There's a lot of great movies making up the Best Picture category at the Oscars this year, yet there's just as many middle-of-the-road releases taking up space in an overall uninspired selection of nominees. And although much has been said about the questionable racial politics of this year's selection, I don't necessarily think that the Academy is racist; I just don't think they like good films. While the likes of The Revenant, Mad Max: Fury Road and Room all stand strong as top competitors, entries like The Big Short make you wonder whether the eight films in selection are really the pinnacle of 2015 cinema.

This thought came to a head when I caught a very late showing of Creed a week or so ago. Creed (or Rocky 7) is the latest entry in the acclaimed boxing franchise, and despite all the talent involved, I don't think anyone had any idea that the quasi-reboot would be any good. The Sly Stallone franchise well has been well and truly milked dry over the past few years: between a fourth Rambo movie, a sixth Rocky film and a wealth of nostalgia-driven action vehicles, it didn't look as though Creed would be the movie to buck this trend of mediocrity. Even with Ryan Coogler, one of the best up-and-coming directors working today and an exceptionally fine actor in Michael B. Jordan attached to the project; did anyone really need a new Rocky movie in 2015?

The answer is yep, we totally did.

Because although it owes a huge debt to the franchise that spawned it and shares much of the same DNA with its predecessors, Creed isn't really a Rocky movie at all. At least, it's not one where Rocky can win the Cold War with his fists or is made to fight a former protégé called Tommy "The Machine" Gunn. Instead, Coogler brings the boxing franchise back to the streets while somehow managing to avoid all the clichés of the "fight-or-die" glorified representation of violence in an underprivileged underclass that's often the go-to narrative of the sub-genre. Instead, Jordan's Adonis Johnson, thanks to the father he never knew, grew up in a mansion without ever having to face the economic troubles and social problems that plagued Stallone's down-on-his-luck Rocky in the first film. Johnson's privileged background provides a unique backdrop for a film like this, and it's the first sign that Creed isn't going to be the generic boxing film that you might have been expecting.

Where similar movies in the sub-genre strive for authenticity by throwing the audience the most clichéd characters and narratives available, Coogler opts to reinterpret the franchise's own conventions, discarding some while lovingly embracing others. The father/son dynamic that arises between Johnson's inherent resentment of the father that died before he was born and the way he learns to come to terms with the legacy of his family provides an engaging melodramatic draw. While similar narratives have been utilised before, Creed earns its emotional depth compared to the forced character drama of other films. Rocky and Johnson bounce off each other in increasingly charming ways, setting up a dichotomy between two generations of boxers that manages to be funny without undermining one character in favour of the other. The age-divide is used in some predictable ways (or instance Rocky has no idea how Johnson can use "The Cloud"), yet it's understated enough that the two don't devolve into cartoon characters.

Even the romantic aspect of the film - which you see coming a mile off as soon as Tessa Thompson's Bianca shows up as a hard-ass neighbour - never feels forced or unearned. This is of course helped by the natural chemistry between Thompson and Jordan, who light up the film every time they're on screen. Coogler's distinct style helps sell the relationship too, mixing up realistic fly-on-the-wall dialogue with more visually inspired scenes of the two lovers enjoying the comfort of just being around each other. But overall it's simply down to good writing as to why the drama fundamentally works. When both people in the relationship feel like distinct characters it's no wonder the connection between the two actors on screen feels more natural. Bianca isn't just motivation and a name Johnson shouts from the ring; she has her own interests and problems - and boxing doesn't always factor into them.

Even more impressive, Coogler manages to nail this character depth in a film that's much sillier than it could have been. The first thirty minutes threatens the audience with the prospect that Creed might stumble into the pitfalls of other, quite frankly embarrassing boxing films. Scenes that show a dissatisfied Johnson being ridiculed by trainers because he doesn't have what it takes and an early flashback that states the character can't stop fighting all point to a cringeworthy glorification of fighting spirit. However, once those formalities are out the way, Coogler's film relaxes and indulges in the sillier aspects of the Rocky series. Even then though it does it in a loving and intentional way, without the self-congratulatory winking that makes other film reboots so insufferable. Training montages come out in full swing in the second half with a committed underlying self-awareness that never makes it seem like the film is embarrassed of its own legacy. Where other serious reboots of classic franchises might draw attention to the most memorable parts of its history in a way to cheaply gain a sense of respectable authenticity or to undermine the past, Creed chooses to do neither - and is all the best for it.

At its daftest moments, Creed provides more cinematic joy than any other film so far this year. Even when the big dramatic scenes hit and plot twists threaten to throw the entire picture into misery, the developments are treated with an inherent sense of humour and humanity that enhances pretty much all of the on-screen drama. When terrible revelations rip apart the core cast of characters they feel more devastating because of dumb scenes where Rocky and Johnson try and fail to catch a chicken. The film is very funny, but it knows when it should take itself seriously, meaning Creed never succumbs to playing out like a farce nor a hum-drum piece of Oscar bait. The pitch-perfect synergy between an ailing Rocky and an up-and-coming Johnson provides perhaps the most obvious passing of the baton metaphor you could get, yet the richness of the character and plot that precedes this development makes its eventual resolution emotionally resonant to even the most cold-hearted of film fans.

Perhaps more than anything, there's a gravitas to Creed that no other movie up for an Academy Award this year even comes close to capturing. Even The Revenant, a film that tried so hard (and mostly succeeded) to nail a sense of scale and raw, visceral grittiness fails to match Creed in sheer effortless spectacle. While some of this has to do with how the movie evokes its past in a Force Awakens kind of way by building on what came before, it has as much to do with the promise of the franchise's future. The characters in Creed are so well-drawn, and its understanding of its cinematic world is so deep that it strips away all of the self-congratulatory indulgence that created such a cold detachment between audience and director in The Revenant. While that film is desperate to show you how innovative it is, Creed doesn't care whether you appreciate it or not, and that lack of self-praise is truly refreshing.

When all is said and done, I don't know what the hell the Academy has against Creed to not even give it a token nomination. Although other films selected this year boast either great visual storytelling or sheer character drama, Coogler's film is the only one to synergise both in a way that isn't narcissistic. Michael B. Jordan deserves a place on this year's nominees for best actor and it's an absolute shame that Coogler didn't receive a nod for directing either. Stallone more than deserves his time in the spotlight, but when he's the only one receiving recognition for a film so dense with talent, you just know there's something not right. So when you're watching the Oscars in a little while, just remember: they aren't the be-all and end-all tastemakers of movies. If they managed to overlook a movie like Creed, who knows what else they also missed in the past year.