The Hunt for Oscar - Mad Max: Fury Road and White Mediocrity
I’m currently embarking on a journey to see all of the 2016 Oscar nominees before the awards are broadcast in February. This week was a rather busy one for me so I was only able to watch one movie, which is going to severely put me behind in my hunt to watch them all, however, in terms of the blog it gives me the opportunity to talk about the controversy of #OscarsSoWhite which I was unable to really deal with in depth last week. As I said, while watching nominated films, I strive to judge every movie on its merits and not compare it to other nominated or “snubbed” films. However, sometimes that task proves damn near impossible as was the case while I watched Mad Max: Fury Road.
Mad Max: Fury Road
Mad Max: Fury Road is the only franchise property nominated for Best Picture which is a feat since the Academy usually turns its nose up at popular franchises. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King is the only franchise film to take home the award in my lifetime. Rocky won Best Picture in 1977 when my parents were teenagers. Mad Max: Fury Road is the fourth Mad Max film, reviving the series from “development hell” and casting Tom Hardy in the role made famous by the now infamous Mel Gibson. I have not seen the previous Mad Max films so that may account for some of my confusion, I also saw this film after the flurry of think pieces proclaiming it as the feminist manifesto that we never even knew we needed.
Immediately at the start of the film, I was lost. Subtitles were needed and I was pretty sure they were speaking English the entire way through. While the film moved at a breakneck pace with an excellent blend of fluidity and chaos matching the frenetic acting It was clear to me within the first 30 minutes of the film that this did not reach the caliber I have come to expect from a Best Picture nominee. Mad Max is one of only 5 films to have ever been nominated in all technical categories. The technical categories include; cinematography, costume design, film editing, Production design (Art Direction), Sound Editing, Sound Mixing and Visual Effects. Technical awards are usually the place where action and adventure films flourish, this usually is a sore spot when films that have a heavy genre bent are deemed to have been snubbed in the bigger categories. This year both Mad Max: Fury Road and The Revenant (which I have not yet seen) have been nominated in all technical categories. I don’t quarrel with this, I think the design and production of Mad Max: Fury Road is impeccable. The world building of a desolate wasteland where water is in high demand and under the control of a cruel and unfeeling despot is told very well visually. This does not mean that the story is a good one or compelling one. I felt no investment in the stakes of this movies plot or characters. They were running from one desolate landscape in search of a utopia only to turn around and go back where they came from. While this story could have been interesting, it wasn’t and no amount of technical competency was going to fix the lack of storyline and plot deficiencies.
Best Picture, Best Director, Visual Effects, Makeup and Hairstyling, Costume Design, Cinematography, Film Editing, Sound Mixing, Production Design, Sound Editing
I have been watching the Oscar nominees for the past few years and I very quickly discovered that judging films against their competitors or even the films you think were “snubbed” is a losing battle. Film is inherently subjective, each individual judges it via different criteria and their own life experiences bring them to different conclusions about the film. That is one of the things I love the most about movies in general and the Oscars, in particular. However, in a year when there have only been eight nominees out of a possible ten, the mediocrity of Mad Max: Fury Road is offensive. There is this long-held belief in the minority community that you fairly or not, we must be twice as good to get half as far. Nothing illustrates this more than the inclusion of Mad Max: Fury Road in the Best Picture category while films like Creed, Straight Outta Compton, and Tangerine were largely ignored by the Academy. Of all the films I listed Creed is the most comparable to Mad Max: Fury Road, a genre franchise film with a storied history. Creed takes the story of Rocky and expands on that narrative, however, it also stands on its own merit. You do not need to have seen the previous Rocky films to understand Creed, which is either the case for Mad Max: Fury Road, or, the film is even more nonsensical than I have imagined. The performances in Creed reveal nuanced characters with complex motivations and you can’t say the same thing for the performances in Mad Max: Fury Road.
Nothing in the film Mad Max: Fury Road elevates it to the level of a Best Picture nominee and the fact that it still manages to garner a nomination in the face of other, technically superior and better films spearheaded by POC is another notch in the belt for White Mediocrity.