|Scene from Mad Max: Fury Road|
There's no denying the unpredictable impact that director George Miller's Mad Max: Fury Road has had on the zeitgeist. It's become its own cultural phenomenon with people adopting the lingo and calling Charlize Theron's Furiosa one of the greatest female characters of the year. It's a film made by a mad man and one that is just as entertaining as the notion. However, there's one thing that I could never quite get on board with. For everyone calling this the Best Movie of 2015, I don't think that it transcends to The Academy. While they have added Tom Hardy to their members list, their latest push to make it a Best Picture contender feels a little... off. It's fun, but I have trouble embracing this campaign as anything but wishful thinking.
The news broke today via Mike McGranaghan's Twitter in which he noticed that an upcoming rerelease of the film was featuring a For Your Consideration push as well, specifically in the categories of Best Picture, Best Actor (Hardy), Best Actress (Theron), and Best Supporting Actor (Nicholas Hoult). While it is plausible that the film can rack up technical categories, it's interesting to see a strong push for the acting performances. While the film is great, I cannot consider the performances to be the highlight of the film. Also, Hardy is arguably more of a supporting role that is only being considered for lead due to his placement in the title.
While I am skeptical on the film's chances, I have noted before that I do think that Theron is the film's prime chance at an acting nomination. More than any other character, she has been the most memorable. She is a strong female protagonist who controls the story with a massive force. Theron's also the only previous Oscar winner (Best Actress - Monster) of the three, giving her a slight edge. Also, while not a consistent trend, The Academy does seem to prefer strong female protagonists in genre films, most recently with Sandra Bullock in Gravity. It could just be that they often show more charismatic depth than their male counterparts, but I think it's also just that they're interesting characters that show women are adept to do more than drama. I have Theron pinned in an already misguided predictions list, so I am not willing to let go of her chances just yet.
However, everything else doesn't seem plausible. As much as I love Hardy as an actor and think that he has deserved to be nominated several times over by now, he's just not that interesting by comparison. The most common complaint is that he doesn't talk much and is a supporting player in his own film. Where I recently went on about how Chiwetel Ejiofor lost the Best Actor field for being too quiet for 12 Years a Slave, I think the same will stand here. Because it's an action film, his acting will already be discredited because we're not here to see him act. We're here to see cars blow-up and whatever that Valhalla sequence was. In my opinion, Hardy is more of a prop than an actor in the film, used to progress Furiosa's story.
Onto the main point: I have never believed that Mad Max: Fury Road will get a Best Picture nomination. Don't mistake that for me disliking the film. Even if I prefer Mad Max: The Road Warrior, this latest film definitely is a technical achievement that serves as great blockbuster entertainment. In a perfect world, the Best Picture category would be representative of diversity in film. It's why the category expanded from five nominations to the eventual modern sliding 5-10 scale. In the five years that this has been used, I believe that it's only worked appropriately twice. Those two years were also the first two in which the change was instated: 2009 and 2010. It was a mixture of big films with prestige pictures that created a nice, diverse pallet. To summarize, the 2014 version couldn't have been more secluded, with almost all of the films being independent films that didn't even make a quarter of last year's summer intake.
Have there not been great blockbusters between 2011 and 2014? No. It's just that The Academy went back to an old way of thinking. Where 2009 and 2010 saw films like Avatar, District 9, and Inception stand alongside prestige pictures, they just began nominating obscure small films. I do think that there's a chance that anything can happen, but the model has been abandoned partially. There was even concern following this year's Oscars that they might change it back to five nominations. It didn't happen, but it only shows how much distress this Best Picture category has been in over the past decade. As much as it recognizes great films, it doesn't seem to recognize popular films as much as it used to. Go back to the likes of Titanic and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Those were technical achievements that also won Best Picture. There hasn't really been anything like that recently.
|Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight|
Let me get the obvious elephant in the room out of the way. Director Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight is arguably the turning point that started all of this. In 2008, it failed to get an Oscar nomination, sending people into a frenzy. It's for good cause. It was great populous art that went on to redefine the superhero genre. Had Heath Ledger not died, I would be more skeptical of his Best Supporting Actor win. I am one of those who unapologetically loves the film and was disappointed to see that Slumdog Millionaire win. In a lot of ways, it was a significant film akin to Titanic or The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Yet, it failed to make a mark. It was arguably the film that forced instating the expanded Best Picture category in the first place.
While Nolan's Inception would be nominated for Best Picture, I think that The Dark Knight is the proper context for any Mad Max: Fury Road comparisons. While Miller's film arguably has yet to have the impact as Nolan's, both are essentially genre films that make us look at cinema differently. It's the type that makes us believe in the power of cinema; which in theory is what The Academy is supposed to be about. We know that The Dark Knight stood odds in technical fields, but in the major fields? I see some parallel as well between Ledger and Theron's performances, in that both became iconic upon release, worthy of further recognition. However, it likely will be passed over because it is, after all, just a car movie akin to Furious 7 much like The Dark Knight was just a superhero movie akin to Spider-Man 3. There's no art in franchises, right?
It's this logic that I feel most voters will apply when approaching Mad Max: Fury Road for Oscar consideration. Sure, there are Academy Members who have already spoken highly of the film (notably Edgar Wright), but I don't know if it will be enough. The Academy seems to have regressed in some ways over the past few years, recognizing the prestige that they usually do. I'm not saying that there haven't been great movies nominated. It's just that the notion of blockbusters entering has gone back to being taboo after only six years. I do think that Miller's legendary, decades-spanning career gives him an edge over Nolan (Miller did win Best Animated Film for Happy Feet), but I don't know if it's enough. As much as I try not to argue that it's a problem, its opening in the early half of the year also feels like a detriment. Action films like Avatar and Gravity have stood better chances in the latter half of the year.
I want to believe that this will be a year with diversity, but The Academy hasn't proven it to me for more than a momentary interest. I admire this push and feel like it is at least showing some effort to change the tide. If I am proven wrong, I will be ecstatic. However, I am firmly in disbelief of this campaign and will have to wait until history proves itself. Maybe Theron will make it. Maybe. But this is just too much of a genre film that looks jarring when placed alongside prestige pictures. This shouldn't be the case. In fact, it didn't used to. With franchises and blockbusters remaining an integral part of the film going experience, I think it's time that they're recognized again. However, I will wait until this season gets further along before I change my stance.