Does ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ Actually Have a Chance at the Oscars?
By the end of summer, Mad Max: Fury Road was ranking high on nearly everyone’s Top 10 list, and was even voted the best film of the year by the International Federation of Film Critics. Finally we had a relentlessly bonkers action-packed dystopian movie that was not only outright thrilling, but spectacularly subverted gender expectations (name one other movie with a biker gang of older women as fearless as the Vuvalini). With such praise, Fury Road soon popped up in Oscar discussions as Kyle Buchanan of Vulture, Chris Nashawaty of Entertainment Weekly and THR all debated its Oscar potential.
But then the fall movie season rolled around and trampled over the George Miller road movie, leaving Imperator Furiosa and her sniper arm rest sidekick (you know, that guy Tom Hardy plays) back in the dust. The majority of the year’s best films debuted at the top festivals, signaling multitudes of Oscar most likely lists. While only a small handful of the fall movies have begun opening in theaters, many many more are on the way, and as I can attest, they’re all really good. Two weeks ago I ran through the main Oscar categories with my best predictions of what will and should nab nominations, and it’s certainly going to be a highly competitive awards season. Predictions are great, but once we know what categories studios will campaign their movies for (R.I.P. Alicia Vikander Best Actress), the conversation veers from personal favorites towards realistic possibilities.
As The Mary Sue reported on Monday night, via critic Mike McGranaghan’s tweets, Warner Bros. is planning to campaign Fury Road for not only Best Picture, but also push their cast for Best Actress, Actor and Best Supporting Actor. So what does it mean? Does Fury Road actually have a chance this year to not only get nominated, but win in any of those categories? Let’s start off small.
Best Supporting Actor
Nicholas Hoult‘s war boy Nux is one of the best parts of Fury Road with a presence that far exceeds the rest of his male co-stars. But as great as his maddening intensity is throughout the film, reminiscent of a young makeup-clad, crazed Johnny Depp, it’s unlikely it can compete in a category packed with worthy potentials. The Best Supporting Actor race will likely be overflowing with Michael Keaton for Spotlight, Idris Elba for Beasts of No Nation, Benicio Del Toro for Sicario, Seth Rogen for Steve Jobs and Samuel L. Jackson or Kurt Russell for The Hateful Eight. But even if the Academy somehow favors Hoult over one of those big names, he’ll still have to compete against Robert De Niro or Bradley Cooper in David O. Russell‘s upcoming Joy, a fantastic Mark Rylance in Bridge of Spies, Robert Redford‘s Dan Rather in Truth, and many others. Sadly Hoult’s Nux just doesn’t carry the emotional gravitas necessary to get him in the running.
Love ya, Tom Hardy, but it’s not happening. If you’ve seen Fury Road you know that the dirt in Miller’s film is more of a main character than Hardy’s titular road warrior. He may be in the film’s title and the main character of a classic genre franchise, but Hardy’s Max is far from the focal point of the film. Max being relegated to the background is the reason Fury Road was so refreshingly groundbreaking in the first place. That doesn’t mean Hardy’s role was futile or merely a trick to get audiences in the theater – Hardy’s Mad Max is essential since he’s the entry point to Furiosa’s tale. It’s the concept of Max and the character’s history that lays the groundwork for Furiosa and her fellow Many Mothers to exact their vengeance, not Hardy’s actual, unremarkable performance. Nothing warrants him the attention of the Academy, especially when up against Eddie Redmayne (sure to win for The Danish Girl), Michael Fassbender‘s Steve Jobs, Johnny Depp‘s Whitey Bulgar, Matt Damon in The Martian or Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant, to name a few. (If anything, Hardy may get some Supporting love for The Revenant.)
This one’s tough since, yes, Charlize Theron‘s Furiosa is one of the best female action characters since Sigourney Weaver‘s Ridley and Uma Thurman‘s Beatrix Kiddo. She’s the heroine the Hollywood blockbuster has long needed. But can an action, sci-fi performance trump that of a drama? In 1987, Weaver earned a rare Best Actress nomination for Aliens while Sandra Bullock was recognized for her emotional turn in Gravity, the latter of which is less shocking for the emotional threads Bullock’s character plucked at. A nomination for Theron would be triumphant, especially to prove women can be acknowledged for fully-formed action roles and help to even reinvent what we value in a lead performance. Yet with Cate Blanchett, Brie Larson, Julianne Moore, Saoirse Ronan, Jennifer Lawrence and Carey Mulligan, among others, vying for the five coveted spots — and in roles with significantly more social and political weight and emotional resonance — a Theron nomination would be a surprise, though no doubt a welcomed one. A win though? I can’t see that happening against the caliber of this year’s women.
Okay, this is a possibility I can get behind. While it’s incredibly rare for an action or sci-fi film to make it into the Best Picture list, the expansion of the nominee spots since 2010 made it possible (a change the Academy is keeping this year). Previously, District 9, Inception and Avatar all earned Best Picture nominations, but didn’t take home the top prize. (Let me also remind you that 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner and The Dark Knight didn’t earn Best Picture nominations during the eras of the five slot restriction.) But still, Fury Road is commendable for being one of the few entertaining, smart and tightly constructed blockbusters of our time that could make the cut.
In comparison to Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, which has already garnered much awards chatter, it seems possible. If the western has a strong chance to get nominated for the top award, why shouldn’t Fury Road? Miller’s script may not have the same quippy flourish of a Tarantino screenplay, but it’s just as subversive and genre-defying as the Django Unchained filmmaker’s work. If Warner Bros. pushes a strong campaign showcasing Fury Road as a powerful feminist spin on the action-adventure genre, it could easily sway the Academy’s votes in its favor. And how fantastic would that be, for a major action blockbuster with a strong female lead to earn a Best Picture nomination? With the critical and audience love for Fury Road, I’m 100 percent behind this.
But can it win?
Doubt it. With films as socially groundbreaking as The Danish Girl and Carol, as superbly crafted as Spotlight and Brooklyn, as poignant and rousing as Room and as surging with American pride as Bridge of Spies, not to mention Danny Boyle‘s Steve Jobs and Pixar‘s Inside Out, it’s highly implausible those road warriors will take home any statues beyond below-the-line categories. It has a strong chance of winning for costume, production and sound design, as well as editing and perhaps visual effects. But Fury Road won’t be taking home Best Picture, and that’s a good thing. Miller’s film is a fantastic film, but far from the most important or best executed of the year. Let it remain a cherish gem, remembered for toppling our blockbuster expectations.