Tag Archives: Mad Max

“Mad Max: Fury Road” — Best Films of 2015

by Gabriel Valdez

What is there left to say about “Mad Max: Fury Road?” It’s arguably the greatest action film ever made. It’s thematically thick and boasts a nuanced story that unfolds its characters through action rather than dialogue. It doesn’t treat the viewer as stupid or needing explanation. It simply leaps into its world and expects you to keep up at its breakneck pace.

Because everyone else is going to talk about it in particular ways, and I’ve already discussed its feminism and how it uses choreography to create visual myth, I’m going to do something more esoteric. I’m going to tell you why the film closest to “Mad Max: Fury Road” is one of the last you’d ever compare it to: John Carpenter’s “The Thing.”

They’re both broadly sci-fi, but for all intents and purposes, they belong to completely different genres – “The Thing” is alien body horror. “Mad Max: Fury Road” is post-apocalyptic demolition derby. One takes place almost entirely in one location. The other never stops moving.

I compare the two because of the specificity in each film. Both enjoyed an overly long scripting process. “The Thing” was pushed back considerably. Because of this, director John Carpenter decided to take the time to plot out extra elements in the film. It meant small details that would’ve normally been overlooked instead got their own unspoken story lines. There’s a throwaway argument early in the film about who had keys to emergency blood transfusions. It might’ve served only as an opportunity for characters to turn on each other and cast suspicions. Carpenter noticed layers he could add to this. He added notes for each scene, including moments that hint the keys’ potential paths via subtle details in other scenes. It’s always backgrounded, and it’s unlikely you’ll notice on first viewing, but it gives you the sense there’s more going on in the world than just what’s happening in front of the camera.

For a film where the very question of who’s human and who’s a flesh-ripping alien creates the tension of the story, these extra details – even if we don’t consciously notice or connect them at first – serve to ground us in the film’s reality. There are stories happening that we only see pieces of, suggestions of. These elevate the horror of a film by letting our mind run wild with the possibilities. Instead of a routinely effective story, we’re offered a more complete glimpse into a nuanced horror world. That wouldn’t have been there without the delay that allowed Carpenter to keep on making notes, to add the details that make us feel his world’s rhythms.

George Miller effectively worked on and revamped the story and sequences of “Mad Max: Fury Road” for a decade. The stunts and shots were already mapped out in extreme detail by the time the stunt crew even started working on them. But this is detail and what I’m looking for is nuance. The film is filled with suggestions about when it might take place in the original “Mad Max” trilogy’s timeline. All the details disagree, adding even more fuel to the concept that we’re being told a myth that transcends time rather than a story that fits within it.

Character is realized through action, but the action is so detailed that it feels expressive in the way dance often is. I’ve long said the best fight scene should act like the best dialogue scene. Something should change for everyone within it and we should understand what that is. This is precisely what happens in a movie where action scenes almost never stop. Most action scenes have a few moving parts – that makes them simple and we’re left to rely on emotional investment to suspend our disbelief. “Mad Max: Fury Road” has that emotional investment, but it doesn’t waste it filling in cracks in its artistry. Instead, each sequence is detailed in ways that make us understand how dozens of moving parts interact together. That’s brave, and it’s the kind of madness earned through years of pre-planning.

To get even more tangential, developers have sometimes said that the holy grail of video game development would be a world that takes place at the level of detail our own does: a block of a real city, where real people make unpredictable decisions that are unique to their own complex motivations, and even those motivations evolve. Worlds can be built in grand scopes, but the way they translate to audiences is via details so minor you don’t always register them in a conscious way. This is the true measure of world-building. This is what films like “The Thing” and “Mad Max: Fury Road” do. They marry genres built for grand scale to the finest detail imaginable on a cinematic level. That’s how you transcend genre, by delivering a world so nuanced, it feels like it could live without the artist’s hand.

Mad Max Fury Road poster

Images are from Nerdist and Coming Soon.

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The Big Budget Film Awards of 2015

Crimson Peak Jessica Chastain

by S.L. Fevre, Eden O’Nuallain, Cleopatra Parnell, Amanda Smith, Rachel Ann Taylor, Vanessa Tottle, and Gabriel Valdez

We’re doing something supremely weird this year. We’re breaking up the films of 2015 by big, mid, and low budget categories. We’re qualifying big budget as anything that cost more than $50 million to produce.

The reasons for doing this are multiple. The idea of genre is a lost concept. In a year when the Golden Globes award “The Martian” as best comedy, we’ve lost some sense of what a comedy even is. It also allows films to compete with other films that had about the same level of access and spending. How do you decide a best film race between, say, the $200 million “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and something like “Tangerine,” which was shot on iPhones for $100,000? The two have completely different goals in terms of how they interact with audiences.

Now, let’s talk about one thing that’s quickly apparent in the list below. It’s overwhelmingly white. Isn’t that just what the Oscars are being criticized for this year? We noticed a funny thing splitting films between budgets. The big-budget films we considered were cast far more homogenously than the mid- and especially the low-budget films. Welcome to Hollywood.

You’ll also see that “The Revenant” is nowhere to be seen in this category. We made ourselves a rule – a film has to open in at least 100 theaters in 2015 (or to come out on rental or streaming that year) to be considered a 2015 film. “The Revenant” opened in no more than four until January 8.

The reason for this rule is this: we want to consider a film when audiences actually get a chance to see it. We do this because it allows us to consider a wider range of smaller films that slip through theaters but are worthy of consideration and acknowledgement. Obviously, these don’t tend to be part of the big budget category, but the rule also means that to us, “The Revenant” is a 2016 film.

Oh, and also: we’re not separating the acting categories by gender.

Let’s dive in:

Best Supporting Actor in a Big Budget Film:
Jessica Chastain, Crimson Peak

 

There was also energy for Viola Davis’s FBI handler in “Blackhat.” Playing a federal agent who knows how to exert political pressure to open the right doors, Davis enjoyed a role women rarely get to inhabit in thrillers. Simon Pegg got some love from us for “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation.” He does some remarkable work, not the least of which is buddying with Tom Cruise in a way that creates a more human space for the action star. Pegg embraced the “supporting” part of “supporting actor” in a way most actors don’t know how.

Ultimately, however, Jessica Chastain’s role in “Crimson Peak” appeared on six of our seven shortlists. In fact, she appeared on the seventh, but that was for her role as mission commander in “The Martian.” As opposed to the heroic leader she plays there, in “Crimson Peak” she is the best villain of the year. Simultaneously measured and out of control, she embodies the madness of Guillermo Del Toro’s world like few before her. She seems to be the entire Grand Guignol genre on her own, both chewing the scenery and delivering on a profoundly nuanced dramatic level. She is the single most important element of the film, playing her role with a range the Oscars overlooked. Even for her vast array of work before this, her role in “Crimson Peak” is still a performance no one expected from her.

All actors receiving a vote:
Jessica Chastain, “Crimson Peak”
Viola Davis, “Blackhat”
Simon Pegg, “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation”
Jessica Chastain, “The Martian”
Jennifer Jason Leigh, “The Hateful Eight”
Nicholas Hoult, “Mad Max: Fury Road”
Donald Sutherland, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2”
Julianne Nicholson, “Black Mass”
Michele Rodriguez, “Furious 7”

Best Actor in a Big Budget Film:
Johnny Depp, Black Mass

 

We liked Matt Damon in “The Martian” quite a lot. The film is carried on his back much more than it is in its design or presentation of another world, and that says something. Charlize Theron came close to nabbing this for “Mad Max: Fury Road.” She gives the angry, yearning performance that most expected out of Tom Hardy going in, and she’s the beating heart of one of the best movies of the year.

It’s Johnny Depp in “Black Mass” who deserves this most, however. Either that, or we just like our villains. Most critics had written Depp off as unable to convey these sorts of roles anymore. As the ugly, terrifying Whitey Bulger, Depp plays the most disturbing character in his career. The movie slightly fails him, being more of a historical checklist than an actual theory of the man. Nonetheless, Depp brings his ‘A’ game. His presence makes the viewer cringe in anticipation of what horror his character might commit next. Depp makes the role work even when other actors fail to make theirs work (like Dakota Johnson and Benedict Cumberbatch, in a rare miss). He also seems to center Joel Edgerton’s performance, which is all over the map except when Depp’s on-screen. In that way, Depp seems to transcend even the failures of the film around him, raising “Black Mass” from good to must-see territory almost entirely on his performance.

All actors receiving a vote:
Johnny Depp, Black Mass
Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road
Matt Damon, The Martian
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Daisy Ridley, Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Jennifer Lawrence, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2
Mia Wasikowska, Crimson Peak
Alicia Vikander, The Man from UNCLE

Best Screenplay in a Big Budget Film:
Mad Max: Fury Road

 

This came down to a two-horse race between “Inside Out” and “Mad Max: Fury Road.” It’d be hard to find two more different films in 2015, but ultimately, we went with “Mad Max.” The film is simply a perfect storm of storytelling, both on the page and on the screen. Writers George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, and Nick Lathouris had the benefit of a decade of poring over story treatments and tightening the screenplay. There’s something special about a film that goes through that much editing.

Since it’s an apt metaphor, consider films like cars. A screenplay that a studio shops around, written and re-written by different teams of writers, is like a car taken to different mechanics. Some you can trust, some you can’t. A film that’s held by one team as a project you tinker with over years and years – it all runs as one machine. Every part is geared toward the same purpose. Nothing in the film is working against another element. That is the feeling that pervades “Mad Max: Fury Road.”

Few films are brave enough to take apart the concepts of toxic masculinity that drive so many in the real world to possess and violate. Fewer still manage to address these concepts through fantastical or science-fictional means. These are too often treated in writing as the realm of by-men, for-men. A screenplay that can buck that trend, especially in such an immediate emotional way is invaluable.

All writers receiving a vote:
George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nick Lathouris, Mad Max: Fury Road
Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley, Inside Out
Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, Michael Arndt, Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Guillermo Del Toro & Matthew Robbins, Crimson Peak
David O. Russell, Joy
Christopher McQuarrie, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
Quentin Tarantino, The Hateful Eight
Andy & Lana Wachowski, Jupiter Ascending
Drew Goddard, The Martian

Best Director of a Big Budget Film:
George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road

 

This became a logjam in voting pretty quickly. The winner just about lapped the field, but “Inside Out,” the underrated “Jupiter Ascending,” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” all got some love, tying for third place. It was Christopher McQuarrie for “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation” who took second. His beautiful sense of pace, his theatrical approach to designing a set piece, and the unexpected performances he lured from Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, and Simon Pegg all made us remember the job he did as, well, surprising.

Yet there really was no competition. “Mad Max: Fury Road” was phenomenal. Four of us named director George Miller tops in this category. It is the fusion of so many pieces working in concert together that makes a film this special. Every element of the film was in tune with the next. This is the same kind of fusion of technical and design elements you saw with the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, yet with a far more urgent thematic message:

Even to the nuances, like bringing Eve Ensler in as a consultant to ensure that Miller didn’t direct the women in the film on topics he wasn’t qualified to direct. It’s not some mastery of all the moving parts of a film that’s important in a director. It’s recognizing when you aren’t best qualified to speak to something in your film, and acknowledging and bringing in someone who is.

All directors receiving a vote:
George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
Christopher McQuarrie, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
Pete Docter & Ronnie Del Carmen, Inside Out
J.J. Abrams, Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Andy & Lana Wachowski, Jupiter Ascending
David O. Russell, Joy
Guillermo Del Toro, Crimson Peak
Scott Cooper, Black Mass
Ridley Scott, The Martian

Best Big Budget Film of 2015:
Mad Max: Fury Road

 

Big surprise after those last two categories. But let’s look at the films that came near. “Jupiter Ascending” already won our Most Thankless Role of 2015 for Mila Kunis. As a film that refuses to take itself seriously while also conveying messages about feminism and gender fluidity that you often don’t see, many of us held onto it as something rare and special.

We gave “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” our Best Diversity of 2015, for featuring positive women, Black, and Hispanic characters, and speaking to the relationship between misogyny, racism, and toxic masculinity through the actions of its characters.

“Mad Max: Fury Road” is one of the best films ever made, period. Yet there’s something more important than just saying this is the best film of the year. It’s recognizing the trend across all these films. They all follow leading women and champion perspectives of feminism. They may not all agree on those perspectives, but feminism is hardly a movement limited to any individual’s perception of what it should be. They also all feature roles for men that aren’t sidelined to feminism, but rather engage actively as part of the cause.

The notion that these films don’t make money or aren’t as good is ridiculous. If anything, we may be proving the opposite – that the age of films geared simply to play toward poisonous concepts of misogyny and racism is over. Today, we want films that are more inclusive – of gender, of race, of sexuality, of disability. We’ve already talked about why “Mad Max: Fury Road” is good. It’s more important to begin talking about what “Mad Max: Fury Road” is a part of as a movement in film and storytelling. It’s echoed through all the films that received a vote this year:

All films receiving a vote:
Mad Max: Fury Road
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Jupiter Ascending
Inside out
Crimson Peak
Joy
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
The Martian
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2

The Best Fight Choreography of 2015

FuriosaArm_PIC4

by Gabriel Valdez

Fight choreography is often overlooked for its ability to tell stories in ways that differ from the usual visuals of filmmaking. In many countries, martial arts themselves are infused with deeper and more mythological meanings, so why shouldn’t fight choreography on film be able to communicate these same things?

Some films this year really have gone an incredible distance in terms of the emotional storytelling they choose to convey with fight choreography.

Let’s get one thing out of the way and start with what’s not on here, however. Why isn’t “Kingsman: The Secret Service” here? That church sequence alone should get it near the top of the list, right? And while I didn’t like the film, I did think many of its choreographic concepts were technically brilliant. The problem lies in the execution.

If there’s an award that should go to someone on “Kingsman,” it should go to the editors and compositors. Watch the church scene again, if you’ve got the stomach for it (I actually recommend not doing so, but suit yourself). Count how many times a body or object crosses the screen in the extreme foreground. How many times does the camera swing away to other characters?

While the sequence may present itself as a series of unbroken takes, it’s actually composed of dozens of far quicker takes. While the conceptualization of the choreography is brilliant, if brutal, the execution is more simple. It’s what works for what the film wants, but it’s not anything special in terms of the actual fight choreography or by artistic merit. It’s not anything that belongs on a list like the one below.

Be warned, unlike most other awards, the nature of fight scenes often means seeing a spoiler in the form of a big reveal or a character’s death:

THERE ARE SPOILERS BELOW.

5. The Dead Lands

Clint Elvy, fight coordinator
Andrew Stehlin, fight coordinator

The first feature film shot entirely in the Maori language, “The Dead Lands” is also the first to choreograph battles using Mau Rakau. This is the indigenous martial art of New Zealand. You may recognize the movements and unique expressions from the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team, which performs a traditional Maori war dance before every match.

If the “demon” in the clip above looks familiar, that’s Lawrence Makoare. He played a number of evil creatures in the “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” trilogies, including the orc who goes one-on-one with Viggo Mortensen’s Aragorn at the end of “Fellowship.” Makoare brings a controlled abandon to the fight choreography, and gave an overlooked dramatic turn in “The Dead Lands” as well.

4. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

Wolfgang Stegemann, fight team & fight trainer

It’s hard to place a choreography like that of “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation.” Its presentation is remarkably theatrical for an American action movie. The fight choreography deliberately plays with what you expect, constantly changing expression and mood. The production and set design often become a silent third player in how each fight develops. This consideration lends both a groundedness and a surprising puzzle-solving quality to each fight. The sets aren’t breakaway, made for the viewer to appreciate their destruction. The sets are instead made to feel real, made for the characters to interact with.

This lends a solidity to the fights most films lack. It also allows the director to play with that solidity when he wants to really turn the screws on a character. This is the sort of thing that theatrical plays do with advanced set design. It’s typically not what you expect in a Tom Cruise film. When we talk about how technical elements are used in film, we shouldn’t just talk about the independent qualities they possess. We should talk about how those elements are folded into the film to better create a world and its visual language. In that, “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation” is remarkable.

3. Kung Fu Killer

Hua Yan, martial arts director
Bun Yuen, martial arts director

“Kung Fu Killer” (aka “Kung Fu Jungle”) isn’t a great film on its story merits. Those trucks in the clip above were driving through the plot holes. Yet on the balance, the film’s fight choreography is varied and wonderfully complex.

The fight scenes make use of the full range of wide-screen presentation, and the language of each fight, the ebb and flow, is communicated through editing on precise movements. This precision helps earlier in the film, when our heroes investigate the murder of martial arts masters. There are particular edits we don’t see in the initial fight. Instead, these are bookmarked in our heads. When Donnie Yen’s Hahou Mo looks at the crime scene, these bookmarked edits are filled in. As he recognizes what happened, so do we. It’s clever, and requires viewers to remember specific movements later on without making us realize that’s what we’re doing.

“Kung Fu Killer” easily boasts the most technically impressive choreography of the year. So why’s it #3? Because there’s more that choreography can do than being technically incredible.

2. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Best Fight Choreography Kylo Ren Rey Finn

Stephen Oyoung, sword trainer
Chloe Bruce, Adam J. Bernard, Gyula Toth, choreography

You’re going to have to take my word for it, since any unlicensed clips of the film online (including the most spoiler-iffic) are erased by Disney as fast as they’re put up. What “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” does right is present the control with which a fighter does (or doesn’t) fight. We see Finn get beaten multiple times, so his choreography is elementary, but full of recoveries. Constantly losing yet also narrowly surviving in believable ways walks a very fine line. That means his fighting style is too tight, too closed, the scope of his engagement too narrow.

For Kylo Ren’s choreography, we need to see someone thoroughly trained yet who lacks the discipline to adhere to that training. His choreography is built from powerful attacks that close distance quickly. Sometimes he’s controlled and sometimes he lashes out. In sword work, the more relentless you are, the more vulnerabilities you risk. It’s a choreography that defines Ren’s character as well as any other aspect of the film does.

Enter Rey’s choreography, which is built for defense and counter-attack. It’s built from stances and positions that close and then open again, attacks that rise and then fall. This gives her choreography the feel of breathing. It’s a naturalistic choreography. The body closes to focus and present less of a window for an opponent. When switching from defense to counter, the body opens back up again in its full breadth, offering a more complete window to attack your opponent.

Combined with Kylo Ren’s tendency to lash out, their choreography turns into something of a meditation. The assault of anger, of lashing out, the breathing in to contain, the breathing out to release. Overly complex choreography (see: the prequels) is ditched in favor of choreography that communicates. It’s why that last fight is so utterly beautiful. Light sabers in a dark wood as the snow falls doesn’t need help being beautiful, yes. And yet that choreography speaks to what we feel in the theater as we hold our breath, what we feel in our lives when panic strikes. It feels like the assault of fear, and the response of calm, the loss of control against the acknowledgment there is no control. It echoes some of your worst days and some of your best. It feels like the world closing in on you, and then letting yourself be a part of that world anyway.

It feels like breathing, and it lets us know we’ve been in this fight ourselves. We know what it’s like, what its emotional steps are, how it takes place in the mind, and how it feels when the fear and anger and breathing and calm all course through our bodies in a complicated mixture. The fight we see on-screen is beautiful. That we can all recognize its meaning in ourselves makes it meaningful. That’s what choreography can accomplish.

1. Mad Max: Fury Road

Richard Norton, fight coordinator
Greg van Borssum, principal fight choreographer / weapons advisor

It would take something truly and uniquely special to beat that out. And yet, there really is nothing else this year that compares to “Mad Max: Fury Road.” When I talk about fight choreography, I talk about the visual language it creates as part of a film. Fight scenes are often treated like set pieces, and they can be visual delights in this way. Yet a truly good fight scene is like a truly good dialogue scene. From when it starts to when it ends, something has changed for every character involved.

In no film is that more true this year than “Mad Max: Fury Road.” What makes the film so incredibly unique is that its dialogue scenes don’t really evolve the characters’ relationships to each other. They let us get to know them better, and give us better windows into their internal worlds, but it’s through the action that “Mad Max: Fury Road” tells its story. The relationships of these characters evolve through fist fights and gun fights and car chases, and it takes a rare marriage of all parts of choreography to make this happen. What are all the parts? That’s conception, that’s the base choreography, that’s how it interacts with the set around it, how costume informs what’s happening, how the stuntpeople and the actors work in concert for consistent performances, and how the editing and music can communicate a remarkable number of emotional beats inside of it all.

“Mad Max: Fury Road” develops such a complete choreographic language that there are moments toward the end of the film that become less about action in a story, and more about the physical embodiment of myth. In that rare a feat, it makes it feel like the choreography itself is some demonstration in our minds, something that we imagine as we’re told a story and then arises from us as interpreters of that story. No film in a long time has better used fight choreography simply to tell the story.

Read the rest of our 2016 Awards:

Best Diversity

Most Thankless Role

Where did we get our awesome images? Both “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” images are from Forbes’ “No, Rey…Is Not A Mary Sure” article, and the “Mad Max: Fury Road” image is from Nerdist’s “The Subtle Triumph of Furiosa’s Prosthetic Arm.” Both are highly recommended.

The Top 10 Most Anticipated Films of 2015: Terrorist Meryl Streep, Lightsabers & Time Travel

Mad Max Fury Road Tom Hardy

by Gabriel Valdez

The top ten is a mix of big-budget movies and independent-minded films, but two of my top three films feature women directing. This is the kind of thing I think most lists miss when they just stick to Star Wars, Jurassic Park, and Marvel everything. Now, I’ll spoil something – I list Star Wars here – big surprise, but Most Anticipated lists can’t just be the big stuff. They have to mix it up.

You’re not showing anyone anything when you only talk about what they already know.

I don’t want to launch into a diatribe about criticism, but the industry really is threatened by a mass consensus attitude that demands championing anything popular beforehand for the clicks, and then tearing it down afterward for the clicks. And then the industry has the gall to turn around and criticize Hollywood for its lack of imagination.

Moving on:

Hateful Eight

10. THE HATEFUL EIGHT

When I stepped into the theater for Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds, I thought to myself, this is the final straw. This is where Tarantino steps up and proves he’s about something more than celebrating style, or the place I can finally bury having to be concerned about him. Coming off the night-and-day halves of Kill Bill and the well-filmed but utterly needless Deathproof, I was really hoping for an excuse to bury him. By the time I walked out, I felt like I’d been sucker punched.

Tarantino’s always been capable of making you laugh even while sending chills up your spine and making you feel guilty about it, but those skills could often find themselves drowned under the weight of his pulp. There wasn’t a balance. His films could really be about something one minute and then waste that opportunity the next. But with Basterds and Django Unchained, Tarantino has hit his stride, creating dramas within satires where the message shapes the film around it more than the style. Rarely have audiences packed theaters to see films that make them this uncomfortable. There’s no reason to believe Tarantino will falter at this point, especially in a Western packed with villains. I just hope he’s able to maintain the balance he’s found, and doesn’t fall into old habits. His old habits made good films, sure, but his new habits make great ones. November 13.

9. STAR WARS: EPISODE VII – THE FORCE AWAKENS

I know, this should be #1, right? Cause Star Wars.

Count me disillusioned by the prequels. Count me wary of how they’re splitting up the Star Wars universe into the Marvel film-a-year approach. I actually like the choice of JJ Abrams to direct, as I’ve written before, and the first trailer looked fantastic.

I’m just a bit worn out. For a franchise that hasn’t had a new movie in 10 years, it’s omnipresent. There’s something to be said for: “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” Star Wars hasn’t been absent. It’s like the guest you invited to your holiday party is still camping out on your couch. And the holiday party was in 2005.

It’s #9 on my list, so I’m excited to see it, but…I think we could use some space before all that, Star Wars. It’s not you, it’s me. Wait, that’s not right, it’s totally you. December 18.

8. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

Finally, the return of Mel Gibson to the franchise that made him what he was (minus, you know, the racist stuff). In Mad Max, Gibson reprises his- wait, what? He’s been replaced? God, who could they get to replace Mel Gibson in one of the most iconic roles ever created?

It couldn’t be. No, it’s not possible…. They wouldn’t.

Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve just been told that Mel Gibson has been replaced by, er, Tom Hardy. It may come as a shock to you, but I’ve also been informed that I am being replaced by Tom Hardy. As it turns out, we will all be replaced with Tom Hardy by the end of the day. In fact, everyone in the world is now being played by Tom Hardy, with the exception of Werner Herzog, who managed to stave off the transformation with a vial of Klaus Kinski’s bone marrow he tag locked in the jungles of Peru in 1979. On the state of things, Herzog commented that he was “unperturbed but sleepy, with the energy of dreams.”

OK, with five roles in four films on this top 40, you wouldn’t think Hardy has the time, but Tom Hardy and space-time are apparently one and the same. (We’re going to have to re-dub a lot of Star Trek episodes now.)

Actually, Tom Hardy looks like a perfect fit in Mad Max: Fury Road. Watch the incredibly colorful trailer (how do so many post-apocalypse films forget that the natural world is so colorful?) and you’ll even notice how well Hardy picks up the subtle gestures, glances, and weary looks of Gibson.

In summation, Tom Hardy is the best, I’m looking forward to this just a smidgen more than Star Wars, which for whatever reason committed the unending shame of not casting Tom Hardy, and long live our glorious leader Tom Hardy. May 15.

7. TOMORROWLAND

You’ll notice I’m getting the 3 most important big-budget films of the year (to me, at least) out of the way right here, and Tomorrowland is the one that really makes me hope. The director of Pixar animated classics “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille,” Brad Bird tells the story of a young girl (Britt Robertson) who joins an inventor played by George Clooney to travel to a place outside of space and time (I’m sorry, outside of Tom Hardy) in order to to try to set the world right. It feels like a cross between The Wizard of Oz and Amazing Stories. If the trailer’s any indication, it will have a great deal to say about the troubled times in which we live. May 22.

6. KNIGHT OF CUPS

Terrance Malick makes amazing films that force you to consider your lonely place in a vast universe. And then he holds onto them for years and years until everyone’s forgotten he made them. Knight of Cups looks like it’s Malick’s take on the genre of excess, starring one of the most ridiculous casts of the year (Christian Bale, Natalie Portman, Cate Blanchett, Imogen Poots, Antonio Banderas, Wes Bentley). Nobody quite knows what to expect. The trailer is pure insanity, and only makes you less sure of what to expect. Such is the way of Malick. December 11.

5. PREDESTINATION

Robert Heinlein is perhaps the greatest science-fiction writer to have ever put pen to page. His most controversial and challenging short story is called “-All You Zombies-”. It’s a story about time travel and influencing the path your former self takes in life. It’s simple to understand, but narratively audacious. It is a masterpiece of storytelling about identity.

It is impossible to film. I mean, there are things that are hard to film, and then there are things that are impossible to film, and then there’s “-All You Zombies-”.

The Spierig brothers aren’t the first directors you’d choose to film something like this. They previously directed moody vampire story Daybreakers, a solid genre piece that unfortunately goes overboard in its last 10 minutes. Still, they have rare style and a relationship with just about the only actor I’d ever trust to play this role – Ethan Hawke. The sheer audacity of adapting this tale is what shoots this to the top of my list. If you’ve read the story, you damn well know why. But if they can pull this off, if they can make it what it ought to be or even come close, it will be the kind of film that makes you unable to move when the credits finally roll. January 9/Out now/Probably going to have to wait until DVD.

4. MIDNIGHT SPECIAL

One of the best and most overlooked films of the past few years is Mud, a coming-of-age tale that recalls Steven Spielberg’s early work, only featuring rural Arkansas and Matthew McConaughey instead of aliens. Writer-director Jeff Nichols follows it up with the story of a father and son on the run after the son develops powers. He’s cited John Carpenter classic Starman as his inspiration. Looking at Nichols’s filmography, including Shotgun Stories and Take Shelter, he has yet to take a wrong step.

Most new American stories feel too generic, too in-service to a brand-name Americana that doesn’t feel real. Nichols’ stories emerge from a classic Americana closer to Jack London, Flannery O’Connor, and Mark Twain. The stakes are simple and personal, the stories organic and unexpected, the world around you wide open, thick with character and atmosphere, and yet always seen through a personal bubble you can never quite escape. He is one of the most important filmmakers just now breaking into the industry.

Midnight Special stars Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver, Joel Edgerton, Michael Shannon, and Sam Shepard. November 25.

(Since there are no trailers or promotional images, I’ve posted the trailer for Nichols’s Mud up above. It’s some of the best two hours you can spend watching a movie.)

Suffragette

3. SUFFRAGETTE

Meryl Streep and Helena Bonham Carter as terrorists? Tell me more. They play Emmeline Pankhurst and Edith New, respectively. They were the leaders of Britain’s suffrage movement, which fought for the right of women to vote during the turn of the 20th century. The state condemned them and reacted brutally to their battle for real democracy. The movement turned underground and spent years organizing, enduring and provoking extreme violence in turn.

This is written by BBC mainstay and The Iron Lady scribe Abi Morgan, and directed by a hugely promising up-and-comer: Sarah Gavron. It also stars Carey Mulligan, Ben Whishaw, and Brendan Gleeson.

It’s eery to think that, in many democratic countries (including the U.S.), women have had the right to vote for less than 100 years. September 11.

Crimson Peak Wasikowska

2. CRIMSON PEAK

Guillermo Del Toro is the best horror director working today. With Crimson Peak, he’s stepping into new territory. Telling what he calls a “ghost story and gothic romance,” the film stars genre wunderkid Mia Wasikowska as a young woman who marries a man who isn’t quite what he appears to be. That man is played by everyone’s favorite Loki, Tom Hiddleston.

The prospect of seeing these two play off actors like Jessica Chastain and Doug Jones (who has played more Del Toro creatures than any other actor – think of him as Del Toro’s Andy Serkis)…it’s all too enticing to put anywhere else but right near the top of this list. October 16.

1. GIRLHOOD

To quote Alessia Palanti on her review of Boyhood, “After so many years the final result is dotted with formulaic plot points, cliches, a number of feel-good heteronormative Americana stereotypes, and an uninteresting family…I can see why it would capture an audience’s attention, and how its middle class familiar life scenarios could forge mutual understanding between film and viewer. But is this what boyhood really is? And if so, should we really be so celebratory?”

Palanti concluded her review by asking for a Girlhood version of Boyhood.

I’ll answer her with a quote from Daily Beast critic Molly Hannon in her review for Celine Sciamma’s Girlhood: “Sciamma’s film effectively captures the painful realities of young African-French girls living in the French projects who are marginalized by society, mistreated by their families, and preyed upon by unscrupulous characters. The girls only have each other, and it is their banded friendship that empowers them, gives them the security they crave while also giving them a safe place to remain young.”

Before we go on, the film Girlhood has nothing to do with the film Boyhood. It’s more accurately translated as Gang of Girls, but this would carry unfortunate connotations in English. Girlhood is not #1 on this list to riff on Boyhood or be snarky. Yet the comparison is there because of the Americanized title, so let me tell you why it’s number one by telling you why Boyhood doesn’t make my year-end lists: because I can’t see any of the characters in Boyhood really caring that much about the characters in Girlhood. That doesn’t mean they’re bad people, it just means they enjoy a certain privilege not to have to face responsibility for what’s outside the ken of their own lives.

They’re able to participate in rites of passage that don’t necessarily engender healthy people, and yet those rites of passage are celebrated as part of being an average, normal American. There are moments of Boyhood that don’t ring true for people who faced those moments from a different perspective, or simply declined to participate in them.

So why is Girlhood first on my list when it will also present a perspective I have not inhabited? These are the most popular comments to the trailers for Girlhood on YouTube. I apologize for the language, but these are direct quotes:

“Niggers being niggers….. that’s all.”

“I wonder how many wigs are in this movie.”

“Might I dare to suggest a slight change in title to Hood Girls.”

“So they made a movie out of black female flash mobs. So what. Who cares. I don’t.”

“That weave tho…smh.”

“fucking racist negroes taking over France”

Boyhood is a fine film but, to me, it carries with it the luxury of not caring. There’s an Americana to it that is lovely and sentimental, but also narcissistic and illusory. Give me instead the film that takes that luxury away, that offers me a perspective that feels real and unique instead of averaged and branded as “normal.”

Girlhood arrives at a time when civil rights are at issue once more both in the United States and in France, when police violence is untenable in both, when here the voting rights that formed the very core that marchers died for (as was recounted in 2014’s Selma) have been undermined on the state level and by the Supreme Court, and after years of France similarly legislating lesser lives with lesser rights for minority groups including French-Africans.

What film do I want to see the most? I want to see the most technically accomplished, yes. I want to see something emotional, no doubt. But more than anything else, I want to see something that takes on the world unafraid, that can tell a story and make a point, that makes me face the worst of the world and still find beauty. What movies do just a hair better than any other storytelling medium is put you in somebody else’s shoes, give you access to seeing the world and thinking of it from another person’s perspective, so that you might come out a little differently than you went in. Of all the movies on this list, Girlhood is the one that makes me feel like it could be all of those things. January 30.

That’s the list! I’ll put up a recap in coming days, so you can see everything #40 through #1 lined up together.

In the meantime, if you missed #40-31, didn’t see #30-21, or want to know what #20-11 are, I just linked them all in this sentence. Behold, the magic of the internet.

Trailer of the Week — “Mad Max: Fury Road”

Mel Gibson you look so different

With apologies to the 50 Shades of Grey trailer that premiered this week (which for some reason also functions as the ad for a Beyonce remix), I’ve had the unfortunate privilege of reading the book on which it’s based. My girlfriend at the time insisted – she was studying advertising and was curious how it had become so popular – but all we could think as we read each overheated new chapter was, “They’re doing it wrong.”

There’s also the first trailer for The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. It’s an announcement trailer, visually stunning but spinning from scene to scene too quickly to communicate the series’ real strength – the emotional battles of its characters. It also highlights those trademark Peter Jackson action scenes that always turn out spectacular in the movie but never look quite right in a trailer. I’m sure the story trailer we’ll get in a month or two will connect better.

Leaving behind what may be the two whitest movies of all time, I’m going to go with the only movie with better bondage than 50 Shades of White and more epic visuals than Lord of the Rings 6: Hobbit 3: 5 Armies (which is beginning to sound like a cricket score): that would be Mad Max: Fury Road.

The colors, the costumes, knowing that most of those insane stunts are all live action…this film took 30 years to get off the ground, and every minute of that time looks like it made it onto the screen. I have not seen a film announced better all year.

It’s funny, but whenever we make period pieces, we dress our actors in drab colors – grays, blacks, browns – when the truth is we exist in one of the least colorful eras for fashion in human history. It’s the way we treat the post-apocalypse, too, and while it makes sense for a lone hunter to be decked in the camouflage of decay, regular townsfolk would be more likely to wear greens, reds, whites, yellows, purples – color would be one of the easiest and cheapest ways to pick your day up. Or, if you’re a road bandit: spikes, studs, and black-and-white make-up cause those are the colors of the skulls you crush. Point is, in the wasteland, a little artistic expression in your dress goes a long way toward making everyone’s day better.

In a cinematic age of explosions and CGI and drab wastelands, you’d better look different and feel different, and Mad Max: Fury Road finds a way to make the barren post-apocalypse a thing of rare beauty. If you’ve ever spent a night in the wilderness, not just camping but out away from every hint of light – even a porch lamp – you know that nature offers a color palette you couldn’t dream of. Post-apocalypse movies should be vibrant. George Miller seems to be emulating this – sure, it happens in a desert, but the browns are deeper, yellower, redder, the blues are thicker, the spikes spikier. It’s easy to forget his first three Mad Max movies – especially the otherwise problematic Beyond Thunderdome – were spectacular feats of color and cinematography. So this just leaped to the very top of my Movies of 2015 list.

Plus Tom Hardy looks to have picked up predecessor Mel Gibson’s weary tics, while bald Charlize Theron with a mechanical hand and day-old Braveheart make-up is a hero I can easily root for.

I just hope the DVD comes with an incomprehensible Australian dub like the original did.