100 Favourites II — The Next 30

Last week, my ranking of 100 favourite movies I’ve seen in the last decade began with 40 films that ranged from screwball comedies to spectacle-fuelled blockbusters, from gritty crime thrillers to artistic animations, from gory horrors to melodramatic epics…

This week, my typically eclectic selection continues with the next 30 picks.

#60
The Nice Guys

8th from 2016 (previously 11th)
Convoluted criminality is rendered hilarious in Shane Black’s spiritual sequel to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. More…
#59
Arrival

7th from 2016 (previously 6th)
An intelligent, adult drama about humanity, which also happens to be a science-fiction mystery. More…
#58
His Girl Friday

6th from 2010 (previously 7th)
Sharp, fast, intelligent, hilariously funny — they don’t make films like this anymore. More…
#57
The Story of Film: An Odyssey

8th from 2015 (previously 21st)
Mark Cousins’ history of the movies wasn’t to all tastes, but I found all 15 hours to be fascinating and enlightening. More…
#56
The Night of the Hunter

7th from 2013 (previously 7th)
Charles Laughton’s only film as director is a masterpiece of dread, fear, cruelty, and near-peerless beauty. More…
#55
M

5th from 2010 (previously unranked)
Fritz Lang’s proto-noir serial killer procedural still has the power to thrill and chill. More…
#54
Inglourious Basterds

3rd from 2009 (previously 1st)
Killin’ Natzis, Tarantino style. History re-rendered in terms of pure cinema. More…
#53
In Bruges

2nd from 2009 (previously 2nd)
“There’s never been a classic movie made in Bruges, until now.” More…
#52
Byzantium

7th from 2015 (previously 5th)
These vampires aren’t glamorous or sparkly, but damaged and discarded in a seedy seaside town of tarnished charms. More…
#51
How to Train Your Dragon

8th from 2011 (previously unranked)
Glorious animation, with soaring flight sequences and an emotive connection to its characters, both human and dragon. More…
#50
Dredd

6th from 2013 (previously 6th)
Sharp, efficient sci-fi action with impressive gun battles, dry humour, and Karl Urban nailing the title character. More…
#49
Steve Jobs

6th from 2016 (previously 3rd)
A gripping character drama with a surprising corporate thriller vibe, magnificently written by Aaron Sorkin. More…
#48
Lupin the Third: The Castle of Cagliostro

7th from 2011 (previously 4th)
Described by no less than Steven Spielberg as “one of the greatest adventure movies of all time”. More…
#47
The Shining

8th from 2014 (previously 3rd)
Eliciting dread and almost-primal fear, it’s the most excruciatingly and exquisitely unsettling film I’ve ever seen. More…
#46
X-Men: Days of Future Past

7th from 2014 (previously 9th)
Surprisingly deep characterisation rubs shoulders with witty and inventive action in this all-eras X-Men team-up. More…
#45
Predestination

5th from 2016 (previously 5th)
Thought-provoking science-fiction in this time travel mystery that tackles issues of gender and identity — how timely. More…
#44
The Revenant

4th from 2016 (previously 4th)
Starring Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography, this gruelling survival Western is primarily told with visuals and so becomes a work of pure cinema. More…
#43
Oldboy

6th from 2014 (previously 7th)
Mixing a straightforward revenge thriller with weird, almost surrealistic touches, Oldboy is kinda crazy, kinda disturbed, but kinda brilliant because of it. More…
#42
Hanna

5th from 2013 (previously 5th)
A teen coming-of-age movie… with hard-hitting action sequences, surreal imagery, long single takes, beautiful cinematography, and a pulsating Chemical Brothers soundtrack. More…
#41
Stardust

5th from 2008 (previously 4th)
A truly magical film, packed with wit, action, delicious villains, a star-studded cast, a stirring score, and genuinely special effects. More…
#40
North by Northwest

4th from 2013 (previously 4th)
Almost everything you could want from a movie: pure tension, action, humour; a mystery, a thriller; a dash of romance. Unadulterated entertainment. More…
#39
The Three Musketeers

6th from 2011 (previously unranked)
Sword fights galore in this riot of swashbuckling fun, with a lightness of touch that makes for pure entertainment. More…
#38
The Grand Budapest Hotel

6th from 2015 (previously 10th)
A film full of delights, from the hilarious performances, to the clever dialogue, to the inventive design, to the controlled camerawork. More…
#37
Mad Max 2

5th from 2015 (previously 2nd)
Post-apocalyptic Australian Western that climaxes with a balls-to-the-wall multi-vehicle chase, one of the greatest action sequences ever filmed. More…
#36
Sicario

3rd from 2016 (previously 1st)
A dark and morally questionable thriller, incredibly shot by Roger Deakins, artfully helmed by perhaps the best director currently working, Denis Villeneuve. More…
#35
Rise of the Planet of the Apes

3rd from 2012 (previously 7th)
An intelligent science-inspired drama that just happens to link up to a big studio sci-fi/action series. More…
#34
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

5th from 2014 (previously 4th)
The sequel to the prequel to the Planet of the Apes presents a fully-realised ape society and a story of interspecies relations that reflects our own times. More…
#33
Django Unchained

3rd from 2013 (previously 2nd)
Tarantino’s Spaghetti Western homage is an entertaining, occasionally thought-provoking, rewarding, and thoroughly cinematic experience. More…
#32
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
2nd from 2013 (previously 3rd)
One of the most underrated films of the ’00s, Andrew Dominik’s historically accurate movie is a considered, immersive, complex, intimate, epic Western. More…
#31
Mad Max: Fury Road

4th from 2015 (previously 6th)
Action filmmaking elevated to a genuine art form, but alongside the mind-boggling stunts there’s a surprising richness of theme and character. More…

Next Sunday: the penultimate 20.

100 Films @ 10: Great Scenes

Howard Hawks famously said that a good movie was simply “three good scenes and no bad ones”. For today’s list, I’m focusing on examples of the former.

There’s no set average for the number of scenes in a feature film, but a good rule of thumb is that a typical movie scene lasts two or three minutes — which means I’ve probably seen in excess of 48,000 scenes as part of this blog. That’s rather a lot to recall, so I’m not presuming to say these ten are the very greatest from that lot. What they are is ten that stuck in my memory particularly, for one reason or another. Even if they’re not the greatest, they are great.

10
The Swimming Pool

from Let the Right One In

The bullies that have plagued young Oskar throughout the film corner him in a public swimming pool and, brandishing a knife, inform him that if he can’t hold his breath for three minutes he’ll lose an eye. They push Oskar under the water. The seconds tick by. Then, we reach the real reason this scene is here: as the shot holds on Oskar underwater, we hear the muffled sounds of breaking glass, then screams. Feet run backwards across the water. Heads and limbs drop into the pool. The water begins to turn red. This could’ve been a brutal action climax like any other, but by staging it in a brightly-lit swimming pool, by not showing us the meat of the action, and by achieving it all in one shot, director Tomas Alfredson creates a sequence of supernatural force that is eerily grounded.

9
The Opening Shot

from Touch of Evil

Long takes are all the rage nowadays, made even easier by advances in digital cinematography and editing, but this hails from a time when they were a bit more special. It remains one of the most famous because of its content: we see a bomb planted on a car, then follow it as its unsuspecting owners drive through the streets. When will it go off? And, beyond that, Welles’ preferred soundtrack — overlapping snippets from multiple sources as the camera moves through the town — helps establish the melting-pot world of the film about to follow.

8
The Train Robbery

from The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Another opening scene where the photography is the star. This time, it’s the work of the great Roger Deakins, as a gang of crooks await a train in a forest at night, lit only by the orange glow of lanterns. Then the train itself arrives, its stark headlight throwing sharp relief on the shadowy trees. Deakins himself has said it’s his best work, and who are we to disagree? The effectiveness is only heightened by the slow, deliberate, tension-mounting pace maintained by director Andrew Dominik.

7
The Superfreak Dance

from Little Miss Sunshine

After all the trials and tribulations of the movie, the Hoover family finally make it to the Little Miss Sunshine pageant and little seven-year-old Olive gets up on stage… where she dances a striptease-style routine to Superfreak. It neatly satirises and pillories the ludicrous sexualisation of these beauty pageants. Then the sequence only gains in stature when the officials try to pull Olive off stage early, which ends up with the whole family throwing dignity to the wind and dancing with her — the previously disjointed family finally united.

6
The Tanker Chase

from Mad Max 2

I already discussed this at length in my review, so to quote myself, it’s “an almighty action sequence […] a speeding battle through the outback. It feels wrong to just call it ‘an action sequence’, like that’s selling it short. You get the sense that this is why the movie exists; that co-writer/director George Miller’s goal with the entire rest of the film has been to get us to this point. It’s not just ‘the climax’, it’s ‘the third act’, and it’s stunning — the choreography of it, the editing, the stunts, as dozens of vehicles chase each other, people run around on top of them, jump between them… I don’t think it’s hyperbolic to say it must be one of the greatest action sequences ever committed to film.” It’s so good, they later remade it as an entire movie. And if you want to see something equally awesome, here’s the Mad Max 2 scene re-scored with music from Fury Road.

5
The Henley Royal Regatta Boat Race

from The Social Network

You could cut this 100-second sequence out of The Social Network and it would have no impact on the film’s plot, but it would also rob us of one of the most striking sequences in the CV of director David Fincher — and considering his continued visual mastery, that’s saying something. The tilt-shift-style photography came out of necessity, as the sequence was shot just months before the film’s release and they had to shoot the close-ups somewhere else entirely, but it gives the whole thing a unique visual style that, particularly when combined with a version of In the Hall of the Mountain King from composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, is something very special.

4
The Poem

from Skyfall

Whoever thought we’d one day find moviemaking artistry in the James Bond series? Skyfall isn’t even the first time that happened (see: the opera escape from Quantum of Solace), but the reason this sequence is even better is the way it sums up the film’s themes. As I described it in my review: “Bond races to an inquiry where M is giving evidence, in pursuit of Silva who is intending to finalise his revenge, with the soundtrack sharing only Judi Dench’s voice delivering a reading from Tennyson: ‘though we are not now that strength which in old days moved earth and heaven,’ she says, cementing [the] themes of what the role of the secret service (and, indeed, Britain) is in the modern world; and continues, ‘heroic hearts, made weak by time and fate, but strong in will to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield,’ as a weakened, past-it Bond races to her rescue. It’s so perfect it could have been written for the film especially.”

3
The Truck Flip

from The Dark Knight

Pure spectacle seems hard to come across in movies post-CGI, where anything that can be imagined can be created on screen by even relatively small-scale movies. But when you combine the first time a narrative feature film had been shot in IMAX with an incredible stunt performed for real, you’re reminded of the magic of cinema. It’s the most memorable part of a car chase sequence that is exceptionally well executed on the whole, too.

2
The Montage

from Requiem for a Dream

To quote my review: “I’m not sure you can quite be prepared for what comes [at the end]. Even if you were told what happens, or see some of the imagery, or feel like you can see worse stuff on the internet without even looking too hard (which, of course, you can)… that’s not the point. It’s the editing, the sound design, the sheer filmmaking, which renders the film’s final few minutes — a frenzied montage that crosscuts the climaxes of all four characters’ stories — as some of the most powerful in cinema. It’s horrendous. It’s brilliant.”

1
The Basement

from Zodiac

When I first thought of this idea for a top ten, this was the first thing that came to mind. In it, Jake Gyllenhaal’s obsessive investigator Robert Graysmith visits the home of a suspect’s friend. The pair are alone in the house, and they both go down into the basement to see something… when Robert hears someone upstairs. Describing this scene does it no justice — it’s one of the most hair-raisingly chilling in screen history.

Tomorrow: New York, London, Paris, Munich, everybody talk about… film music.

Mad Max: Fury Road – Black & Chrome Edition (2015/2016)

2017 #19a
George Miller | 120 mins | Blu-ray | 2.40:1 | Australia & USA / English | 15 / R

Mad Max: Fury Road - Black & Chrome Edition

During post-production on Mad Max 2, aka The Road Warrior, director George Miller had a chance to watch composer Brian May (not that one) at work. As was standard practice, May was working with a ‘slash dupe’ copy of the film — a cheaply-produced duplicate print, which has the defining characteristic of being in black and white. Miller was instantly smitten, believing this was the best-looking version of his film. 30-something years later, during post-production on the fourth Max movie, Fury Road, Miller had the film’s colourist convert some scenes into black and white, and he once again discovered his preferred version. Only this time he mentioned it publicly and promised it would be released, which is more or less how, about 18 months after the film’s theatrical release, we ended up getting the so-called Black & Chrome Edition on Blu-ray. It finally makes its way to UK shores today… though only in a Zavvi-exclusive Steelbook edition, which has both already sold out and was dispatched to purchasers (like me!) last week. So, uh, so much for that.

Let’s start by getting some people’s obvious complaint out of the way: “Why do you need to buy it again? Why not just turn down the colour on your TV?” Well, you could, and you’d get an approximation of the effect; but if you have an appreciation for the fine details of film photography and colouring, that doesn’t cut it. The Black & Chrome version isn’t just the existing colour turned off — other things have been tweaked to heighten the experience, most obviously the contrast. Here’s a video that handily compares a selection of shots from the colour version, the Black & Chrome version, and the colour version simply desaturated:

If you’re thinking “but the two black & white ones look the same!” then maybe this isn’t for you. And that’s OK — it’s an alternate version, after all.

In his introduction (the only new special feature on the Blu-ray), Miller admits that at times you lose some information by not having the colour; however, at other times it looks even better, and he reiterates that he thinks this is the best version of the movie overall. Somewhat famously, the theatrical version of Fury Road has hyper-saturated colours as a reaction against the usual post-apocalypse movie look of heavy desaturation. It’s somewhat ironic, then, that Miller’s preferred version is the opposite extreme — but can you imagine any studio exec agreeing to release a $150 million black & white movie?

Also in that introduction, Miller expands on the appeal of the desaturated version: “Something about black and white, the way it distills it, makes it a little bit more abstract, something about losing some of the information of colour, makes it somehow more iconic.” He’s got a point. The starkness of the imagery really heightens the effectiveness of some shots and sequences. Indeed, taking a look at some parts of the colour version afterwards, it all felt so ‘busy’ thanks to the additional visual information. You may remember that, a few years ago, Steven Soderbergh shared a black and white version of Raiders of the Lost Ark, the point being to highlight the shot composition and editing, easier to focus on with the distraction of colour removed. And he’s right. Not in the sense that this feels like watching an assignment for film school, but in the sense that the point of the framing and focus is emphasised further without colour.

Black and Doof

And it does look beautiful. Cinematographer John Seale is clearly a master of lighting, something that’s only more apparent without colour. Indeed, Soderbergh said the same thing of Douglas Slocombe’s work on Raiders: “his stark, high-contrast lighting style was eye-popping regardless of medium.” Most of the movie looks like it’s been etched from silver — or, of course, chrome. The greys and whites are metallic, the blacks deep points of contrast. It looks gorgeous. It’s let down slightly by the nighttime scenes, however. They weren’t so hot in the colour version either, having been clearly shot in daytime and aggressively graded blue. Presumably that finished version was used for this, because rather than the stark imagery of the rest of the film, the nighttime stuff is kind of murky, the blacks kind of blue-ish, and it’s far less pleasing. (If you want to see for yourself, compare this screenshot to the others here.) Fortunately, that doesn’t make up much of the film.

Separate to the colour issue, Miller has expressed the influence of silent movies over Fury Road, including cutting the film without its soundtrack to make sure that it worked on a purely visual level. When he first promised the black and white edition would be released, he also said there’d be an isolated score option, to give the viewer the option of seeing the most stripped-back version possible. Sadly, that hasn’t happened. (He also promised a commentary and additional special features, which aren’t there either.) At times I tried to imagine how it would work in relative silence, and aside from a couple of places where you might want an intertitle or two, and the pre-climax scene where Max explains the new plan to Furiosa, it’d get by fine. So thoroughly committed is Fury Road to visual storytelling that even many of the dialogue scenes don’t actually need their dialogue — think about the early bit where Hux and Slit argue about who’s going to drive, for example. Sure, the dialogue makes explicit that Hux is normally the driver and Slit is taking his steering wheel because Hux is semi-incapacitated, but their body language conveys the gist of their disagreement clearly. It’s a shame Warners didn’t go the whole hog and let us have the option to experience the film with just the score, or score and effects, because I think it would’ve been equally interesting.

Furiouser and Furiosa

Obviously Fury Road: Black & Chrome is always going to be a curiosity for the dedicated fan rather than the primary way of viewing the film. Next time I watch it I imagine I’ll go back to the full colour version… but that’s mainly because I’ve only seen that version once anyway, so I want to re-experience the full impact of its wild colourfulness. However, for appreciating the quality of the photography, and for emphasising the legendary iconicity of Max and Furiosa’s story, I think Black & Chrome may well be the way to go.

5 out of 5

Mad Max: Fury Road – Black & Chrome Edition is theoretically released on UK Blu-ray today. It’s also available to own digitally from Amazon, iTunes (as an extra on the regular edition), and presumably other retailers (if they still exist) too.

Steven Soderbergh’s variation of Raiders of the Lost Ark will probably be reviewed at a later date, because I really want to watch that now.

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

2015 #142
George Miller | 120 mins | Blu-ray | 2.40:1 | Australia & USA / English | 15 / R

After a decades-long diversion into children’s movies like Babe: Pig in the City and Happy Feet, director George Miller here returns to the post-apocalyptic action series that made his name, and in the process managed to create a blockbuster that was not only critically acclaimed and well-received by audiences, but looks set to be a major award season contender too.

The story sees future drifter and sometime-hero Max (now played by Tom Hardy) arrive in a town ruled by Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), who keeps the populace in check by controlling the flow of water. He’s also created a heavily caste society, including suicidal warriors like Nux (Nicholas Hoult) and his Five Wives (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, Zoë Kravitz, Abbey Lee Kershaw, Courtney Eaton), who he keeps locked away for breeding purposes. During a routine run for oil, Joe’s best driver, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), veers off course, and it’s soon discovered it’s a bid for freedom with the wives. Joe and his amassed forces give chase. For the rest of the film.

You can certainly watch Fury Road as just a two-hour chase and (presuming you like action antics) get something out of it. The volume of action, the style with which it’s executed, and the impressive audacity of the stuntwork, all mean the film functions on a purely visceral level. That said, the action sequences are almost more incredible for how they were achieved than for how they’re presented in the finished film. The end product is perhaps a little too frenetic, the CG boosts a little too heavy-handed — all the talk of “doing it all for real” may be more or less true, but it feels like an awful lot of that ‘reality’ has been augmented with wire/rig removal and the compositing of multiple practically-performed stunts into single shots. The end result is unquestionably better than empty pure-CGI mayhem, but the awe-inspiring impressiveness of the stunt performers’ work is better conveyed in the special features than the film itself.

I say that, but the finished film is visually stunning on two levels: cinematography and editing. It was shot by John Seale, and Miller had him amp up the saturation. The point was to do the opposite of most post-apocalyptic blockbusters, which are normally desaturated to heck, and it indeed creates something strikingly different. Conversely, Miller has intimated the ideal version of the movie is in black and white with no dialogue, just the score — completely visually-focused storytelling. I have a feeling he’s right, or that it would at least work well. Some nuance would be lost, but all the major plot points and character arcs would be followable.

This is in part thanks to Margaret Sixel’s editing. Chosen precisely because she’d never edited action before, Sixel brings classical touches to the work — like eye trace and crosshair framing — that keep the film exceptionally followable even in the midst of some fast cutting. The one poor choice, in my opinion, is the occasional use of a ‘step’-y effect, which just makes it look like you’re streaming on a not-quite-fast-enough connection or watching a badly-encoded pirate downloaded. I thought it might’ve been a badly produced Blu-ray at first, but apparently it was like this in cinemas too.

For those after more than just action and visuals, the film does have something to offer — despite what you might’ve heard. I think some more dismissive viewers miss it because, a) you don’t expect it, and b) it’s achieved so economically. The characters, relationships, and situations are quickly sketched in, be it through well-placed snatches of dialogue or with purely visual storytelling, but all are deftly executed. That it doesn’t expound on these at length, or linger on their detail, means you have to pay attention to get the most out of that side of the film. I guess some would counter that with, “you have to look hard because you’re reading something that isn’t there,” but I refute that. That it doesn’t spell everything out at length, or hammer home its points and themes heavy-handedly, is a good thing.

Relatedly, the Mad Max series has always been concerned with legend and mythology, both its own and the classical ideas of such. The latter informs the general style and shape of the narratives: these are legends of heroism, perhaps passed down orally from one teller to the next, emphasising the scale of the derring-do. This endures even though Max is, in some respects, the supporting lead in his own film (it even uses the old Towering Inferno left-low/right-high billing at the start for Hardy and Theron). As for the series’ own mythology, that’s well continued here, with significant additions to Max’s storied array of characters and situations: Immortan Joe, Imperator Furiosa, the Five Wives, the War Boys…

With all that considered, that Fury Road is only the second best film in the Mad Max series is merely testament to the enduring excellence of the first sequel. However, there’s possibly an element of expectation in this opinion: I expected basically nothing of Mad Max 2, particularly after I had mixed feelings about the first film (even though the sequel’s fame and acclaim is greater). Fury Road, on the other hand, has been relentlessly hyped by critics and viewers alike ever since it came out — a very different starting perspective. How much effect did this have? Impossible to say. A true comparison would necessitate watching them back-to-back in a few months, or even years, divorced of that initial build-up. Even then I’d be carrying in my memories of my initial viewings. Point being: it’s impossible to be entirely objective; to divorce a film (or films) from some kind of personal context. (Ooh, that turned a bit philosophical, didn’t it?)

Whatever. There can be no doubt that Fury Road is an exceptional achievement in visuals-driven action-adventure moviemaking, which merits its inclusion in discussions of 2015’s finest works of cinema.

5 out of 5

For my review of the “Black & Chrome” version of Fury Road, look here.

Mad Max: Fury Road placed 6th on my list of The Ten Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2015, which can be read in full here.

This review is part of the 100 Films Advent Calendar 2015. Read more here.

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985)

2015 #125
George Miller & George Ogilvie | 107 mins | download (HD) | 2.35:1 | Australia / English | 15 / PG-13

The third (and, for 30 years, final) Mad Max movie sees the titular post-apocalyptic drifter (Mel Gibson) rock up at last-outpost-of-humanity Bartertown in search of his pilfered car and camels. Max finds himself dragged before the town’s ruler, Aunty (Tina Turner), who has a job for him: kill the mutinous overseer of the city’s power supply, Master Blaster. As payment, she’ll arrange for the return of his belongings. The only conditions are he can’t reveal Aunty has employed him, and he has to do it in a fair fight in the town’s arena of combative justice — the Thunderdome. And then the story goes beyond that, funnily enough.

Writer/director/creator George Miller hadn’t intended to make a third Mad Max film, but when he conceived a story about a man stumbling across a gang of kids in a post-apocalyptic world, someone suggested that man should be Max, and Beyond Thunderdome was born. That might explain why the end result feels a bit like two different movies stuck together: the very Mad Max-y first part in Bartertown awkwardly transitions into the society-of-kids segment, before the two clash for a Mad Max 2-emulating chase-through-the-desert climax. It might not make for the smoothest throughline — the movie almost stops and starts again — but at least it exposes us to a different facet of the series’ post-apocalyptic Australia.

Not everyone agrees; indeed, I hadn’t realised quite how poorly regarded Beyond Thunderdome was by many fans (though not critics, who generally liked it). Reading up, there are some genuine criticisms — like that stop-start plot, or the kids’ cod-babyspeak dialogue — but an awful lot of it boils down to childish “it’s a PG-13 and I wanted R-rated violence” reactions. Which is kinda ironic. I have to say, I didn’t even notice the change in level until I read those comments afterwards. The film still reaches a 15 certificate in the UK, so clearly it isn’t toned down that much. And the lack of visible blood doesn’t mean it lacks creativity: Roger Ebert described the Thunderdome duel as “the first really original movie idea about how to stage a fight since we got the first karate movies”, and he may well be right.

The changes do stretch beyond the level of violence, with a slightly slicker feel to the filmmaking. This is also viewed negatively, many attributing it to a reported influx of US funding that also led to the PG-13 and the casting of Tina Turner. Personally, I saw it more as part of Miller’s development as a filmmaker: Mad Max 2 is appreciably ‘slicker’ than Mad Max, after all. Some call Beyond Thunderdome “Indiana-Jones-ified”, though. I can see the similarities, but I didn’t find it so different from the previous Max film that it really bothered me.

And from a very personal, very 2015 point of view, Mad Max 2 has already earmarked itself a place on my year-end top ten, and if Fury Road lives up to the hype then it will surely prebook a slot too, so it’s probably for the best that Beyond Thunderdome isn’t quite up to that standard or my top ten would look a little bit weighted.

Nonetheless, I very much enjoyed Beyond Thunderdome. The Bartertown stuff works incredibly well, and a community of children who survived the apocalypse without an adult influence is also an interesting concept. It feels a bit like two Mad Max short stories that have been forced to coexist because neither was enough to sustain an entire feature, but at least neither part feels unduly padded, meaning the narrative keeps on rolling. It doesn’t hit the same heights as the exceptional Mad Max 2 — especially with a climax that invites a direct comparison, and is good but not as good — but, as a post-apocalyptic action-adventure movie in its own right, it’s a good film.

4 out of 5

The fourth Mad Max movie, Fury Road, is released in the UK on digital platforms today, and on DVD and Blu-ray on October 5th.

Mad Max 2 (1981)

aka The Road Warrior

2015 #42
George Miller | 91 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | Australia / English | 18 / R

Mad Max 2Roaming the outback of a gasoline-desperate post-apocalyptic Australia, “Mad” Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) comes across a commune-like oil refinery, whose inhabitants are under siege by a brutally violent gang. Max strikes a bargain: he’ll help them escape with their oil, in exchange for a tank full for himself.

I’m not going to be the first to point out that, in terms of its plot, Mad Max 2 is essentially a Western: a drifter comes across a small community under siege and agrees to defend them purely out of self interest. Of course, the whole “post-apocalyptic wasteland battle for car fuel” isn’t such a traditional genre element. But let’s not get into a debate about whether a film has to be set in the Old West to be considered a Western (though my verdict is it does — flip it around: no one calls The Magnificent Seven a samurai movie because it took its plot from Seven Samurai, do they?) Anyway, the advantage of transplanting the storyline to a new time and place is it makes it feel moderately fresh. There’s an unpredictability to who people will side with and when, which, to be honest, is considerably less unpredictable when you spot the genre parallels.

With such a staple story, the film’s real delights are to be found elsewhere. The design work is first rate, whether that’s the scary bondage-themed gang or the array of vehicles that populate both sides of the conflict. The location allows for some grand scenery — I suppose the oil refinery set is quite modest, really, but place it in the middle of nowhere with cars swarming around it like insects and it looks epic. Without meaning to spoil anything, its ultimate fate is definitely momentous.

Mad to the boneThe most memorable part, however, is the climax. They escape the oil refinery, Max driving the tanker — fitted out with weaponry and defences — and the gang give chase. An almighty action sequence follows, a speeding battle through the outback. It feels wrong to just call it “an action sequence”, like that’s selling it short. You get the sense that this is why the movie exists; that co-writer/director George Miller’s goal with the entire rest of the film has been to get us to this point. It’s not just “the climax”, it’s “the third act”, and it’s stunning — the choreography of it, the editing, the stunts, as dozens of vehicles chase each other, people run around on top of them, jump between them… I don’t think it’s hyperbolic to say it must be one of the greatest action sequences ever committed to film. One of the reasons Fury Road looks so good is the trailers seem to suggest it’s this sequence turned into an entire movie, and I’d have no problem with that (maybe that’s just the trailer highlighting the action; either way, even critics love the result).

Mad Max 2 cherry-picks some of the best aspects of Westerns and post-apocalyptic movies, combines them with tightly-constructed, heart-pumping action scenes, and produces a sci-fi-action-Western of the highest, most entertaining calibre. After the first Mad Max, I sort of wondered why the franchise was so beloved. The sequel is the answer.

5 out of 5

Mad Max: Fury Road is in UK cinemas from tomorrow.

Mad Max 2 placed 2nd on my list of The Ten Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2015, which can be read in full here.