In anticipation of the Academy Awards, we polled our contributors to see who they thought should win the Oscar. Once we had our winners, we asked various writers to make the case for our selection in each category. Matt Zoller Seitz takes on the staff pick for the Best Picture of 2015, George Miller's "Mad Max: Fury Road."
"Witness me!" cries Nux (Nicholas Hoult), one of the fanatical War Boys serving Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), the villain of "Mad Max: Fury Road." The phrase is the movie's war cry, too. The fourth installment in director George Miller's "Mad Max" series was thirty years in the making and worth every minute of wait. It’s a film that amuses, dazzles, terrifies and most of all, moves forward, always forward, through time, space, and pop culture history, gathering up everything Miller learned throughout four decades of filmmaking and seemingly everything every subsequent action director stole from Miller, mixing old school stunts and compositional intelligence with new-school computer effects and color correction software, and making a familiar scrap-heap of a world feel new again: brighter, bolder, wilder, faster and—paradoxically—at once more grotesque and more humane.
The script, credited to Miller, Brendan McCarthy and Nick Lathouris, tracks a fugitive war rig stolen by Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a lieutenant in Joe’s army. She busts her boss’ five wives, who are basically incubator-slaves, out of captivity, and leads them toward a supposed Eden where they can start over. Their chief ally is Max (played by Tom Hardy, inheriting the role from Mel Gibson). As always, he’s a surly, traumatized loner whose submerged decency is reawakened by being pressed into service by good guys who’ll die without his help. The film’s narrative masterstroke is the same thing that made it controversial among male viewers who would have preferred to watch tediously macho heroes rescue damsels in distress or let a cardboard tomboy tag along on their journey: this time a woman is behind the wheel, figuratively and often literally, while Max rides shotgun. Not only does Max seem to accept a supporting role, he behaves with a weary humility that shifts focus to Furiosa, letting her become the true hero of the tale and the inheritor of his legend. (Miller’s story consultant on the picture was feminist playwright Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues: gauntlet thrown.)
The result is a crossover hit that appealed equally to general audiences looking for strong characters and a post-caveman worldview, and the rah-rah contingent that mostly craved chases, death-defying stunts and splendidly bizarre images (such as the flamethrowing-guitar player strapped to the front of a war rig). Great as Theron, Hardy, Hoult, Keays-Byrne and the rest of the cast are, the film’s most dazzling star turns are by Miller, his editor (and wife) Margaret Sixel, his cinematographer John Seale, and the small army of stunt-persons and precision drivers who brought this world to life. For all its violence and horror, it’s a beautiful movie, because it’s ultimately about the only eternally replenishable fuel: hope.