My Top 88 Movies of 2018: 40-37

40. Creed 2

I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t really expecting all that much from this sequel, once I heard that Ryan Coogler was no longer directing. And can you really blame me all that much? One only needs to look towards Pacific Rim Uprising to see that sequels to exceptional movies lacking their original director tend to be not all that great. But honestly, this managed to hold up to the legacy of the first movie pretty dang well. Oh certainly, it’s not nearly as good as the first Creed, but it’s still a damn entertaining movie in its own right.

Really, I think a lot of what makes this movie hold together without Coogler’s presence comes down to two things. The acting and the writing. Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson and Sylvester Stallone all slip back into their old roles like they never left and carry the heart of the movie on their backs. (I swear I could watch Michael B Jordan and Tessa Thompson doing couple stuff for hours.) Even Dolph Lundren manages to imbue what was once a cheesy Russian stereotype with a real sense of weight and age and past-his-prime bitterness that adds genuine emotional impact to the relationship he has with his son. And I was surprised by how well the writing managed to give these characters depths and understandable emotional arcs. Maybe they’re not anything amazingly emotionally complex, but they’re still there and I still thought they worked.

Still, like Pacific Rim Uprising, losing the original director did have a negative effect on the movie as a whole and, once again, it comes down to the action. Not the say the boxing in this movie is bad, it’s really not. But it just doesn’t hold a candle to the tense, pulse-pounding action in the first Creed movie and just feels a touch flat in comparison. Again, it’s not bad, just not quite great enough.

Still, as far as sequels to acclaimed movies go, this is a damn solid one. I’m not entirely sure where they can go from here, but the characters have proved endearing enough to survive Coogler’s departure and maybe carry more future movies on their own

39. Sgt Stubby: An American Hero

No really. Really. I’m being entirely serious here. This isn’t a Robin Hood case where I actually think the movie is awful but was entertained by its awfulness. I genuinely think Sgt Stubby: An American Hero is a really really good film. Yeah, I’m as surprised as you are.

For those unaware, the movie itself is based on the real life story of Sgt Stubby, a real life dog who becomes the regimental mascot of an American platoon sent to fight during WWI. During his time on the front at the war, Stubby faces dangers and trials, catches spies, warns soldiers of danger and ends up actively saving a lot of lives, in what is, once again, based largely on real life incidents. Also, he’s a very adorable doggo. Who’s a good dog? Yes you are! Yes you are!

Seriously though, a lot of what I really think makes the movie work is its heart. Stubby is an instantly lovable protagonist and, thanks to the fact that he doesn’t ever speak (thank god), a lot of his emotions are expressed through his body language instead to great effect. And he really does act like a dog a lot of the time, rather than a human acting through a dog. I have a pet of my own back home and I was amused to recognise certain actions or behaviours in Stubby that I’d see plenty in my own dog, especially his voracious appetite. And a lot of the characters surrounding him are friendly, likeable and heroic as well, making it easy to root for them or see them interact. One of the main characters had a friendly relationship with an older french soldier he was stationed with that was actually really endearing to watch.

Another positive about the movie is that, unlike a lot of western animated movies, it never feels like it’s talking down to its audience. In particular, there’s no immature stuff like pratfalls and shitty out-of-place jokes. There is humour, yes, but it’s a very natural kind of humour, like the sort you’d actually expect between friends. The time period and the characters are treated with appropriate respect, which is refreshing to see in a kids movie. Plus it isn’t afraid to delve into some of the darker aspects of WWI with stuff like death, mustard gas and genuine injuries, including to Stubby.

The one big negative I do have to give it though, and the main reason this isn’t even higher on this list, is that, like I Kill Giants, it clearly suffers from not having a big enough budget to fully do what it wanted. In particular the backgrounds tend to look less like the mud-ridden trenches of WWI and more like ‘generic forest CG mapback No32’. Plus the whole ‘kids movie thing’ makes it difficult to show a lot of the more violent and horrific details. Several characters get wounded at certain points, but I’d be damned it I could tell from their models, considering the lack of blood and dirt, or tearing in their clothing.

Still, for what they actually had, there’s no denying that the makers of this film did a damn fine job. Rather than being a ridiculous joke, Sgt Stubby is a true-story movie with a lot of heart, moxie and ultimately produced a genuinely really good film

38. Bumblebee

God it feels weird to watch a Transformers movie made by someone who doesn’t feel raw contempt for the franchise and its audience, doesn’t it?

Seriously though, like a lot of people, I’m really not fond of the Bay Transformers movies. Even the first movie, which I hear a lot of people defend as ‘not that bad’ I thought was just hot garbage that only improves on the other movies by being more structurally solid and actually having a go at character arcs. The only one I have anything even remotely resembling positive feelings towards is actually Transformers: Age of Extinction and even that I thought was too long by half and gave me a headache by the end.

Honestly, it’s kind of difficult to judge exactly how much of my praise for Bumblebee is down to it just showing basic storytelling competence instead of shitty Bayisms. What’s that? The Transformers now actually look visually distinct instead of incomprehensible mishmashes of randoms metal jigsaw pieces? The characters actually seem to be good people who like each other rather than just sex objects or awful unlikeable macho assholes? I can actually follow the action clearly? There’s not a single Transformer voiced by a shitty, potentially racist cultural stereotype? Is that even allowed?!

But yeah, no this movie really does have a lot going for it. The story is simple but sweet, there’s good chemistry between the two leads, Bumblebee in particular is amazingly expressive in spite of his lack of vocal chords and overall there’s legitimately a lot that makes this movie stand out as good, beyond just ‘not being a Bay movie’. Yet, I can’t help but kinda feel that maybe it’s ‘too little too late’ for this franchise? Because, even though on paper I enjoyed it plenty, I really cant bring myself to feel the hype and excitement or passion for this movie that I once did for the Transformers franchise. Which is a shame, because this really is the sort of Transformers movie we really needed all along.

Ah well, maybe it’ll do well enough to stop Paramount from turning back to Bay in a heavily misguided attempt to ‘save the franchise’.

37. A Simple Favour

This was an interesting turn for director Paul Feig. The guy is mainly known for his comedies, like Bridesmaid, Spy and that one 2016 movie that shall not be named but was really just okay at best/worst. So a mystery thriller seemed like an odd choice. Although then again, in hindsight, considering how much I enjoyed the non-comedy elements in Spy, I really shouldn’t have been surprised that this turned out as well as it did.

Honestly, I really don’t have all that much bad to say about it. It’s a good movie with good characters, good acting, good dialogue, pacing, story, plot twists, Blake Lively’s wardrobe, everything. It’s the sort of movie on this list where I genuinely don’t have any complaints about it, I just preferred other movies more

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