Friday, September 4, 2015

OSCAR WATCH: Mad Max: Fury Road

A few months back, George Miller took the film world by storm with a revamp of the franchise that kick-started his career. The film, "Mad Mad: Fury Road", was an enormous success, eliciting reactions that seemed to indicate a near-religious experience. The overwhelming consensus was that Miller had reclaimed the post-apocalyptic concept made popular by adaptations of young adult novels, and given the millennials a lesson on how it's really done.

The premise of "Mad Max" Fury Road" is fairly simple. In the distant future, the earth has used up almost all its most essential resources and deteriorated into a dry wasteland. Our titular Max (Tom Hardy) drifts through this landscape, until he gets captured by the henchmen of a ruthless leader named Immortan Joe, who hoards the supply of water and gasoline as a way to exert control over his citadel. To maintain his status, he uses the services of Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) who ventures out into the surrounding areas to acquire more of the valuable resources. But one day, Furiosa decides that she has had enough of his tyranny, and goes on an mission to find her original homeland paradise, with Joe's precious "breeders" (sex slaves used for reproduction) in tow. When Joe is alerted to the mutiny, he sends his men to hunt her down, prompting an epic chase through the vast terrain. With the odds stacked against her, Furiosa reluctantly teams up with Max, and together they must fight for their survival against bloodthirsty gangs and a treacherous environment.

When I went to see the film during all the excitement surrounding its release, my own experience was less ecstatic than most. But even so, I was filled with immense admiration for the tour de force filmmaking on display. Months later, there's hardly a day that goes by that I don't think about this film.

Indeed, Miller has made a film that sticks with you, through its spectacular imagery and non-stop thrills. In the Namib desert, he found the perfect backdrop for his opera of mayhem, with its monochromatic orange hues popping off the screen. And on top of that, he creates a truly unique dystopia, with grungy costumes and sets accentuated with quirky details like spiky chastity belts and the memorable sight of a death metal guitarist atop a heavy duty car, strumming away in the middle of a war zone.

But what really cements its place as one of the year's finest films, aside from the visuals, is the way Miller directs the action. Taking advantage of the car chase premise, he makes the film into a propulsive ride that never eases up. The stunts are incredible and the stakes are high, making the audience feel the daring insanity of it all.

"Mad Max: Fury Road" moves at such a blistering pace that you may need to catch your breath at times. As a result, it hardly has enough time for full character beats in the plot, which is perhaps its only flaw. Of course, that's more than can be said for most action movies. In our era of conveyor belt, branded blockbusters, the mere existence of the exciting, artful "Mad Max: Fury Road" feels like a minor miracle.

And now, some Oscar talk. When people declared this as a major contender earlier this summer, I was admittedly a bit skeptical. But the way the film has stayed at the forefront of the conversation has now convinced me that the critics will keep it in play. It's already following the pattern of "Boyhood" with its near-perfect RT score and FIPRESCI Grand Prix, an impressive feat for an action film. So with that in mind, I expect nods for Best Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing at the very least. And if it gets the level of precursor support I'm expecting, then I would pencil it in for Best Picture and Best Director as well.

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