Rocky ★★★★★

Sylvester Stallone gets a lot of credit for his economic screenplay and iconic performance, but I think director John G. Avildsen is responsible for what makes Rocky a truly great film. Watching for the first time since childhood, I am amazed at how this film seems to live and breathe its South Philly atmosphere. Save for a few cutaways to Apollo kickstarting the story, Avildsen just follows Rocky around the city for chunks of time in between important lines of dialogue, allowing the audience to feel what it's like for this man to move around in his environment, before we see him move around in the ring. As a simple trip into a pet store almost becomes an Edward Hopper painting, I could easily watch Rocky for hours more, just living his life. I also love how certain characters and situations are not exploited for big sensational payoffs, like how Joe Spinell's mobster Gazzo does not become some ridiculous villain character trying to hold Rocky back, or how Burt Young's explosive rage is not taken personally by Rocky, but instead understood as a necessary step in Paulie's evolution. These characters are real, flesh and blood human beings, that are not merely stoked for dramatic appeal, and the resulting veracity is what makes Rocky so unique, and so beautiful.