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Mad Max: Fury Road: Racing to the End
By Alex Carrigan
*Editor's Note: This article is part of a series written by Alex Carrigan about this year's Academy Award nominated films. To see the rules for this challenge and to find other articles related to it, go to this page.
When I started this series, I said that Mad Max: Fury Road was going to be the barometer for how I measured the other films. It was the only film I had seen of the eight nominated films before this last week, it was the one that was freshest in my mind thanks to popular culture, and it was the one which was going to be singled out as the oddest of the nominees. For a film like Fury Road to get one of eight Best Picture nominations is quite strange. After all, how could a big-budget action movie, and one that's the fourth in a series of films from the 1980s, compete with a followup by last year's winning director, a Spielberg period drama, and several "Based on a True Story" films?
The answer: surprisingly well, all things considered.
In the Mad Max universe, the world has been ruined by nuclear war, turning everything (or at least Australia) into a desert wasteland. Supplies are scarce, gangs run rampant, and gasoline is more important than human life. The films follow Max Rockatansky (originally played by Mel Gibson but played by Tom Hardy in this film) as he tries to make his away across the wasteland.
Fury Road follows Max after he's captured by the War Boys, led by Immortan Joe. As he's made to be used as a source of blood and organs, Immortan Joe's harem is whisked away by one of his generals, the Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron). Furiosa is planning to get Joe's wives away from his misogynistic and violent society. Max soon joins Furiosa as the group attempts to survive in the harshest environment imaginable, fighting various gangs and trying to find a place they can call home.
Fury Road is interesting in that I realized there were plenty of elements in the film I could see in the other films I watched in this series. There's the desperate drive to survive in harsh environments (The Revenant, The Martian), women trying to flee their oppressors (Room), a search for a home (Brooklyn), a focus on a group that shows how each member contributes to the group's success (Spotlight, The Big Short), and finally center on finding the right balance between thinking and acting (Bridge of Spies). In a way, Fury Road actually fits in perfectly with this group. It's not a stunt nomination to get more people to watch the ceremony (this isn't the Golden Globes), it's a genuine attempt to recognize a really good film.
This film is one of the best films of 2015 because everything in it was so well thought out, so well executed, and so well conceived that it's hard to see it as "just an action movie." It's a two-hour car chase that has artistic merit and skill behind it. Fury Road has some of the best practical effects in years. Every car that's flipped, crushed, and blown up really is flipped, crushed, and blown up, and you can really tell people are climbing over the cars instead of being green screened in. Director George Miller has put a ton of love in this film, and the viewer is easily able to see how well it was all done.
I think what really got me with this film was actually the character moments. The film is sparse on dialogue and backstory. We have to assume a lot of things about the characters, and only get hints at some of their pasts. Despite this, all the central characters have established personalities and are all distinct from one another. Even more impressive is that a few of the characters even have arcs without too much attention drawn to it. One of the biggest heroes of the film is the War Boy Nux (Nicholas Hoult), who starts the film a fervent believer in Immortan Joe's rhetoric. But, Nux begins to grow and understand what's really right in this world when his entire worldview is shattered, and he sees exactly why leaders like Joe are doomed to fail.
Fury Road received a ton of buzz last year when several MRA groups called the film "feminist propaganda" or "sexist to men." That's honestly a lot of baloney, because the film has probably one of the best representations of women on film. It passes the Bechdel Test easily, and has a great heroine in Furiosa. Even the other female characters have dimension to them. I cheered during the scene where Max tries to steal Furiosa's War Rig because the wives, who were first shown hosing themselves down in skimpy clothing, all leap to help Furiosa out. It told me right away that these women who preached lines like, "We are not things!" were going to be active characters in the story. They weren't there to be pretty girls, but they were there to be used in the film and to be a part of the action. It made me really happy to see an action film with a large female ensemble where every member contributed to the story in some way.
Mad Max: Fury Road is the film of this year's Oscar group I expect to really have lasting power. It's certainly the most popular of the bunch, and the one that will be easy to revisit five, 10, or 15 years or so from now. If anything, it's an action movie that feels timeless. There's nothing in it that could make it appear dated (the first Mad Max films reek of 80's hairspray and leather costuming), so it's something new generations of film-goers could discover and come to appreciate. Then, they can read how it was up for 10 Academy Awards and be amazed that such a thrilling and artistic action film could be so worthy of merit.
So where does the film stand come Oscar Night? Well, it's probably going to get most of the awards. It's probably the most likely to get Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects, Makeup and Hairstyling, Costume Design, and Production Design. Cinematography is probably where it will go head-to-toe against The Revenant. I personally think Fury Road should win, but it there's always a chance the vote could be split between the two. I could see Miller winning Best Director, if only because the Academy has in the last few years awarded the Oscar to films that are very technically outstanding, even if the film doesn't win Best Picture (such as Ang Lee for Life of Pi and Alfonso Cuarón for Gravity). I think Miller would deserve it since this film has a ton of attention to detail and quite a scale to it that feels hard for someone like Adam McKay (The Big Short) or Lenny Abrahamson (Room) to compete against.
As for Best Picture? Well, that remains to be seen.
Tomorrow: I conclude this Oscar Series with an essay summarizing what I've found during this series and what I've learned writing about film for ten straight days. I'll also publish my final ranking for the films I watched and discuss anything else I might have noticed. I might also try to do something funny to give some much needed levity to this series.
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