1. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Not only is George Miller's multi-Oscar-winning masterwork the best action movie in contention, but I consider it the best movie of any type made this century. Fury Road is an absolute juggernaut of pulse-pounding vehicle action.
The characters come first. Their intense emotions, the detailed world they live in, and the timeless subtext make Fury Road so beloved. In particular it's Furiosa (Charlize Theron), who simultaneously works as a badass, robot-armed action hero, a powerful icon of feminist defiance, and an achingly human portrait of struggle. Without a doubt my favorite new movie character of the century.
Through a lightning-in-a-bottle mix of ambition, genius, and decade-long production delays, Miller and company created an armada of post-apocalyptic vehicles that are both works of visual art and innovative tools for the execution of envelope-pushing stunt work. Thousands of seamless visual effects lace them together, over 150 stunt performers -- including Cirque du Soleil acrobats who swung from bending poles attached to moving vehicles! -- contributed to the unprecedented festival of crashes, jumps, explosions, and vehicular combat. There is nothing else like this nightmarish caravan of painted-up muscle dudes straddling monster trucks, catching air, swinging around with chainsaws, hanging from bungees, spewing flames from electric guitars. It's a testament to cinematographer John Seale's kinetic camerawork that a movie can contain this much mayhem without ever turning into white noise.
Come back to me in another 17 years, I'll be surprised if this isn't still at the top of the list.
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