Why “Mad Max: Fury Road” deserves to be nominated for Best Picture

When the Best Picture race was expanded from five nominees to 10 in 2009, it was under the auspices of allowing more room for populist entertainment. In the years since, that’s proven to be easier said than done. If ever there was an audience crowd-pleaser that deserved to be nominated, it’s George Miller’s bold, imaginative “Mad Max: Fury Road,” a revitalization of this Australian auteur’s post-apocalyptic trilogy.

With near-unanimous praise from critics (it rates a jaw-dropping 98% on Rotten Tomatoes), the film raced off with a weekend box office tally of $44 million dollar. Such critical and commercial success  just might make Oscar voters take notice.

First, lets talk about the nominations “Mad Max” is certain not only to receive, but may very well win. You can pretty much check off the boxes for Sound Editing and Mixing at this point: those car chases are not just loud, but intricately designed as well.

And a win for Visual Effects isn’t out of the question, with the films masterful blending of practical and CGI work. Oh, and let’s not forget the film editing by Jason Ballantine and Margaret Sixel, who assemble the frenetic set pieces with equal parts clarity and vigor.

Then there’s the cinematography of Oscar-winner John Seale, who came out of retirement to create one of the most visually striking action movies ever made. He made much of the spectacle in-camera as opposed to on a green screen. Seale won his Academy Award for “The English Patient” (1996) and was nominated for “Witness” (1985), “Rain Man” (1988), and “Cold Mountain” (2003). If the academy’s recent trend of rewarding the DP whose job looked the hardest continues, he could be looking at finally taking home a bookend. It would be deserved too: the Aussie veteran fills the screen with eye-popping imagery that looks more at home in a Hieronymus Bosch painting than a summer blockbuster.

He’s assisted by the futuristic conceptions of production designer Colin Gibson, BAFTA nominated for “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” (1994), and costumer Jenny Beavan, who won an Oscar for “A Room with a View” (1986, shared with John Bright), and has been nominated an additional eight times [“The Bostonians” (1984), “Maurice” (1987), “Howards End” (1992), “The Remains of the Day” (1993), “Sense and Sensibility” (1995), “Anna and the King” (1999), “Gosford Park” (2001), and “The Kings Speech” (2010)]. Both should find themselves in the running for their elaborate and inspired work.

Speaking of imaginative work, it’s hard to see the Makeup and Hairstyling branch overlooking all those freaky albinos. The design of the villainous Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) alone should be enough for it to win.

Finally, since so much of the film is dependent on music, the propulsive score by Junkie XL – or Tom Holkenborg – should garner some attention.

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That’s nine nominations so far. What about a tip of the hat to the man who brought the whole thing together? Miller won the Animated Feature category for “Happy Feat” (2006), and was nominated for writing “Lorenzo’s Oil” (1992) and both writing and producing the 1995 Best Picture nominee “Babe.” At age 70, he delivered the kind of nuts-and-bolts entertainment that makes the rest of the summer slate look like child’s play. And his peers in the directors branch may reward his efforts. 

It’s difficult for actors to be recognized for action films: just ask Harrison Ford. So while Tom Hardy proved to be the perfect fit for Mel Gibson’s iconic shoes, it’s unlikely that awards attention will follow. However, we shouldn’t count out Charlize Theron, who creates a strong female lead in a story with a heavy feminist stance. If Sigourney Weaver could be nominated for playing Ripley in “Aliens” (1986), perhaps Theron could kick ass in the Best Actress race.

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All of which leads us to the big one. Ever since the infamous snubbing of “The Dark Knight” (2008), the academy has made it its mission to draw in larger audiences by nominating blockbusters. But simply recognizing moneymakers for making money only diminishes the relevance of the award itself.

To nominate “Mad Max: Fury Road,” however, would cause no such problems: the film is not only a great entertainment, but a work of art, as witnessed by the many categories in which it should compete. In the tradition of “Jaws” (1975), “Star Wars” (1977), “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981), “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” (1982), “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy (2001-2003), “Avatar” (2009), “Inception” (2010), and others that successfully blended art and commerce,

“Mad Max” deserves to be in this years Best Picture lineup, and the academy would be madder than Max to ignore it.

What do you think? Sound off in the comments section below. 

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