Will sentiment = Oscar for Sylvester Stallone (‘Creed’)?

I answered my telephone at home one afternoon in the fall of 1989 and was surprised to hear the voice of Sylvester Stallone on the other end of the line. Though I had interviewed him a couple of times, we did not have a friendly star/reporter relationship, witnessed by the fact that he had just called Shelby Coffey, the executive editor of the Los Angeles Times, to protest that I was out to destroy his career.

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It was nothing that I had said that drew Stallone’s ire. It was a section of a Sunday Times Calendar story I had just done on Arnold Schwarzenegger on the Mexico City set of the sci-fi film “Total Recall.” I described a rainy day scene outside the Austrian actor’s trailer on the Churubuscu lot where he was reading a faxed copy of Daily Variety’s weekend box office report.

“Lethal Weapon 2” topped the chart, having just passed $100 million in domestic ticket sales, but what caught his eye was a film further down the chart. It was “Lock Up,” a crime drama starring his rival in the muscular action star business.

“Sly’s movie didn’t open,” Schwarzenegger said. “It will do $25 million max. . .”

Stallone’s new movie had grossed a weak $6 million opening (on its way to a total gross of $22 million), prompting Schwarzenegger to wonder what had gone wrong with it. Had it bombed because it was so badly promoted, or was it badly promoted because the studio knew it would bomb? And with obvious schadenfreude, he asked me if it was true that audiences had booed the trailer?

I had not heard that rumor but in repeating it, I had helped spread it in Stallone’s hometown newspaper. It was a final straw for him, coming after negative pieces I had written about his movies for several years.

There was no anger in Stallone’s voice that day, but he did ask me if I would come to his office so we could try to “work out this bad blood between us.” The “bad blood” phrase was one I had never heard outside a movie theater and I certainly didn’t want any to exist between me and anyone else.

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So, I accepted his invitation and spent a very congenial afternoon being led by him through his estimable art collection and an art gallery he frequented down from his headquarters in Venice. He asked me if I’d consider devoting as much space to a piece about him that the Times had provided to the Schwarzenegger story. I said I wasn’t the right person to do the story but that I would assign it to another writer, which I did and the subsequent piece did receive the same prominence.

The purpose of recalling all this here is to preempt anyone with a long memory from thinking that by predicting he will not win the Oscar for his supporting role in “Creed,” I am doing it out of lingering spite. I liked Stallone personally; I just think he made terrible movies.

In “Creed,” he is good playing Rocky Balboa in what is essentially the mentor role that won Burgess Meredith a supporting actor nomination in the first “Rocky” 40 years ago, and his acceptance of a Golden Globe last month was a nice moment. That’s why the foreign press gave it to him, because they knew it would be a nice television moment.

But academy voters rarely give Oscars on sentiment and that’s what a Stallone win would be. He’s not an actor who’s been overlooked and is due an Oscar, as was the case for Paul Newman when he followed six nominations with his first win for the slight “The Color of Money” in 1987.

Academy members, a voting bloc 60 times larger than the foreign press, don’t have the same sense of television drama. If the academy and ABC want a sentimental moment during the Oscars, they can do it with clips of the Governors Awards honorees.

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A Stallone win would not be upsetting, but it would muscle aside four better nominated performances.

I have long been of the opinion that the supporting actor award will go to Mark Rylance from “Bridge of Spies,” and he did win the BAFTA award last weekend. (Yeah, yeah, because he’s British.)

But the momentum shift toward “The Revenant” makes Tom Hardy, the arch-villain to Leonardo DiCaprio, seem a good pick, and Mark Ruffalo and Christian Bale are standouts from the brilliant ensemble casts of “Spotlight” and “The Big Bounce,” respectively.

Stallone deserved his nomination and it provides a good bookend to go with the Best Actor nomination he got for “Rocky.” But it’s not, or should not be, golden.

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“Creed”: Warner Bros. 

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