Of the eight nominated films for the 2016 Oscars, perhaps the one film that doesn't fit the bill of the traditional Oscar-worthy movie is the post-apocalyptic Mad Max: Fury Road. It is, for starters, a summer blockbuster by every definition — and typically Oscar movies are lower-budget films that fall into the fall and winter slots. What's more, Mad Max is an action movie through and through, to the point that the roughly two-hour runtime can be effectively described as an extended car chase across a desert wasteland.
However, the film does have 10 nominations, which includes a Best Director nod for George Miller, and even as a nontraditional Oscar movie, it deserves — at the very least — serious consideration to take home Best Picture.
While the film is named after one of the leads of the movie in Max (Tom Hardy), it's essentially a story centered on its female lead, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), whose mission in the film is to free women from the clutches of the patriarchal cult leader, Immortan Joe, who subjugates them for procreation purposes. As a result, women are the focus not only of the plot, but also as a means to escape the post-apocalyptic societies created by man, in turn, hinting that perhaps the world fell because of the same kinds of people.
"Rather than confining this element to the margins, Fury Road takes it as a primary theme, revealing Furiosa's journey as not just flight from Immortan Joe, but a search for a safe place removed from the madness and tyranny of men," Keith Phipps wrote for the Dissolve. "The question, 'Who killed the world?' gets raised a couple of times, first as graffiti, then as a bit of dialogue, and it's always a woman asking the question."
It's a very intentional choice by Miller, who not only created a new lead character in Furiosa, but also provided a supporting cast of female characters who all serve to enhance the movie. Additionally, Miller even hired Vagina Monologues author Eve Ensler as a set consultant, so that the filmmaking and editing process could be framed from a more feminist perspective.
"One out of three women on the planet will be raped or beaten in her lifetime — it's a central issue of our time, and that violence against women relates to racial and economic injustice," Ensler said in an interview with Time. " ... Even something subtle like their clothes in the film: they're stripped down and vulnerable and objectified in the beginning. By the end, they have their clothes on. They've taken their bodies back and themselves back in some essential way."
Beyond the thematic depth, Mad Max's mind-boggling action scenes stand apart in what is an increasingly CGI-filled industry. Though some special effects are used (notably, the sandstorm scene), Mad Max is heavily reliant on practical effects and stunt work, which gives it a wholly realistic feel as opposed to other blockbusters — not only from this year, such as Jurassic World, but generally among present-day action films.
There is a chaotic precision to the madness, one that Miller has perfected since the original Mad Max film, which he also directed. An underrated aspect of the filming process was the proper use of extras — the film's stunt coordinator consulted with the Cirque du Soleil to find the best gymnasts, according to Wired. Because there are real people out there, doing really crazy things, there is also a sense of realism that is unequaled.
"You may not consciously notice the difference, but your brain can subconsciously process the difference between actual people in actual (albeit heavily faked) jeopardy and bits of information tumbling around inside a computer," Todd VanDerWerff wrote for Vox.
We're also in the right Oscar era for a potential blockbuster win. Since 2011, the Academy has since changed its Best Picture rules to allow anywhere from five to 10 films make the list each year, after initially putting it up to 10 in 2009, according to the Los Angeles Times. Either way, it benefits the big-name films that might not get Oscars attention. With this adjustment, the likes of Avatar, District 9 and Inception have received Best Picture bids. Though none bear the same emotional weight as Mad Max, they each fall under the same blockbuster guise.
That said, the Academy likely won't grant Mad Max the win, even with its worthy merits. It's not to suggest the other films don't deserve the award — there are other fantastic films of varying genres in the running as well. However, it's evident that the Oscars has yet to hit the progressive milestone it should (with the acting categories in particular). As such — as good as Mad Max is — the Academy likely isn't ready to give its most coveted award to a film featuring a man hanging off the top of a gigantic vehicle, shooting flames through his electric guitar.