The Academy Awards are just days away — which means it’s time to buckle down and really get to know this year’s Best Picture contenders. Today’s deep-dive: George Miller’s hyperkinetic return to the postapocalyptic wasteland he created with 1979’s Mad Max.
Name: Mad Max: Fury Road
Tweetable description: Road warriors battle a maniacal despot, in a two-hour car chase across the wasteland to end all wastelands.
Movie math: (The Road Warrior x Dr. T and the Women) + (Thelma & Louise + Bonnie & Clyde)
Release date: May 15, 2015
DVD release date: September 1, 2015
Run time: 2 hrs.
Box office: $153.6 million (opening weekend: $45.4 million)
Budget: $150 million
What Chris Nashawaty said: “What made the first Mad Max such a future-shock classic wasn’t just its jittery, overcranked action served up with a sick smile, but also its metaphorical depth. The new film is, I’m sorry to say, just another summer action film (albeit a gorgeously shot one).” B
Best line: “Return my treasures to me, and I myself will carry you through the gates of Valhalla. You shall ride eternal. Shiny, and chrome.” –Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne)
Number of Oscar nods: 10. Tragically overlooked in the acting categories – surely Charlize Theron as Furiosa is one of the all-time great strong-silent performances in movie history – Fury Road cleaned up in the technical categories. Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Visual Effects, Makeup and Hairstyling, Production Design, Costume Design, and Cinematography: The radical production achievements of this fourth Mad Max film make it a serious contender in all those categories. And along with the Best Picture nod, husband and wife George Miller and Margaret Sixel both earned nominations, for Directing and Editing, respectively.
Mad Max: Fury Road‘s Oscar history: It’s Miller’s first nomination for Best Director, but the journeyman filmmaker’s been to the Oscars before: He received a Best Original Screenplay nod for Lorenzo’s Oil, a couple nominations for 1995’s Babe, and won Best Animated Feature for 2006’s Happy Feet. Cinematographer John Seale actually came out of retirement to work on Fury Road – he’s already earned four previous nominations, with one win for The English Patient. Costume designer Jenny Bevan is a 10-time nominee — mostly for period dramas like Howards End — and she won an Oscar for A Room With a View. Sound mixer Chris Jenkins won two Oscars already, for The Last of the Mohicans and Out of Africa; his sound colleague Gregg Rudloff has two Oscars of his own, for Glory and The Matrix. Sound editor Mark Mangina has now been nominated four times, adding to his honored work on Aladdin, Star Trek IV, and The Fifth Element.
What it’s won thus far: Fury Road was a critical favorite of 2015, occupying the top of several to-10 lists and collecting awards from various critics groups. It won eight Australian Academy Awards, including one for Best Film, and the BAFTAs handed it four awards in technical categories that could repeat at the Oscars. The National Board of Review named it the film of the year, and the Screen Actors Guild recognized the film’s stunt ensemble with a well-deserved prize for action performance.
Why it should win: Maybe cinema is action movies. Consider the primordial era of the film medium: the Lumieres’ Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat, Melies’ A Trip to the Moon, Edison’s Great Train Robbery, Buster Keaton’s The General. Not so much stories as portraits of motion, of automotive devices real and imagined, of places actual and fantastical. It is in that grand tradition that George Miller created his fourth postapocalyptic adventure. Fury Road is a film in motion, with eternal wanderer Max (Tom Hardy) joining forces with renegade Furiosa (Charlize Theron) for an escape attempt that becomes a war on wheels.
As a feat of sheer technical production, Fury Road represents the work of craftsman uniformly at the top of their game. But the film is also alive with possibility. Audiences have responded to its essential, pointed feminist message. And after a decade spent finding creative new ways to make digital penguins dance, Miller’s triumph in Fury Road is making every character – every war boy! – feel devastatingly, horrifyingly, wonderfully human.
Why it won’t win: There is a character named the Doof Warrior who spends the movie playing a flamethrower guitar. But more seriously, Mad Max has a chance to win — though not as big a chance if The Martian wasn’t also in the hunt. In the parlance of presidential primary politics, both films are competing for the same lane with voters: well-crafted popcorn movies from revered and established filmmakers. It’s possible that Mad Max and Ridley Scott’s space odyssey will split the vote that might’ve made either film a major contender if the other wasn’t in the mix. That said, even if it loses Best Picture, it’s entirely possible that Mad Max takes home the most Oscars — and no one would be shocked if one of them is for George Miller’s direction.
Vegas Odds: 100/1, according to Paddy Power betting website, — tied, appropriately, with The Martian.