but Allen infuses it with such a bittersweet, heartbreaking tone that it amuses but doesn’t prompt laughter.

One of the interesting things about watching ANNIE HALL in the context of Best Pictures is Diane Keaton herself.  In the GODFATHER trilogy I hardly recognized her.  Her hair is blondish and very styled, and she wears dresses.  Most of what I’ve seen of Keaton’s work is post-Annie Hall.  Though she had a reputation for eccentricity before, ANNIE HALL’s success vastly increased her negotiating power.  I mean, the fact that Woody Allen and the production staff let her wear her own clothes for Annie then led to a massive impact on American fashion.  Keaton’s penchant for what is marketed as menswear – suits, baggy trousers, ties, hats – defined a distinctive period in 20th century American women’s fashion.

As Kay Corleone, Keaton almost vanishes.  Maybe that’s what Coppola was going for – Kay is a fish out of water in the Corleone lifestyle, and Keaton projects a vague aura of discomfort and insecurity that is emphasized by the strict hairstyle and the clothes that technically fit but don’t seem to belong to her.  It’s as though Kay washed up on shore and is forced to wear clothes from someone else’s closet. As Annie Hall, allowed to wear her own clothes and style her own hair, Keaton seems to be vividly, comfortably herself. Or at least the “self” she wants to project as her onscreen persona.  This frazzled-and-insecure-but-capable routine crops up again in other words, including the delicious 90s comedy THE FIRST WIVES CLUB.

And maybe it sounds like I’m putting too much emphasis on the role of wardrobe and styling in creating a character.  But really, it adds depth and complexity to the work done by screenwriters, directors, actors, editors, and cinematographers.

Next Up: The Deer Hunter (Best Picture, 1978) and Kramer vs. Kramer (Best Picture, 1979)