Dear Fellow Film Critics,
These year-end assignments present a bit of a conundrum for me. I have this set of critical ideals in which I try to judge each film I see on its own merits (or lack thereof), and those alone. It’s a bit of a fool’s errand, since I can’t wipe the slate completely clean every time I walk into the theatre. Hell, it sometimes even causes crises of conscience. But when I can lock out all the external noise, the work speaks for itself. Of course, that’s also how I can end up kind of liking a Michael Bay film. It’s a system with some distressing outcomes.
Yet, here I am, doing that one thing I try to avoid: judging each film not on its own merit, but on how out holds up against others for the sole reason they were released in the same calendar year. But we humans do like order, and if a particular 12-month span affords us that, we’ll take it. There’s comfort to be found in a world that makes sense.
Which may be the very reason I found Mad Max: Fury Road so thrilling. It’s a movie that feels like it’s about to come off the rails at any moment. The world George Miller throws us into is bananas. It’s a film that feels out of control. Instead, it’s one of the best examples of filmmaking precision I’ve seen in years.
Unlike my choice last year, this one’s not based on a personal, emotional reaction, but a purely visceral one. And honestly, it’s refreshing to respond to a film on that pure gut level – to be reminded that the craft of cinema itself, when executed on a master level, is enough in and of itself to excite.
That’s not to say that I find Mad Max: Fury Road lacking in any other departments. What I thought of it in terms of character, story, and acting, is covered in my review. This essay is simply about falling in love with cinema again. Lately, my relationship with film has felt more like a marriage that's gone a bit stale: I love it dearly, but I hadn't felt that all-consuming infatuation that drew me to it in the first place; the kind that had me returning to the same films over and over, desperate for the heady rush that comes from pure passion.
It’s fortuitous that I saw Hitchcock/Truffaut before writing this. Though that film didn't fully work for me, what I did love was watching filmmakers lose themselves in discussing Hitchcock's total mastery of cinema: his cutting, camera placement, use of actors. It's that same rapture that keeps bringing me back to Mad Max: Fury Road. Miller is so confident in every insane idea, that he overrode the built-in skepticism that has been a key instrument in my film-watching toolkit for years. Actually, it didn't just override it, it blew it right up. I came out of Mad Max: Fury Road with the fervour of a born-again zealot. I wanted to preach the Gospel of Miller, whether or not anyone wanted to hear it.
Despite my earlier protestations, one of the things I like to do at the end of any year is to try and figure out what has changed for me as a moviegoer. Often that fans into the ever-growing chasm of technological progress: the reemergence of 3D as gimmick, the transition from film to digital projection. 2015, however, was about teaching me that maybe I don’t have to fret so much about consciously placing every movie into its own hermetically-sealed chamber. A great film will do that all on its own, and I won’t even realize it. The irony is that it took a movie possibly surpassed only by Star Wars: The Force Awakens preconceived expectations to do that. Mad Max: Fury Road not only introduces a new actor in its iconic lead role, but it also bares the weight of 30 years of anticipation. And it leaves those expectations in the figurative and literal dust as it races forward, daring us all to keep up.
Or maybe it’s not ironic at all. Maybe it’s perfectly fitting. Miller took my own preconceived ideas—about the Mad Max series and about cinema itself—and turned them on their head, showing me something I didn’t even know I wanted.
And because of that, Mad Max:Fury Road is the best film of 2015.