Alistair Harkness: Mad Max: Fury Road’s Oscar nods a welcome change

Tom Hardy in Mad Max: Fury Road
Tom Hardy in Mad Max: Fury Road
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Who says only self-consciously arty films get nominated to win Oscars, writes Alistair Harkness

One of the most heartening things about this year’s Oscars is the prominence of Mad Max: Fury Road. With ten nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director for George Miller, it’s a reminder that great cinema doesn’t have to be self-consciously artful, message-heavy or blandly populist to curry favour; it can be brash, punky and subversive.

Here’s a film, after all, that was intended as a summer action movie and a franchise reboot, and yet its singular commitment to its own mythology set it apart from virtually every other major mainstream and arthouse release last year.

Its high visibility during this awards season isn’t a total surprise, of course: it’s been picking up plaudits since debuting at the Cannes film festival last May. But it’s perhaps also reflective of a desire to acknowledge Hollywood’s current nostalgia for the first wave of blockbuster cinema. Indeed, Sylvester Stallone’s best supporting actor nod for Rocky spin-off Creed, and the multiple technical nods for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, further signal just how skilled filmmakers have become at remixing beloved movies from the past.

Elsewhere, the frontrunners are as expected. Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant leads the pack with 12 nominations and looks set to win Leonardo DiCaprio his first Oscar after four previous nominations.

True-life exposés The Big Short and Spotlight have predictably fared well, picking up acting, screenwriting, directing and best picture nominations. Strong showings for Brooklyn, Carol and Bridge of Spies, meanwhile, suggest an appreciation for classical filmmaking styles.

If there’s a surprise, it’s the love for The Martian (seven nominations) and screenplay snubs for Quentin Tarantino (The Hateful Eight) and Aaron Sorkin (Steve Jobs).

It’s a sad indictment of the industry when the two best writers in the business aren’t recognised for doing some of their boldest and most innovative work. Less of a surprise is the strength of the best actress category. Brie Larson is the favourite for Room, but she faces stiff competition from the equally brilliant Cate Blanchett (nominated for Carol), Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn), Jennifer Lawrence (Joy) and Charlotte Rampling, deservedly nominated for the BAFTA-snubbed 45 Years.

Unfortunately Eddie Redmayne’s dreary Oscar-baiting turn in The Danish Girl has landed him another nomination. The most embarrassing gaff, however, is in the best song category: hilariously, 50 Shades of Grey can now count itself an Oscar-nominee.

• Alistair Harkness’ reviews appear in The Scotsman Magazine each Saturday.