Dodd’s Best Films of 2017

I love a good listicle. Don’t you? If you don’t, you’re probably lying and trying to hastily close that tab containing Buzzfeed’s “Top 25 Pictures of Mashed Potatoes that Look Like Taylor Swift.”

So I’m gonna do that thing I do where I tell you stuff I liked from this year, and you’re probably going to disagree with me. Feel free to slag off on me in the comments.

TOP FILMS of 2017:

I won’t order these, but these are my faves from 2017. They shift up and down depending on my mood and the rising of the tide.

john-wick-chapter-2-2017John Wick Chapter 2
WORLD. BUILDING. I don’t think I have ever been so thoroughly impressed by the escalation of storytelling and mythos in a film franchise as I was with Chapter Two of JOHN WICK. Yeah, I’m thinkin’ he’s back…with a meticulously developed exercise in world-building and narrative invention the likes of which action cinema rarely seeks to attain.

logan2017Logan
I legitimately believe this might be the only X-Men branded film I will be able to watch in ten years time and still be able to enjoy. There is something about the central films; a baggage that I can’t get over. James Mangold’s LOGAN is the only entry in the franchise so far that aspires to anything beyond surface level drudgery. While there are elements of the main series that work well, I feel like they play things just a little too safe. LOGAN relies on tropes, yes, but in service of subverting them in interesting ways. I admit that that same subversion relies on lesser films in order to provide the necessary context, but the finished product stands on its own enough to outshine its origins. Heh. Origins. Now that was a terrible film.

ww2017Wonder Woman
Gal Gadot could stab me in the leg with a rusty pair of pliers and she’s so goddamn enchanting that I would probably thank her for it. WONDER WOMAN could have been a massive misfire. But instead it was the first solid entry for a DC character since 2012. Not to mention it essentially became a beacon of hope for young girls the world over who have been clamoring for female representation in superheros beyond Scarlett Johansson’s barren “monster” uterus and Harley Quinn’s hotpants.

Baby-Driver-movie-castBaby Driver
Can Edgar Wright go back in and digitally replace Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer? Because I loved this movie beyond reason and I hate that further viewings are going to be marred by that flubby bag of human garbage. Putting aside the problematic element of a serial predator in a prominent role, the film is excellent in every respect. If it doesn’t snag multiple awards for editing, there is no justice in the world and that is God’s gospel truth.

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Dunkirk
Interstellar left me cold. I’m sorry but TARS and Anne Hathaway’s ugly crying did nothing for me. I appreciated the attempt at thematic weight but Nolan forgot that everything in space is weightless, just like the film ultimately wound up being. But its okay! DUNKIRK understands actual human emotion in a way that some of Nolan’s other films truly do not. The structure of the film is ingenious and the violent ramping of tension makes it one that stands apart from the glut of WWII films that have tried to engage the viewer on a visceral level and failed miserably.

it2017It
I know what you’re thinking; “but it didn’t have NEAR enough child orgies!” Well, I’m sorry that it didn’t clear your bar but this is, for me, the definitive Stephen King horror adaptation. Sure, Shawshank and Green Mile are all-time masterpieces but when has King’s HORROR ever been so adequately portrayed on film? Pet Semetary? Are you kidding me? This is the real deal. What I’ve been waiting for since I was fifteen. This is the good stuff. This is the opposite of whatever the hell THE DARK TOWER was. This is dope.

porg2017Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Porgs. 

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Best of 2015

The year has come and gone. It was a big one for me; bought a house, published a new novel, got engaged, saw the new Star Wars in theaters. Lots of ticks off the bucket list in 2015 for sure.  I can’t say it was a good year overall. I mean, police brutality, terrorism, Donald Trump…do I really need to go into detail? Probably not. But I will go into detail with regard to the things that didn’t make me hate the very concept of existence.

J. Goodson Dodd’s Top Films of 2015

I think it is telling that I can’t even do a top 10 list this year. Granted, I missed a few films that looked like surefire winners (Straight Outta Compton, Creed, The Good Dinosaur, Crimson Peak) but all the same, it was a rather week slate altogether. But the good ones sure as hell did stand out.

I don’t pretend that these are the most technically sound films, or prestigious. These are simply the films that stayed with me or impressed me the most over the course of the year.

Beginning with…

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5. The Martian

Ridley Scott is such a hit or miss director these days. I personally loved Prometheus but I know it gets a lot of hate. Then you’ve got less than stellar Exodus, The Counselor, and that misguided attempt at Robin Hood with Russel Crowe.

With The Martian, however, Ridley Scott shows what made him such a respected name in the game of film in the first place with a masterfully paced adaptation of Andrew Weir’s novel of the same name. While much of the credit for the film goes to the folks who wrote the thing, Scott’s direction and steady hand go a long way towards cementing it as one of the best of the year. That’s to say nothing of Matt Damon playing the ever-loving hell out of Mark Watney, someone who the audience demands be charming enough that we believe it is worth the effort exerted to bring him home from his extra-terrestrial exile.

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4. Ant-Man

This time last year I was one hundred percent certain that Ant-Man would be overshadowed by Age of Ultron. Which is a shame, I told myself, because I love the character and lesser-known heroes deserve a chance to find love from the greater public at large.

So how did Ant-Man manage to be the best superhero film we got this year? Not only by virtue of only having to compete with garbage like Fantastic Four and the mediocrity of Avengers : Age of Ultron, but by having the sort of wit and charm that works best for left-field characters like Scott Lang. Having one of the best ensemble casts of any major film this year didn’t hurt, because Michael Pena could salvage even the worst of films.

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3. The Hateful Eight

I was sure this was going to be number one for me. I was sure of it. And it is only by virtue of the strength of other films that this gets the bronze medal. Quentin Tarantino turns in what, after careful consideration, might be his most carefully constructed piece of writing to date, filmed with expert precision, making it by far his most stunningly shot film. Looking at the man’s filmography, The Hateful Eight is the culmination of everything that is Tarantino. It has the excess of Kill Bill with the claustrophobic tension of Reservoir Dogs and the steady focus of Inglourious Basterds. It is a difficult film. One that will be divisive and off-putting to most, but over time will likely be appreciated as one of the finest pieces of cinema produced not just by Tarantino but any director working in the modern age.

Thematically, it is the grandest of anything Tarantino has ever done. His statement on the concept of race relations and violence in America is pointed and vicious. This is a timely film. Only minor tweaks would be necessary to bring the film into the present day and the message would remain the same. That is part of the brilliance of Tarantino’s design. There is a bit of dialog in the film about the “disarming” characteristics of a certain letter that Samuel L. Jackson’s Major Marquis Warren has in his possession. So too is there a disarming quality to the idea of a violent Quentin Tarantino film. He has long been regarded as a man more inclined to style over substance but with The Hateful Eight he truly does have something to say and he is going to say it loud, painting a thematic slogan across the screen in blood all the while filmed in glorious Panavision 70mm.

I had a lot of conflicting ideas about this film. I think I’ve worked through most of them and have settled on a final opinion. For my original review, you can check out my Tumblr post.

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2. Star Wars – Episode VII : The Force Awakens

I cried. Let that sink in. In all of the prequels, I don’t think I ever had a single emotional response to anything presented on the screen. I had the same emotional attachment to the franchise, but it didn’t connect.

So what changed?

The fact of the matter is that the reason the latest Star Wars film works is because it has an emotional core. While the script may have some pretty glaring flaws, the result of unending rewrites and tinkering, the overall construction of the film is rooted in an emotional ideal. Our new leads are connected to something that we have an affinity for, but we could have easily wound up hating the ever loving bejeezus out of them. Daisy Ridley and John Boyega have the unenviable task of being the new faces of Star Wars and not only do they do an amazing job, the managed to get me emotionally invested in their stories.

The “Hero’s Journey” trope has been rode into the ground and beaten within an inch of its life. So having that same story pattern brought up again and applied with Rey, my brain should have rejected it and dismissed it outright. Instead, the vibrancy with which she is brought to life makes me invested in the journey itself. I don’t mind familiar beats being hit again because when the beats land, they do so effectively with none of the clumsy handiwork of the prequels.

This feels like Star Wars again. On every conceivable level. And when Star Wars is good, it’s really really good. There’s a reason it is so long-lasting and endearing as a franchise beyond simple merchandising. There is magic in that universe. The Force Awakens proves that.

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1. Mad Max – Fury Road

I have never seen a film so visceral and economically minded with regard to storytelling as the fourth film in George Miller’s Mad Max saga.

This film is a modern marvel.

It should not work. Thirty years have passed since Max was on screen. Mel Gibson isn’t back. The continuity has been shot to hell. There’s very little in the way of dialog, which means virtually no exposition. How the hell were modern audiences going to react to a film that demanded that they fill in gaps with their imagination and critical thinking? Surprisingly they took to it like a fish to water and it became what has to be one of the most universally praised films I’ve ever encountered. I don’t know many people who didn’t think this thing was a masterpiece of cinematic genius. I know general consensus doesn’t amount to a whole lot but I’ll be damned if I’m not in awe of how universal the acceptance of Fury Road as a stunning benchmark in the name of cinematic achievement has become.

I really can’t say much more about the film. It stands on its own. It was the single most impressive film I’ve seen this year. I doubt we will see anything like it for a good long while.