Dear Fellow Film Critics,
Someone once recently called me that most derogatory of critical terms—fan boy—because I wrote that I‘d seen Mad Max: Fury Road ten (10) times in the theatre. That’s like accusing someone of being a snob because they go to the Louvre every week. There is just a fundamental misapprehension of the impulse at work.
A fan boy is driven by slavish, unthinking devotion to a piece of culture he sees, sadly, as somehow self-actualizing. Experiencing a flat out piece of art like Mad Max: Fury Road multiple times is simply a question of good taste being rewarded with each interaction.
George Miller’s ridiculous film is so outside the realm of what’s probable that it smacks of a kind of magic. There really aren’t that many experimental art films that have a price tag of 150 million dollars and feature two pre-eminent actors like Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy. More importantly, there aren’t that many experimental art films that are so fucking entertaining. When I say entertaining, I mean there is a sequence early on that utterly enraptured every audience I experienced the film with. And each time the ten-minute-or-so-sequence ended, each time, there was a collective silence for three beats followed by a slow exhalation—then usually a smattering of things like “Christ almighty” or something similar.
I don’t really care much who wins Oscar, to be honest. The actual value of it seems disproportionate, but I do think that some of the conversations surrounding the ceremony make it completely worthwhile as an exercise. Mad Max: Fury Road is especially worthy of being a part of that conversation for a lot of reasons, but here is the one I think is most significant. It is completely true to itself as a piece of art. It never contradicts its own logic, never sacrifices story and its narrative integrity, and always treats it characters as three-dimensional—no matter how heightened and outlandish they seem externally. This is a world George Miller believes in and he is possessed of the craft and the talent to bring the audience fully into that world with him.
So much about what’s good art versus what is not, once you get past a kind of qualitative baseline (some things are just so poorly conceived and executed they never pass the starting gate) is about each persons’ willingness to engage with the work on its own terms. That doesn’t mean disengaging with your critical faculties or empty-headed consumption, it just means that whatever your initial preconceptions, you allow the film to confound them—if it can. The real genius of Fury Road is that it takes those preconceptions and burns them with fire from the end a guitar.
So far I’m one for one with my Dear Cast and Crew Best Picture Oscar Predictions™. Birdman—last year’s winner—and Fury Road definitely share some DNA. They are both products of minds possessed of original, daring, boisterous and Loki-like levels of mischief. Each of these films is predicated on a big fuck you to the industry that helped spawn them. In Birdman it is textual and overt (Iñárritu is like that) but Fury Road is a middle finger to convention simply by existing. There is no way to exaggerate how hopeful Fury Road makes me about what is possible when there is a perfect convergence of creator, circumstance, concept and just plain dumb luck.
And if there is anything the Academy falls all over itself to reward, it is a film that holds everything they value in utter contempt. So it is just possible I could go two for two.