Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Significance of "Mad Max: Fury Road" at the Oscars

At this year's Academy Awards, "Mad Max: Fury Road," our favorite movie of 2015, was nominated for 10 Oscars and won a total of 6 trophies. It was the winningest film of the night, eclipsing even Best Picture winner "Spotlight," which only won 2 awards, and the front-runner for most nominations this year, "The Revenant," which only won 3 Oscars. As we sat in our home screaming in jubilation each time "Fury Road" was victorious, we couldn't help but feel like we as a society have finally reached a turning point when it comes to cinema, and not just where #OscarsSoWhite is concerned. Many may hate to admit it, but the Oscars shape the way society views movies. The term "Oscar-worthy" is often used to denote quality in film making, much to our chagrin. In recent years, the Best Picture award seems like it has been reserved for a certain genres. The Academy heavily favors historical films, namely biopics and war movies, inspirational sports films, and period pieces. Dramas dominate award ceremonies, leaving sparse nominations for action movies, comedies, and science fiction flicks. Even when and if these types of movies get nominated, they are usually still drama-heavy, like "Silver Linings Playbook," "Gravity," "The Big Short," and "The Martian," to name a few.

The last pure action film to be nominated for Best Picture came in the form of the science fiction fantasy film "Avatar" six years ago. The only pure fantasy action film to ever win Best Picture was "Lord of the Rings: Return of the King," and even the "Lord of the Rings" series is still of epic scale with heavily dramatic elements. When "Mad Max: Fury Road" was released, there was a phrase we heard over and over again: "sure, it's a fun action flick, but it's just not Oscar-worthy. It's not the type of film that gets nominated for an Oscar." So, why is it that a movie like "Fury Road," which is a beautifully shot, deeply emotional, amazing spectacle of a film that is loved by critics and audiences alike, is not deserving of the distinction of being named one of the best overall pictures of the year?

We as a society have been so conditioned over past few decades to understand and accept what type of films get nominated. This has led to many cinephiles and critics to predict what will get nominated, sometimes before said films even see the light of day. You can spot these flicks from a mile away and are often referred to as "Oscar bait." Trailers for films like "Burnt," "Our Brand is Crisis," "Joy," "The Big Short," "Bridge of Spies," and "The Revenant" this past year all looked like prime Oscar bait, though half wound up failing to impress, and some of these movie were even downright bad. Too often, we let the Oscars shape our view of movies when we should really be letting our view of movies shape the Oscars. Too often, people truly aren't looking for the best, most enjoyable movie of the year, but are instead searching to find films that match their preconceived notions of what makes a movie appealing to Oscar voters, or what might line up with what has been nominated in the past.

This year, to the surprise of many, "Mad Max: Fury Road" received a total of ten nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director, the second most nominated film of 2015 behind "The Revenant."  Should this really be a surprise? "Fury Road" was not only Rotten Tomatoes' best reviewed film of the year, but it also topped many other lists as the best movie of 2015 and won many other prestigious awards beyond the Oscars. If so many people really believed it to be the best of the year, why is it shocking that it got nominated for Best Picture at all? People forget, above all else, movies are meant to entertain the audience through engaging stories and interesting characters. Every technical aspect of a film is meant to aid in our enjoyment of it, from the acting and camerawork, to the cinematography, music, and direction. All of these elements are put together with one goal in mind: to keep the audience invested in the film and invoke an emotional reaction of some kind from viewers.

There's no denying the Academy Awards, as a whole, are losing their edge within our culture. Sure, 34.3 million people tuned in to watch the ceremony, but the 88th annual Oscars telecast was still the least viewed in the last 7 years and is the second lowest on record. We can understand why. In our ever-changing, fast paced world, movies either come and go, fizzling out of theaters a few measly weeks after they are released (like "Rock the Kasbah" and "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies"); or, they are burned in our collective psyche long after they have left cinemas, penetrating the minds and hearts of cinephiles everywhere like soda on a sticky-floored movie theater you can't quite shake off your shoes. These are the movies destined to be taught to future generations of films students, like "Citizen Kane," "The Godfather," and "Star Wars." It might sound presumptuous, but we believe "Mad Max: Fury Road" will be one of those films, the ones referenced in textbooks as game-changers and culture-shapers, the ones that made history, and for good reason. We say this not to diminish the great work of "Spotlight," which was our #3 favorite film of 2015, but to say to the Academy directly: don't be afraid to take a chance on a movie like "Fury Road." Take a chance on wild creativity and back movies that challenge cultural norms and expectations. We hope the newest incarnation of "Mad Max" serves as a turning point, and want nothing more than to see the status quo of Hollywood change just a little bit more year by year so more films like this can get the credit and recognition they so obviously deserve.

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