The Best Movie of 2015 is Mad Max: Fury Road

We saw it multiple times. We bought the DVD. We podcasted about it. So it’s probably not a huge shock to announce the official best movie of 2015, or that all four of our moviegoing voters were happy to talk about it some more. Check out the fourteen movies this one left in its wake and then let’s rev up our discussion of:

1. Mad Max: Fury Road by George Miller


Mad Max: Fury Road formed an easy consensus for this year’s list, just like Wes Anderson’s movie did last year. Rather than search for commonalities between the two, I want to mention how Fury Road activates a very different part of my brain (though it’s far from a “check your brain at the door” experience, which is good, because good luck getting your brain back from the brain-check without a brain). Once in a while, I see a movie that actually achieves the feeling of an extended and intense rollercoaster, sustained across some impossible (and, frankly, potentially dangerous) span like 20 or 30 minutes. This is deceptively difficult to pull off; I wrote in my Rogue Nation blurb about how often an attempt to do this rings hollow, or smug, or becomes deeply exhausting. Some major selections for my pantheon of this rare achievement in action cinema: the last third or so of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom; the nonstop final half-hour of Attack of the Clones; and now the final stretch of Fury Road. You could say the whole damn movie, really, but it does have its downtime, however vivid (and sometimes brief); it’s a reason the movie works so well. So I’m specifically thinking of the point after which Max, Furiosa, Nux, and their crew of freed she-slaves u-turn their way back to the Citadel. Much crashing, smashing, exploding, blind guitar-playing, and employment of dudes of stilts ensues. It’s, quite simply, spectacular. It might actually be the best action sequence ever put to film? Usually I’d be a little shy about making such a grand pronouncement (REALLY?! says everyone) but I think I’ve seen enough essential action cinema over the past half-century (I’m not sure it really existed, at least in the modern sense, before then) to say this is a shortlist contender. It’s easy to get jaded about interconnected, expanded-universe, ultra-serialized, heavily marketed summer movies, even as a fan of those things. So it’s great to have a reminder of how beautifully crafted this kind of exhilaration can be.

Jesse covered the action pretty thoroughly, so let me talk a little about the downtime. When it comes to the actual acting in the movie, I’ve heard awards buzz for Charlize Theron, who totally deserves all the praise, but let’s consider, for a moment, Tom Hardy. When people bring up Hardy and his acting, there’s usually a discussion of accents. He’s always doing a weird voice that makes you stop for a second before going ¯_(ツ)_/¯. I live in Brooklyn, for example, and I’ve never heard anyone talk the way Hardy does in The Drop. Even better, after puzzling over what kind of accent he was using in Locke, research told me he was going for a Welsh accent, and based his on a guy who turned out not to be Welsh at all. (Just as an aside, the official opinion of accents in movies is that they don’t really matter unless they’re as bad as Michael Caine’s in Hurry Sundown, since no one here is a linguistic expert, but they’re still fun to talk about.) With all these crazy accents, the voices sometimes take center stage over his face. His Bane, for example—his best-known role before Mad Max—is all voice and no face.

It’s about time Hardy’s face gets its due, and not just as the eye-candy moneymaker. There’s a lot of acting going on in just that face. Weird accent notwithstanding, Locke showed he can carry a whole movie with just his face, since his character in that film was in a car the whole time, and all he did was make calls with his car phone. Mad Max: Fury Road takes it a step further. The cars are still there, but the calls are gone. Max is a man of few words. You can see the entire history of the Mad Max universe in that face. The face is a microcosm of his whole story: It starts off imprisoned, and then it is freed, but not without a fight. I give his face acting a thumbs-up.
mad max_thumbs up_giphy

Mad Max: Fury Road became a cultural flashpoint almost as soon as it was released, particularly once it became clear that the title character takes a backseat to a bunch of chicks (witness the number of articles both covering how feminist it is and questioning whether it’s feminist enough.) Any film that gets the hackles of MRA-enthusiasts up this much has to be at least worthwhile; luckily it’s also a masterpiece. But rather than add more grist to that mill I thought I’d take a different tack and, taking a cue from another sort of Max(im), rank the men of the Mad Max world in terms of desirability as a mate in apocalyptic times:

7. The Organic Mechanic: We know he’s good with his hands and can deliver a baby (albeit not always with the hoped-for result) which as a woman in the post-apocalypse would come in handy. However he’s essentially an underling without much influence, and also really dirty. Good luck digging the viscera he accumulates out of that beard.
6. The People Eater: He’s got an attention-grabbing name, that’s for sure. He’s also very large, which is a huge mark in his favor because it means he knows where good sustenance is. He also has interesting jewelry, including a gold chain that connects his pierced nipples and a filigreed silver nose guard, possibly to disguise some kind of rot. But he also has a pretty severe case of gout and doesn’t appear to be able to move on his own, which means when shit hits the fan he’ll have no qualms leaving you in the dust if you don’t fit in his car.
5. The Bullet Farmer: He’s the conductor of the choir of death, and every woman likes a man who can carry a tune. On the downside, he does not appear to have any eyeballs, which means he’s accident prone and will likely have terrible aim with those weapons he likes to flash.
4. Nux: He’s energetic, which counts for a lot when there’s little water to be had. And he’s intensely loyal once he’s picked a side. But he’s also naive, which means you’ll be making a lot of important decisions without much input on his part. Plus he’s likely die from chrome poisoning very soon.
Doof Warrior
3. The Doof Warrior: You can’t see his face which means he’s mysterious. And he knows how to handle both sweet guitar licks and flammable objects, which means he’s a multitasker. But his skill set is sadly limited, as is his balance. Bungee cords are no substitute for survival smarts.
2. Immortan Joe: He’s very powerful, which can get you far even when your looks aren’t up to snuff. And he does have a great set of hair, along with an army of dozens at his command. But he is a polygamist which means he’ll have a lot of demands on his attention. Also he can be defeated by pulling his mask off which in hindsight is pretty poor planning on his part.
1. Max Rockatansky: Well, duh. He looks like Tom Hardy, barely speaks, and doesn’t mind letting a lady take the lead. I’ll take two. Bonus points for the apparent lack of harboring anti-Semitic beliefs.

You’ve all found such excellent stuff in this movie, and there’s still so much left. It’s a film so overstuffed with greatness that even after the four of us have talked about it, I’ll still be thinking for days about some other great part somebody should have mentioned.

For instance, I really dug the deft way that Miller incorporates imagery and touchstones from the series’ history in a way that makes them Easter eggs for devotees instead of winks that could potentially alienate new viewers. From recurring motifs like the music box or a misfiring shotgun, to distinctly Mad Max flourishes like the horrifying bulging eyes insert shot or the white flash when Nux headbutts his fellow warboy, these things feel less like a fan’s indulgence (indeed, a new viewer may not have any idea they come from the other films) and more a way of firmly situating this latest film (with a new actor portraying Max and, once again, little direct continuity with the other films aside from the basics of Max himself) as truly a part of the series.

And for all of those nods, there’s also something exhilarating in the way Miller and company are seemingly not at all beholden to continuity. Sure, Max is still a loner with a bum knee and a leather jacket with only one sleeve, but the flashbacks that haunt him throughout the film are as unfamiliar (at least in their specifics) to series veterans as they are to newcomers (in fact it feels almost pointed the way that they suggest the same kind of trauma that we witnessed in the earlier entries without actually matching up any details). Max’s age too doesn’t seem to make sense for the basic timeline we can presume to piece together for the movie’s post-apocalypse, but only the most joyless viewers will get hung up on that. This lack of concern for continuity bookkeeping finally confirms, if you hadn’t already figured it out with the way The Road Warrior followed Mad Max, or Beyond Thunderdome followed up its predecessors, that Miller isn’t interested in giving you the life story of a man named Max Rockatansky. He’s giving us mythic stories about Mad Max, a loner wandering the Wasteland and changing the lives and stories of the people he finds there.

That Miller returned to the series after thirty years, now a man in his late 60s whose directorial output in the previous two decades had consisted of a (admittedly wonderful) sequel to Babe and two Happy Feet films, is impressive enough. But the dazzling technical feat and artistic achievement of the film puts filmmakers half his age (and basically anybody working in action filmmaking) to shame. After fifteen years of false starts and near misses, he waltzed back in and delivered a masterpiece.

The score by Junkie XL is so propulsive that I had it thrumming in my head for hours after the film had ended, maintaining the adrenaline rush the film triggered until late that night.

The photography by John Seale is spectacular, full of unforgettable images. With Seale, Miller returned to the post-apocalyptic wasteland, grown so drab and gray and oppressive in his absence, and suffused it not only with blazing energy but with a dazzling orange and blue color scheme. Imagine that, primary colors after the end of the world!

The vehicular action sequences are truly awesome, but Miller proves his facility in all forms of action filmmaking in sequences like the hand-to-bolt cutters fight between Max, Furiosa, and Nux. It’s thrilling and brutal, but it’s also full of the same wit and grace and Spielbergian sense of well-paced escalation that characterizes the rest of the film’s action.

Really, guys, this is great film.