Search This Blog

Sunday, January 17, 2016

How The Dark Knight Helped Mad Max: Fury Road's Oscar Hype

In 2008, the greatest American film of all time was released: The Dark Knight. It was a cinematic wonder. Not only was it an amazing achievement for the superhero and action genre, but it was an amazing achievement for film in general. Director Christopher Nolan pushed and changed the boundaries of what an action film can do and should look like. Further, at the time, it became the second highest grossing domestic movie ever behind Titanic. Yet when the Oscar nominations were announced, Christopher Nolan wasn't nominated for Best Director and the film did not receive a nomination for Best Picture. The film did receive five nominations and ended up with two wins which isn't nothing, but we all knew that The Dark Knight deserved more recognition than it received. The Academy knew it as well, and the next year it announced a rule change making up to ten films eligible for Best Picture as opposed to the hard and set rule of solely five films. The thinking was that if 8 - 10 films were eligible to be nominated for Best Picture in 2008, The Dark Knight would have earned a Best Picture nomination. To me that thinking is a bit silly because The Dark Knight should have been in the Top Five no matter what; however, this Oscar rule in the wake of The Dark Knight's snub has at minimum helped pushed the stodgy old white male thinking of what an Oscar movie should look like and has at maximum helped bring more prestigious exposure to films that were otherwise considered "genre films".

Since 2008, a handful of "genre films" have gotten a Best Picture nomination including Christopher Nolan's follow up to The Dark Knight: Inception, but almost no genre film has garnered as much Oscar buzz as has George Miller's 2015 instant classic Mad Max: Fury Road. The film earned 10 Academy Award nominations including Best Visual Effects, Best Editing, and Best Cinematography. However, other genre and action films have earned multiple technical nominations; where Fury Road stands out is that George Miller earned a Best Director nomination and that the film itself has earned a Best Picture nomination. This shouldn't be that big of a surprise since many have called Mad Max: Fury Road the best action film since The Dark Knight.

Like The Dark Knight, Mad Max: Fury Road has not only pushed the boundaries on what an action film should look like, but what what tent pole, summer movie blockbusters should look like, and what a film in general should look like. While I had my own personal problems with the film (mainly from the storytelling aspect of it, I was never sucked in to begin with), there's no denying that literally every other aspect of the film is superb- from how it was shot to how it was filmed to how it was edited to how it was directed and so on and so forth. In fact, it was so different that its star Tom Hardy put George Miller on blast during filming and had to apologize to him after seeing the finished product.

For starters, we need to discuss how almost everything in the film was practical stunts. In an age where a lot of even the simplest and the dumbest things are CGI'd, George Miller fought hard to make sure most of the stunts were practical effects. The very beginning of the film is a close up of a CGI'd two headed lizard that Tom Hardy's Max immediately stomps on and eats as Miller tells you from the get go of what kind of film he wanted to make. Along with using practical effects came shooting the practical effects. This meant tapping 70 year old cinematographer John Seale whose credits include The English Patient, The Talented Mr. Ripley, and Cold Mountain and not only convincing him to come out of retirement, but placing him on these rigs right where the action is. Miller also tapped Margaret Sixel, who's previous work included the great action films of Happy Feet and Babe: Pig in the City. Part of the genius of Fury Road's editing is precisely because it is not edited by someone who normally edits action films.

The uniqueness of Mad Max: Fury Road is what helped it stand out among critics and fans alike. The enjoyment and quality of George Miller's film is what helped the film gain early Oscar buzz which snowballed into the multiple nominations that we see before us. What seemed like a pipe dream to have Mad Max: Fury Road earn a Best Picture Oscar nomination to many back in the summer of 2015 has turned into a joyous reality. This reality was helped by The Dark Knight. While unfortunately the same buzz back in the summer of 2008 didn't propel Nolan's classic into more Oscar nominations, it did help open up a dialogue which did in fact bring about real change. Not only to actual Oscar voting rules, but in how The Academy thinks about summer blockbusters. Academy voters had 7 years to stew on their mistake that still exists within the cultural zeitgeist. That in turn made those who vote in award season vote for Fury Road. Not only did  The Academy Awards give it nominations, but also The Golden Globes, BAFTAs, AFI, Broadcast Film Critics Association, and National Board of Review. Mad Max: Fury Road deserves every nomination and win based upon its quality, but the opportunity for its quality to get recognition is in large part because of The Dark Knight.



If you would like to comment on this post, please visit our Facebook page