The fall movie season arguably looks better than the summer season this year, with a nice mix of traditional fall films and a few scattered blockbusters – although a look at each film’s pedigree reveals this to still be the season of the auteur. Here are my picks for the top 10 movies to see:
Available via streaming and Redbox, “Chuck” was quietly in and out of theaters in 2017. The biopic’s titular character, Chuck Wepner (Liev Schreiber), is also under the radar: He was a local legend in Bayonne, N.J., and had a brush with national sporting fame in 1974 when he made it into the 15th round against Muhammad Ali before losing via TKO. This inspired Sylvester Stallone when writing “Rocky,” and for a time it was well-known that Wepner inspired the film’s boxing arc and Rocky’s job as a debt collector, but the public’s knowledge faded with time.
These were my 10 favorite movies of 2015:
1. “Spotlight” — This chronicle of the Boston Globe’s 2001-02 probe of rape allegations in the Catholic Church is a thank-you letter to the dying art of investigative journalism. An all-star cast of actors including Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams and Liev Schreiber does a marvelous job of capturing the small details of how reporters live and behave – particularly Ruffalo, whether he’s boiling hot dogs for dinner of scrounging through his bag for a pen. Meanwhile, the case itself works as a meat-and-potatoes procedural potboiler. (Full review.)
“Creed” — the seventh entry in the “Rocky” series — respects its elders while also doing its own thing. As the saga’s first film not written by Sylvester Stallone, and the first not directed by Stallone or John G. Avildsen, “Creed” has a different sense of style. That having been said, Stallone’s Rocky is the heart of the movie, and another old-timer – the late Apollo Creed (who was killed in the ring by Ivan Drago) – is the soul.
Rightly ranked by IMDB voters as the best of the “Rocky” sequels (with a 7.2 rating), “Rocky Balboa” (2006) is a beautiful grace note to the fighting portion of the Italian Stallion’s career. (His training career appears to continue in “Creed.”) While the film makes few bones about the fact that a 50-something former champion can’t beat a current champion in his prime, it does show that people get better at other things with age.
The “Rocky” films never drifted into the arena of spectacle as much as their reputation suggests. Even the most over-the-top entry, “Rocky IV,” includes acknowledgements of the heightened plot, like when the commentators note the bizarreness of the Creed-Drago match. Still, the larger-than-life villainy of Clubber Lang and Ivan Drago changed the perception of the series, and “Rocky V”(1990) seems to be a calculated reaction to that, as writer Sylvester Stallone aggressively brings the series back to its roots.
With its montages and Eighties arena-rock songs, not to mention the “U.S. versus U.S.S.R.” foundation that begs for the hoariest of subtexts to be added, “Rocky IV” (1985) is unquestionably the most stylized film in the series up to this point. At first blush, it’s a brainless throwaway movie with a must-buy soundtrack highlighted by Robert Tepper’s “No Easy Way Out.” But it is unfairly categorized as the big, dumb and fun entry in the series.
Are the “Rocky” films more spectacle or substance? At first blush, the opening act of “Rocky III”(1982) suggests spectacle. Rocky fights professional wrestler Hulk Hogan – OK, technically “Thunderlips” – in a charity bout. It’s unclear to both Rocky and the viewer whether Thunderlips is putting on a show or actually trying to beat the crap out of Rocky.
Life doesn’t become easy after your first success: Blowing up one Death Star doesn’t mean you’ve defeated the Empire. Dumping Shredder into a garbage truck doesn’t mean he won’t come back as a supermutant. And so forth.
The buzz is heating up for the seventh movie in a legendary film franchise that dates back to the 1970s. I’m referring, of course, to the “Rocky” series, which will continue with “Creed” on Nov. 25. (You want “Star Wars Episode VII” coverage? This isn’t the blog you’re looking for.) Let’s start the countdown with the original “Rocky” (1976).