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Maximum Mad Max Fury Road Wildest movie nominated for Best Picture

Mad Max: Fury Road was the weirdest, wildest movie nominated for Best Picture in the past several years, as well as possibly the most-deserving. I wrote a piece a month ago highlighting some of my favorite films from the past year — some categories I agreed with the direction the Academy nominations pointed, and others I didn’t really know what was going on.

I do not want to underscore the achievements of any of the winners or losers in the category, and I can’t say that any of the winners in the past few years didn’t “deserve” the win… except (probably) Argo. Many or most of these movies absolutely deserve to be recognized among the best of the year — but it has never made sense to me, especially in a category as wide as ten nominees, that nearly all of them end up being the same types of films over and over. They are dramas, many of them period pieces and “based on true events,” and they feature some of the most recognizable actors and actresses in the business, working for the most recognizable producers and directors in the business.

I like many of these films and I think that some of them are truly the Greatest Films Ever Made* — but they can’t all be great, and there’s no way that seven or eight of them are better than the best action movies released last year, or the best sci fi movies last year, or the best horror movies last year. Some of these films end up completely unrepresented in any categories at all, and that brings me back to why it’s so important that Mad Max was nominated, and why I really wish it had pulled out a Best Picture win. The last blockbuster action movie that was nominated and won is (arguably) The Return of the King, which was over ten years ago. No horror film has ever won best picture, unless you count Silence of the Lambs, although greats such as The Exorcist and The Sixth Sense were at least nominated.

I’m not saying that we should use box office results to reflect a shift, either — no one is suggesting that we turn the Oscars into an awards show strictly for MARVEL Studios, Star Wars, other Disney properties, and the Fast & the Furious franchise. I’m not waiting for Hollywood to ‘admit’ that these movies are the great ones. But many of them are more than capable, so why pretend that they aren’t? It was a treat that Ex Machina won for visual effects because it was the anti-Star Wars: the visual effects in the movie are so subtle and strange that most people wouldn’t even understand what the visual effects were, or that they were in as many shots as they were.

Tom Hardy as Max Rockatanksky
What I am saying, however, is that isn’t a movie the sum of its parts? If Mad Max can somehow pull out six wins, more than any other film (and certainly more than the actual best picture winner) why was it never a serious contender for Best Picture? What’s the point of even nominating films that don’t have a chance of winning? Is the Academy obligated to recognize the films that best illustrate the history of film and the industry so far, or is it obligated to recognize forward-thinking and inventiveness, risk and reward?

My vote is for the latter. In my world, the The Empire Strikes Back would have been nominated and beaten Ordinary People in 1980, because that was a film that changed people’s expectations of film, science fiction, sequels, franchises, and scruffy looking nerf herders. Ditto in 1991 for Terminator 2 and in 1999 for The Matrix. These all happen to be demonstrating my science fiction bias, BUT, who can say that Ordinary People is a better film than Empire? Can you really argue that? Terminator 2 would have been up against Silence of the Lambs and The Matrix would have been in the running against American Beauty and those may have been closer races to call. But if we’re already comparing apples to oranges, shouldn’t they be the appliest apples and the orangiest oranges? Not just a bunch of different kinds of apples?

Not included among my goals is involving the “general public” in the discussion, although if the “general public” is out of the discussion, I think that’s probably an indicator of some serious elitism or pretense taking place. Are the Oscars about the entire progress of cinema in the last year or are they about the cares and careers of a few hundred people in an industry made up of literally hundreds of thousands of people?

Immortan Joe’s wives
And yet again that brings me back to the genius of Mad Max: I approached the film as a Max novice. I saw the first film ages ago on a decrepit VHS tape in a friend’s basement. I’ve never seen it as an adult, and I’ve never seen the follow ups. I have nothing against them and there’s no ongoing reason why I still haven’t seen them, but I haven’t. Do you know how that affected my watching of Fury Road? Not a bit. Did not hinder my experience in any way. Fury Road’s exposition is cleverly built into the first act of the film in a way that most people should be able to absorb without even noticing the storytelling. It’s also why many people complained that Mad Max had no story: just because a film is a dialog-less does not mean it has no plot. If anything, it’s much harder to make a film like Max where the story is told through image, action and editing, without the help of constant voiceover, inner monologue, or characters exchanging paragraphs of dialog to further the story.
Mad Max begins with one bit of voice over to establish the universe and to put you inside the head of the titular character, played brilliantly by Tom Hardy. This is an entirely different version of Earth, where a nuclear winter has fallen over the wasteland of a planet, and resources and lives are scarce. Max has already lost everything in the world that he cared about. And then a gang of War Boys runs him down and enslaves him.

Hugh Keays-Byrne as Immortan Joe

The plot then shifts to the larger struggle in this particular area of the world: Immortan Joe, the tyrant leader of the War Boys and a small scrap of civilization, is defied by his wives and his best lieutenant when they flee under the guise of a routine supply run. Max ends up strapped to the front of a War Boy’s vehicle in pursuit of Imperator Furiosa, and eventually finds himself freed of his constraints. He pairs with Furiosa in her quest to spirit away the women, but eventually realizes the truth before any of them can: they must face Joe and take over the settlement, and then rule it themselves.

One of the most fascinating things about Mad Max is it’s not about Max. He just happens to be there when these events conspire — events he then becomes a part of, but they’re still not his story. We’re reminded of this at the close of the film when the camera lingers on the hero shot of Furiosa while Max disappears into the crowd. The film is really about Furiosa and Joe, and we must construct an entire history of their relationship based on a period of a few days while the two of them chase each other over hundreds of miles of desert. Joe unquestionably trusted Furiosa — this betrayal was the furthest possible thing he could have imagined, and all the mistakes and consequences of what comes after proves that. His entire army is decimated, his other commanders killed in action, and the people cheer his death at the return of the convoy.

When I saw Fury Road in theaters, it was the first movie I had seen on the big screen for about a year. The arrival of my first child put an (expected) crimp in my cinema-going. For those who have already seen the film, you know that it is a visual knock-out from start to finish. I was completely overwhelmed and flabbergasted at the experience and made sure I told everyone. I’ve watched it twice more since then and I still find it a revelatory experience, much like my first viewings of The Matrix. If George Miller can make an experience this engrossing so easily understood, visually compelling, and endlessly fun, I don’t see how we can call him anything besides a genius. type/full

About Author Mohamed Abu 'l-Gharaniq

when an unknown printer took a galley of type and scrambled it to make a type specimen book. It has survived not only five centuries.

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