‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ Tops The National Board Of Review’s Best Films List (And Unites Everyone From The IMDb To John Waters)

Along with constant barrage of awards coverage, the end of the year brings a ceaseless rollout of top 10 lists, because every-damn-one and his brother simply has to weigh in on the best that 2015 had to offer. If there’s a slight curmudgeonly edge to these words, it’s only because the glut of these best-of lists repeatedly recognize the same handful of films to the point when another appearance of Spotlight, excellent film that it is, can induce nausea on sight. (And for that matter, why lists? Why hasn’t neuroscience been able to adequately explain why people love lists and rankings so dang much?)

But the first of December brings us three top-10 lists that bust through that uniformity and perfectly illustrate the full breadth of the cinematic landscape. Though such distinctions become murkier with every passing year, we think of taste on a spectrum of varying brow height, with the loftiest of art film — most likely foreign — at one highbrow pole and sub-zero direct-to-DVD trash on the lowbrow opposite. Today, the esteemed critical bodies of French magazine Cahiers du Cinema, the Internet Movie Database, and America’s beloved creepy uncle John Waters all released their rulings on the year’s movies. These three disparate authorities make for a canny depiction of the dignified capital-A Art, the populist middle, and the underground vulgarities. What’s even better: They all have one film in common.

Ground zero of the French New Wave, Cahiers has been the world’s foremost printed authority on art cinema since its inception in 1951 by legendary critic Andre Bazin. This year’s list kept their brand strong, recognizing little-known achievements from across the globe and a few domestic pictures as well. Among the most familiar on the list is Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice (technically a 2014 release, but Cahiers goes by French release dates, so it is what it is), the hippie noir mystery that launched Katherine Waterston’s career and gave film lovers a new stoner classic. The number-one spot belongs to an Italian picture by the name of Mia Madre, a semi-autobiographical account of a filmmaker working through personal crises while attempting to complete his latest project. John Turturro, frequent collaborator of the Coen brothers and inveterate bowling ball-licker, appears in a supporting role as one of the film-within-the-film’s cast members. Another familiar face: Viggo Mortensen, Lord of the Rings alum and star of the inscrutable Argentine head trip Jauja. Mortensen undertook a journey far stranger than that from the Shire to Mount Doom, getting lost in a metaphysical half-world where the elements of nature work in unsettling alien ways.

John Waters, the amicably depraved mind behind HairsprayCry-Baby, and a host of fine films which have not yet been strip-mined for stage musical potential, was not nearly as buttoned-up in his selections. His top spot went to Helmut Berger, Actor, a family-friendly little romp that includes a sequence of fully unsimulated masturbation and onscreen ejaculation. This was but one of two (2!) selections from Waters that include unobscured and extremely real sexual activity, the other being French hair-puller Gaspar Noe’s 3D porno opus Love. His number two spot was decidedly less seminal, though no less baffling: Waters was apparently a big fan of Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella, which drew almost unilaterally negative reviews despite coming up big at the box-office. What the critics turn their nose down on, Waters picks up and cradles in his arm like a wounded bird. “I will love you,” he whispers to these critically maligned films. “I will tend to you until you are whole again.”

The IMDb rankings are, by their very nature, less personal than Waters’. Instead of coming from a single brain’s preferences and tastes, a computer program tabulated thousands upon thousands of user-generated ratings and compiled the data into an objective reflection of the masses’ will. It’s crowd-pleasers across the board, many of them more than able to stand on their own merits as well. Dazzlingly high-concept yet beautiful in its emotional simplicity, Pixar’s first home run of 2015 Inside Out landed the top spot. The list is heavy on action and crime pictures — IMDb’s user base, a sample population which has kept The Godfather films and Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy high on the all-time 250 list, is predominantly male — with SicarioKingsman: The Secret ServiceEx MachinaAnt-Man, and Avengers: Age of Ultron all earning inclusion on the list. From the indie sphere, the smart-alecky teen coming-of-age film Me and Earl and the Dying Girl landed on the number-six position.

But all three of these highly different lists were united by one selection that bridged the gaps between these remote spheres of opinion. And of course it was Mad Max: Fury Road. George Miller’s ballet of automotive destruction has the white-knuckle action for the IMDb crowd, bizarro world-building and characters named Coma the Doof Warrior for the world’s John Waterses, and Western allusions along with ruthlessly lovely shot composition for the Cahiers set. Music has the popular rep of functioning as the great connector, crossing language barriers through the communal joys of melody and rhythm, but who’s to say the same feeling of togetherness can’t come from watching a dude strapped into a harness atop a giant pole and hurled to and fro as if he was on a giant metronome?

EDIT: Speaking of Fury Road! The National Board of Review unveiled their slate of awards this afternoon, as well, with the post-apocalyptic masterpiece deemed the Best Film. A ragtag group made up of critics, professors, historians, and students, the National Board of Review gave some major love to a flagging awards competitor, the sci-fi survival chronicle The Martian. Star Matt Damon and director Ridley Scott both received individual recognition for their work on the picture, while Quentin Tarantino’s to-be-seen The Hateful Eight also picked up a pair of awards for its screenplay and Jennifer Jason Leigh’s supporting performance. Along with the awards slate, the National Board released their list of the year’s best films, which looks an awful lot like IMDb’s. You can see them all below:

Cahiers du Cinema

1. Mia Madre
2. Cemetery of Splendor
3. In the Shadow of Women
4. The Smell of Us
5. Mad Max: Fury Road
6. Jauja
7. Inherent Vice
8. Arabian Nights
9. The Summer If Sangaile
10. Journey to the Shore

John Waters

1. Helmut Berger, Actor
2. Cinderella
3. The Forbidden Room
4. Tom at the Farm
5. Mad Max: Fury Road
6. Carol
7. The Diary of a Teenage Girl
8. Tangerine
9. Fly Colt Fly: Legend of the Barefoot Bandit
10. Love

Internet Movie Database

1. Inside Out
2. Mad Max: Fury Road
3. The Martian
4. Straight Outta Compton
5. Sicario
6. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
7. Kingsman: The Secret Service
8. Ex Machina
9. Ant-Man
10. Avengers: Age of Ultron

National Board Of Review

Awards Program

Best Film:  Mad Max: Fury Road
Best Director:  Ridley Scott – The Martian
Best Actor:  Matt Damon – The Martian
Best Actress: Brie Larson – Room
Best Supporting Actor:  Sylvester Stallone – Creed
Best Supporting Actress:  Jennifer Jason Leigh – The Hateful Eight
Best Original Screenplay:  Quentin Tarantino – The Hateful Eight
Best Adapted Screenplay:  Drew Goddard – The Martian
Best Animated Feature:  Inside Out
Breakthrough Performance:  Abraham Attah – Beasts of No Nation & Jacob Tremblay – Room
Best Directorial Debut:  Jonas Carpignano – Mediterranea
Best Foreign Language Film:  Son of Saul
Best Documentary:  Amy
William K. Everson Film History Award:  Cecilia De Mille Presley
Best Ensemble:  The Big Short
Spotlight Award:  Sicario, for Outstanding Collaborative Vision
NBR Freedom of Expression Award:  Beasts of No Nation & Mustang

Best Films

Bridge of Spies
The Hateful Eight
Inside Out
The Martian
Straight Outta Compton

Top 5 Foreign Films

Goodnight Mommy
The Second Mother
The Tribe

Top 5 Documentary Films

Best of Enemies
The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution
The Diplomat
Listen to Me Marlon
The Look of Silence

Top 10 Independent Films

45 Years
Cop Car
Ex Machina
It Follows
James White
Mississippi Grind
Welcome to Me
While We’re Young