Across five acclaimed features, director James Gray has never left the suffocating comfort of New York City. Yet here the filmmaker is, braving the terrors of the Amazon (well, Colombia), to tell the tale of real-life 1900s explorer Percy Fawcett in The Lost City of Z. The change in scenery for Gray may be jarring on paper, but the never-ending jungle proves perfectly suited to the filmmaker's lush, operatic aesthetic, as does the film's central theme of escaping one's background, through whatever means necessary.
As Gray follows Fawcett up and down the river across decades – interspersed with his stifling existence back home in Britain – he delivers a visually stunning, poetic treatise on the folly of adventure and the toxicity of colonialism. Slipping in references to everyone from Kubrick to Fellini, Gray creates a truly intoxicating experience, overwhelming in the best possible way. It is this close to being an all-time classic, if only Charlie Hunnam's central performance as Fawcett didn't slip out of Gray's period trappings every now and then (you can't help but wonder what Gray's long-time collaborator, Joaquin Phoenix, would have done with the role).