A little while ago I got into a polite back-and-forth with a friend about the qualitative differences between J.C. Chandor‘s A Most Violent Year and Ava Duvernay‘s Selma, which I saw again last night. I found myself responding a bit more supportively to Selma — it went up slightly on my rate-o-meter — but even its best scenes don’t approach the quality of this art-of-the-sell clip. THere’s nothing in Selma that’s as well-written or interesting or mesmerizing, really, as this. This scene is on a whole ‘nother level, particularly due to Oscar Isaac‘s Buddhist Zen calm. The way those 20somethings stand still as statues and respond with the slightest of expressions except for the guy who smirks, and Isaac’s response to that. The vibes in this scene are world-class. This is Ricky Roma in Glengarry Glen Ross material. You can feel it.

My debating opponent feels that A Most Violent Year is too much of an esoteric thing — too thinky and lacking the heart element that Selma has in spades. She’s right, it does. But Chandor’s film, I said, is about a beautiful Sidney Lumet time-machine experience. Not in an intellectual think-piece conceit way but in a kind of dream-trip way. In its own way it’s as much of a dream trip as was Dorothy going to Oz.

A Most Violent Year is also about smarts vs. guts, brains vs. instincts, about selling and survival, about holding yourself in check. About a marital relationship between two willful, markedly different people, and about the difference between beating a dying deer to death with a tire iron vs. shooting it three or four times, quick and clean and much more humane. The deer thing, trust me, represents a very significant gulf.