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Sylvester Stallone Might Have Just KO’d the Supporting Actor Oscar Competition

A new heavyweight joins a very competitive race.

As an upcoming column will attest, the supporting actor race is positively thick with strong contenders this year. But none of them have really felt like a winner just yet. A year after “Birdman,” Michael Keaton could get a lot of residual affection for his work in “Spotlight.” Tom Hardy may prove to be a ferocious favorite in “The Revenant.” But few performances pack the emotional punch Sylvester Stallone does in “Creed.”

With the Ryan Coogler-directed film, Stallone has now taken on the role of Rocky Balboa seven times on the big screen. He was nominated at the outset for 1976’s “Rocky” and lost to Peter Finch for the late actor’s fierce “Network” performance. But the truth is he might be even better this time around. I would be tempted to call it his best on-screen work to date as he finds such subtle, unassuming textures in the performance that both deepen a character we’ve grown to love over the last 40 years, as well as present him in a whole new shade.

The film itself could certainly be a contender in other respects. Michael B. Jordan is sensational and deserves to be in the best actor conversation. Coogler proves beyond “Fruitvale Station” that he can deliver on a big platform while keeping a certain edge to his vision and voice. The film looks absolutely stunning, cinematographer Maryse Alberti finding countless iconic images (with one entire fight sequence seemingly filmed in a single take). Plus, it’s sure to be a bona fide Thanksgiving hit upon release, which will only fuel the awards fire.

But Stallone should be the campaign’s North Star here. Like Harrison Ford in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” he’s bringing a beloved ’70s cinema icon back to the big screen. But it’s not for a stunt or a misguided spin-off cash-in. It’s a complex portrait, one that feeds the journey of the film’s main character rather than steal his spotlight. “Without straining for pathos, using his battered body as an asset but never as a prop, the actor finds continually surprising, understated notes of tenderness and regret,” Andrew Barker wrote in his Variety review of the film.

We have a long way to go, and Warner Bros. already has another strong competitor in the field (Joel Edgerton in “Black Mass”). But this is a left hook to the face of an already stacked category, one that could set a screen legend up for his first trip to the Oscars since he originally donned the gloves four decades ago. Perhaps he’ll even leave the competition dazed for a 10-count.

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