Oscar Outlook: Mad Max: Fury Road

Given that it is awards season for movies, I am finally in the habit of watching movies that have been released this year. I have minimal tolerance for comic book movies or big budget action flick, so the holiday season is my equivalent of summer movie season for most other movie watchers.

Thing is, when I sat down to really think through what I wanted to watch and which movies I was most excited to see, I realize that 2015 has actually been a pretty craptacular year for movies. Let’s just take a look at what is up for Best Drama and Best Comedy at Sunday’s Golden Globes:

Best Drama
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant

Best Musical or Comedy
The Big Short
The Martian

I have not seen nor had a desire to see six of the ten movies on this list, but since it appears that they are the frontrunners and I like to at least attempt to be a completist about things, I have to make an effort to watch a fair amount of them (thank goodness only two of the Comedy nominees are even in the mix for Best Picture and I actually want to see Joy).

The good news is I have been flying a lot lately and the in-flight entertainment is top-notch, so I have managed to knock out more than I expected of these for free with nothing  better to do while in transit.

Such was the case when I was able to watch a movie I really didn’t want to spend money on, Mad Max: Fury Road. I’d read the positive reviews about the film and knew it was considered to be both well-received by audiences and well-made, but it had a couple of things going against it for my own taste, which is not to say I think inherently makes it bad, just something I am not particularly interested in watching. First of which is Tom Hardy, an actor who I think it is unfair to call untalented per se, but who has about as much charisma as a piece of balsa wood with an attractive face painted on it. I also am just kind of worn out on post-apocalyptic settings. It is a trope I am really bored with because we’ve run it into the ground lately with zombie movies and stories which thematically hinged on the seemingly wide-held belief we are doomed.

This film is essentially The Land Before Time, but instead of cute dinosaurs, we have a badass female heroine, Charlize Theron, rogue mystery man Max (Hardy) and a flock of pregnant twits Theron is trying to help escape from their tyrannical husband/leader in search of “the green place.” Seriously, this is so very Land Before Time, the only thing we are missing is the tree star.

I would say a conservative estimate is that two-thirds of the movie is just a chase sequence. And don’t get me wrong, from a technical perspective, it is a very well-executed chase sequence. Far and away the best part of Mad Max: Fury Road are the design and technical elements. It has a very clear-cut look to it that is reminiscent of the original Mad Max (which I must admit I never watched in full) with a modern twist on it. The cinematography is fantastic and, as my friend Jeremiah Smith noted, it does an exceptional job of doing something most movie viewers don’t realize is very tricky, which is keep them spatially oriented.

The stunts are really inventive. I really liked the Cirque du Soleil-esque villains who bounce on buoyant poles attached to their vehicles to attach the vehicle they are chasing. There are also elements just there to be cool, like the random rock band that accompanies the villains on the final chase in their own vehicle. If you like visually cool stuff and don’t need an explanation why there is a random ass band present, you’ll enjoy this flick a lot. If you’re me and something is there for no reason that seems to make any sense at all and goes relatively unexplained, it will drive you bonkers.

What will also drive you bonkers about this movie is how gross it is. I am a bit squeamish, especially when it comes to things like eye violence, and this movie has more than its fair share of shocking and grotesque things, like a guy biting the head off a live lizard. While on an airplane, I audibly said “gross” a total of 34 times. So, if you are squeamish enough that a Game of Thrones episode takes it toll on you, this is not the movie for you.

If you want dialogue, this is not the movie for you either, as there is very minimal talking, even in scenes when people aren’t being chased. These characters aren’t big on chit chat, which works better for some and not others. I agree with the reviews that Theron’s character is the kind of female badass we need in more movies, but the presence of the utterly helpless flock of basics she is trying to save undermines the strength and power of her character. A new group of women introduced later in the movie make up for this by being both 1. Completely self-sufficient and 2. Over the age of 40 though. These ladies are who I want to see more of in movies. Women who have lived full lives and, as aresult, are pretty sharp and self-sufficient.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a bad movie. For my tastes, it is not what I want, as I privilege plot, dialogue, and character above visuals. That isn’t necessarily the right way or wrong way to assess a film, it is just my personal preference. If you want to know more about these two schools of thought, Google “realism vs. formalism in cinema” or ask me, I’ll be happy to explain.

Nonetheless, I hope this movie wins heaps of design and technical Oscars. They deserve them. But the fact this movie is in the discussion for a Best Picture nominee has me concerned most of my movie review blogs in the next few weeks are going to be pretty grumpy because, while I am happy studios are making interesting action films like this, I don’t think it is anywhere close to up to snuff to be considered the movie remembered as the defining film of 2015. It barely has a plot. It barely has dialogue. And, even though it is visually interesting, much too much of it feels like far too familiar territory.

(I figure as I review, I will keep a rolling top five of my favorite movies for 2015. I am currently skeptical anything tops Bridge of Spies for me as that movie is just made specifically for people like me, but who knows? Maybe I’ll be surprised. Also, this introductory top five shows you that I haven’t seen many movies this year and that most of them, I obviously have not enjoyed very much.)

  1. Bridge of Spies
    2. Inside Out
    3. Going Clear
    4. The Intern
    5. Avengers: Age of Ultron

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