Can ‘Mad Max’ Rally Passion for Oscar Best Picture Nomination?

One of the year's most vibrant auteurist statements could depend on turning out the base.

mad max fury road
Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Last week a number of headlines sprouted up across the Internet beaming that Warner Bros. would be pushing “Mad Max: Fury Road” for best picture Oscar consideration. The impetus was the launch of the studio’s annual “for your consideration” site, which featured the film in all categories.

Of course, there’s nothing really new about that practice; “Our Brand is Crisis” soon joined “Black Mass” and “Fury Road” on the site, and Ron Howard’s “In the Heart of the Sea” will surely land there in time. It was always in the cards to promote the film heavily for awards, and recently the studio really began that charge, circling director George Miller and star Charlize Theron back around for press opportunities aimed at reminding the industry what the movie has to offer (i.e. an experience you simply won’t find elsewhere on the circuit).

With more than $153 million in domestic box office receipts ($374 million worldwide) and standing tall as one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year (a 97% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and an 89 Metacritic score), the film absolutely remains a strong contender. The question is — and has been — whether Warner Bros. can find room for such an unabashedly atypical entry.

Passion matters most in the nominations phase, though, and there’s certainly a base to rally here. Filmmakers like Edgar Wright (a newly minted Academy member this year) have been particularly vocal about supporting it throughout the season, for instance. What’s more, the feminist aura of the film makes it the bold sort of centerpiece in a year dominated by female-driven narratives.

When I first saw “Fury Road” back in May ahead of its Cannes debut, my first thought was that it would be a brilliant poster child for the push to recognize stunt work at the Oscars. It’s jaw-dropping, what Miller and company were able to achieve practically, in-camera. My second thought was that, even if it doesn’t find enough best picture love with Academy voters who can’t quite keep up with its mania, perhaps members of the directors branch will sit in awe at what the 70-year-old Miller accomplished this late into what has long been an iconic career.

At a Q&A over the weekend, moderated by Variety‘s Jenelle Riley, Miller recalled working with actor Jack Nicholson and a debate the two had over whether the toughest job on a set was the actor’s or the director’s. Miller said he ultimately agreed with Nicholson’s take that it was the actor, and he then went on to praise Theron and his cast for “the interplay between rigor and abandon” necessary for a film like this.

But Theron wasn’t having it. “I’m going to put my foot down and say that you, by far, had the hardest job,” she replied. “To tell this story in a way that was so unusual — you knew that this is the way you wanted to tell it and everyone said, ‘That’s not how to do it,’ but you stayed true to it and that’s an incredibly hard thing to do. When I watch this movie, it’s like looking at a Jackson Pollock. I see your thumbprints all over that canvas.”

I think that really centers the film’s awards case. This film might be the most vibrant auteurist statement in the Oscar race this year, a controlled chaos courtesy of a legend. Degree of difficulty is a fairly definitive measuring stick, after all. With Scott Cooper’s “Black Mass” — which it should be noted does have its own passionate base — not quite generating the Oscar excitement Warner Bros. had hoped for overall, a fairly impressive best picture streak is on the line here; the studio has landed in the Academy’s top category 10 of the last 12 years, including three wins (for “Million Dollar Baby,” “The Departed” and “Argo”).

Is there enough fuel in “Max’s” tank to get it there? Whether there is or isn’t, you can at least go ahead and chalk Wright up for a vote: