Imagine for a second that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences never changed its policy on how many films could be nominated for Best Picture. So once again, only five nominees are up for the big award this Sunday. The Revenant would surely be nominated. Spotlight and The Big Short would also make the cut, and probably The Martian. That leaves Brooklyn, Bridge of Spies, Room and Mad Max: Fury Road up for the last available nomination.
Under the old rules, I think Fury Road would still earn a nomination. But then again, I think it deserves to win the Oscar for Best Picture.
It's not a crazy idea. Before The Revenant and The Big Short brought home statues at the Golden Globes and the PGA Awards (putting them in the lead as the likely candidates for Oscar success), Fury Road was seen as a serious dark horse contender. It's status as a rebooted entry in a 1980s action franchise makes Fury Road's nomination alone an achievement, and why so many don't take it seriously as a possible Oscar winner.
Mel Gibson first portrayed the traumatized hero wandering a post-apocalyptic Australian wasteland in 1979 and reprised the role two more times (finally facing off against Tina Turner in 1985's Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome).
The franchise was the brainchild of George Miller, a doctor-turned-filmmaker who also played a part in creating the beloved children's films Babe and Happy Feet (seriously). While a decades-long gap between sequels usually means a studio is cashing in on nostalgia-fueled filmgoers (like with Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Jurassic World), that isn't case with Fury Road.
Miller was so deeply involved in the making of this movie that it became quest for him; one that would have broken damn near any other director in Hollywood. Almost from his initial idea for the film in the late 90s, it was one setback after another. 9/11 and the ensuing wars preventing filming in Namibia, while the collapse of the Australian dollar paused production for budgetary reasons, Mel Gibson's career implosion required the search for a new lead actor, and then massive rains transforming the desert set in Australia to wetlands (causing ANOTHER delay and filming to move back to Namibia).
Through all those reversals of fortune, both Miller and Warner Bros. stayed focused on making the movie, demonstrating the studio's loyalty to a creator and Fury Road's ability to survive years of Hollywood behind-the-scenes politicking and drama.
So if this award show season prioritizes suffering and endurance as a qualifier for an Oscar (cough...Leo...cough), then Fury Road beats out its competitors hands down.
And there's the fact that Fury Road is actually a good film. After each setback and delay, Miller reworked the plans, storyboards, character backstories and script. The end result is a stripped down plot (it's essentially a massive car chase) with richly fleshed-out characters and stunning visuals.
I'm not alone in my opinion. Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic crowned Fury Road as the most positively reviewed film of the year. Even Indiewire, the digital home of film snobbery, named it the most beloved movie of 2015 in its annual critics survey.
Apart from backstory and critical acclaim, let's not forget that social commentary and cinematic achievement also makes Fury Road worthy of its accolades.
Films taking on societal issues of the day and later winning Best Picture is kind of an Oscar tradition (Lost Weekend, Kramer Vs. Kramer, Gentleman's Agreement). Political topics aside, 2015 was a pretty big year for feminism (thanks, Taylor Swift) and Mad Max: Fury Road is a feminist film.
(Photo : http://feministmadmax.tumblr.com/)
Tom Hardy's Max is a secondary character to Charlize Theron's lead as Furiosa, a compelling heroine who leads the "wives" of a warlord to freedom. Vagina Monologues playwright Eve Ensler even worked with the cast to help create a believable dynamic between a group of women who'd been forced into sex slavery. It adds up to create a film that not only passes the Bechdel test but was so evident in its commentary on gender that became a hit on Tumblr.
Fury Road is also reminiscent of Hollywood classics like Ben-Hur or Lawrence of Arabia with its frenetic dystopian setting awing viewers via its scale and scope. In an era of CGI dependence, Fury Road is filled with practical effects and elaborate stunt work choreographed but not in competition with the almost subtle computer effects used to enhance its scenes. Instead of parking its actors in front of a green screen, Fury Road's shrewd use of digital effects created an almost believable world. The film proves Hollywood can make grand sweeping epics in the 21st century that don't look like cartoons.
I don't know if Mad Max: Fury Road is going to win the Oscar for Best Picture--Vegas odds place it at a 5%. All I know is it deserves it.