Once upon a time I’d have thought it a fantasy. A genre film in the tradition of a cult series known as much for its punkish aesthetic as for its action? Not bloody likely.
That was then. This is now.
Now we’re looking at 99% on Rotten Tomatoes, an average score of 9/10, and a Metacritic score of 90. The stuff of contenders.
We’re looking at a veteran director with several nominations under his belt for writing and producing, but never for directing. A cast led by a hot new star and a past Oscar winner. Feminist themes prominent enough to earn repeated critical notice–and threats of an MRA boycott.
In short, we’re looking at something special. And we’re also looking at an Academy which, while not free from the weaknesses of old, has stepped outside of their comfort zone more than many have given them credit for.
We’ve seen Michael Haneke, Wes Anderson, Richard Linklater, Alfonso Cuarón, Christopher Nolan, and Spike Jonze all get their first Best Picture nominations. We’ve seen the first Picture winners directed by women and by people of color. Films like Birdman, Gravity, Her, Inception, Beasts of the Southern Wild, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Amour, Whiplash, and The Tree of Life, which once would have seemed too small, too strange, too genre, or just too far afield to get nominated have pulled it off.
Even traditional rules, like not winning without Best Director or Best Editing nominations, have been broken. Times are changing, Reb Tevye.
So can it happen, and if so, to what extent? The reviews are there. Even if they drop, 95% is as low as they’re likely to go. And the audiences should be there as well–if this flops, it’d be as baffling as it is tragic. It would need the support of the studio, but why would they not tender it? At this point it’s a little early to say what our contenders will be, but damned if we can’t start building the buzz now.
Let’s go by category and see what might be:
Picture: Who knows? I say if Gravity can be a serious contender, you can’t argue too much against this. No joke, this has more depth than that film. AND it’s more logically believable. (#GhostClooney) Winning is almost certainly out of the question, but a nomination might not be. If it could build grassroots support it might happen. A lot depends on how many nominees we have–five and there’s no way, ten and it’s quite possible, in between and it’s dicey but not off the table.
Director: I say it could happen. Miller is respected, he has nominations (for writing Lorenzo’s Oil and writing and producing Babe–okay, if he can make a talking pig movie a Picture contender, he can make this happen), it’s an enormously impressive directing job, and right now I don’t see a ton of competition. I’m saying it could very well happen.
Actor: No. It might help push Hardy to a nomination for something else–namely Legend–but the role is too archetypal, too monosyllabic. Even given what he does with his facial expressions, he won’t, and shouldn’t be nominated. (He should’ve been up for Locke, but that’s another matter.)
Actress: I actually think Theron could get on. She’s getting really good reviews for the role, and is generally being credited as the true protagonist of the film. I’m still not sure if I think it would be merited, but a lot of other voices emphatically say it would be. And since she hasn’t been up in years…
Supporting Actor: I thought Nicholas Hoult was great here, and he has the kind of arc which makes perfect sense as a nominee. He’s up-and-coming and well-liked. This is usually a tough category, but fuck it, I’m rooting for him. Let him ride in chrome. Hugh Keays-Byrne, however, isn’t going to happen. Joe just doesn’t do quite enough to justify a nomination. Unless they go for it in the biggest way possible, it won’t happen.
Supporting Actress: Who would you pick? None of the wives or Vuvalini really stand out enough to qualify. MAYBE they could make a case for Rosie Huntington-Whiteley or Zoë Kravitz, but unless this is an offensively weak year for this category, no dice.
Adapted Screenplay: The thematic elements are hard to ignore, but this series has never really been about the writing. This category tends to be a bit weak, at least recently (Life of Pi got nominated in this category, which is just absurd), but I’m thinking no. (Though it would be AWESOME.)
Cinematography: It’s magnificently shot by an Oscar winner. By rights it SHOULD make it on. And since I’m not seeing a lot of prime contenders for this category at the moment (at least not enough to crowd it out outright), I think it could happen. Those night scenes are pretty incredible.
Editing: It’s practically made for this category. Personally, I wish it were a little tighter overall, but scene-by-scene, they cut the shit out of this movie. Barring some Oscar-bait getting a token nomination here to make it a stronger contender, I could see it. Whiplash won this, after all, and I don’t think we saw that coming more than a couple of weeks out.
Production Design: I don’t see how you don’t. This series basically invented an entire aesthetic, the cars are magnificent, the Citadel nearly as impressive…it’d be a fuck-up if they didn’t.
Costume Design: Nah. The costumes are good, but not THAT good.
Makeup/Hairstyling: Immortan Joe, the Half-Life Boys and War Pups, the blood and burns…how do they NOT?
Score: “Oscar nominee Junkie XL.” I’ll keep an ear out for the score next time around to see if it makes more of an impression. I wouldn’t mind, certainly.
Song: Was there one?
Sound Mixing: If they don’t, they’re fools.
Sound Editing: If they don’t, they don’t know their business.
Visual Effects: They made a big point of not using much CGI, but they clearly enhanced it, and it looks damn good, so…why not?
Update 9/1/2015: Today, Fury Road won the FIPRESCI Grand Prix. FIPRESCI is a well-established (since 1930) society of about 500 international film critics, who give out awards at various film festivals (most notably at Cannes), and–this is news to me–annually select a Best Film as well. Last year it was Boyhood. The year before, Blue is the Warmest Color. In 2012, Amour. Two Best Picture nominees and one of the more shocking omissions at the 2013 Oscars. This raises Fury Road‘s stake significantly, in my opinion, and while it doesn’t make it a surefire winner (I would be shocked–if ecstatic–if it won), I think its chances for a nomination are rising. The awards season begins in a couple of months–we’ll see what they have to say.
Anyway, I just got the Fury Road Blu-Ray today, so I’m gonna go ride eternal, shiny and chrome.
Update 1/12/2016: Well, we’ve come quite a ways.
First, the NBR gave it Best Film. Then the Golden Globes nominated it for Best Picture – Drama and Best Director. It began racking up awards and nominations far beyond what anyone could’ve expected. It never quite took the position of front-runner; Spotlight always seemed to hold onto that title. But given the bias generally shown against genre films, Max’s performance was positively stunning.
The Director’s Guild will be announcing within the day, and two days hence the Academy will announce their nominees. Max has been holding steady, but it didn’t make the Picture or Director lineups at the BAFTAs (though it earned 7 nominations for various technical categories) and it lost both of its Golden Globe nominations to The Revenant.
On the other hand, it made the AFI’s Top 10 list, was nominated by the Producer’s Guild, and also earned nominations from the ASC (Cinematographers), ACE (Editors), Art Director’s Guild, and the Costume Designer’s Guild. And the guilds do matter quite a bit more than the critics’ awards or the Globes in terms of predicting the Oscars, because the Academy membership is made up of…guild members!
Now, the SAG only nominated it for Best Stunt Ensemble, but rightly or wrongly, it was very unlikely to be nominated for its acting. So we won’t worry too much about that.
Let’s go over it once again, category by category, and see what’s likely to happen.
Picture: I say it’s in. It has broad guild support, numerous awards and nominations in its favor already, was a critical and financial success, and has been marred neither by meaningful backlash or, as far as I can tell, divisive feelings about the film itself. No, not everyone loves it; some find it lacking in terms of narrative and character. But the response has been more overwhelmingly positive than for other expected nominees which fell short. Take Foxcatcher, Gone Girl, and Nightcrawler, all of which made the PGA’s list but missed Best Picture; they’re all dark, bleak films, which end either in tragedy or with crime unpunished.
Max, on the other hand, ends in triumph. And if the final triumph is merely a nomination for Best Picture, it will be so much more than anyone expected from a 30-year-delayed sequel to a decidedly “cult” franchise. It’s also worth noting that this is Warner Brothers’ only real Picture contender in what has been a rather bad year for them, so they’ve probably been pushing the hell out of it.
Director: The Academy’s nomination ballots have already been submitted, so the DGA nominations won’t directly influence what gets nominated, but they could well reflect what was already voted for. And given not only Miller’s stature (and personal popularity–he seems like the nicest guy) but the acclaim for what he accomplished here, I would again be truly stunned if he was not nominated. If he misses the DGA, then he might just miss out on the Oscar, but if he makes it, I can’t imagine him not getting the nomination.
Actor: This one isn’t happening at all. Hardy has The Revenant and, to a much lesser degree, Legend to stake his awards chances on. He was never going to get nominated here.
Actress: This is tougher to call. On the one hand, Theron has missed most of the major precursors. On the other, the Critics’ Choice Awards nominated her, and the Academy usually has at least 4 of their 6 nominees on the final list. That doesn’t mean that Theron is a lock by any stretch of the imagination, but she should be considered in the conversation until the nominations are announced.
Supporting Actor: Sadly, the Teen Choice Awards alone nominated Nicholas Hoult for his work here. I seem to be alone in appreciating his work. If he somehow does get nominated…we might be looking at our next Best Picture winner.
Supporting Actress: Nope. There just wasn’t a standout to latch onto. Though, honestly, any of the possible contenders would be a better choice than Jane Fonda in Youth (and I mean that absolutely).
Original/Adapted Screenplay: No one has nominated the writing. Some of that might be category confusion–I consider Adapted, but the studio is pushing it as Original, which I consider dubious. In any case, while I consider it worthy of a nomination, it’s not the kind of screenwriting which normally gets in. Even Gravity missed out (though that script was really not very good). This will, too.
Cinematography: Nominated by the ASC. Nominated by BAFTA. Nominated by the Critics’ Choice Awards. Nominated by the Satellite Awards. Given the award by the L.A. Film Critics, whose choice has won or been nominated 9 years out of the last 10. This is getting nominated.
Editing: Nominated by the ACE. And the BAFTA. And the Critics’ Choice. Has won numerous critics’ awards to date. Universally recognized as a top-notch editing job. It’s in.
Production Design: Guild support. BAFTA. Critics’ Choice. Seems like a very safe bet (especially since I doubt both Brooklyn and Carol are getting in).
Costume Design: This one’s a bit iffier, just because the costumes aren’t quite what typically gets nominated. But it too has guild, BAFTA, and Critics’ Choice support, and this is one category that often nominates genre films. So consider it a solid possibility.
Makeup & Hairstyling: I hope to God so. This is the most unpredictable of the tech categories (Bad Grandpa is an Oscar nominee because of it), and while I can’t imagine someone watching this film and not nominating the makeup, if it misses any technical category I’d say it’s this one. Just because of how weird the category is. The Makeup & Hairstylists’ Guild announces their nominees Wednesday, so if it gets on there, it’s probably safe.
Original Score: Not sure about this one at all. It’s missed out on most major precursors, but has had success with some of the critics’ groups. And one of the more heavily nominated scores this season, that of The Revenant, is ineligible. So this might just slip in. But I can’t say for sure.
Sound Mixing: The Cinema Audio Society announces today. I can’t see this missing out. It’s too much made for this category. Since most precursors don’t have a Sound category, let alone two, it’s hard to predict exactly what will get on. But this seems like a pretty safe bet.
Visual Effects: Widely nominated already and heavily praised for making extensive use of practical effects. Consider it in.
Sound Editing: The Sound Editors guild doesn’t announce its nominees until the end of the month. But given the nature of the film, I have to imagine they go for it.
To sum up, I think Fury Road is likely to get at least the following 9 nominations:
Picture, Director, Cinematography, Editing, Production Design, Makeup & Hairstyling, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects, and Sound Editing.
It also has a strong chance at nominations for Costume Design and Original Score. Bringing the potential total to 11.
Charlize Theron getting in for Best Actress is also still on the table, albeit barely. She could bring the nomination total to 12, which would tie it for the most nominations since 2008.
And that would be anything but mediocre.