Cannes: Is 'Mad Max' Oscar-Worthy?

Jasin Boland

George Miller's action epic drew spontaneous applause three times during its festival press screening.

At the official press screening on Thursday of Mad Max: Fury Road, the audience broke into spontaneous applause three times during the course of the film.

With 94 reviews tallied on as of late Thursday Cannes time, it’s racked up an enthusiastic 99 percent approval rating. Any other movie bowing in Cannes to that sort of swooning reception would immediately be hailed as a real Oscar contender.

But George Miller’s action epic faces an uphill battle. Never mind that the critics are piling superlatives on the movie, in which Tom Hardy steps into the biker boots originally worn by Mel Gibson: The New York Times’ A.O. Scott complimented Miller on his “great action filmmaking." And THR’s Todd McCarthy called it a "madly entertaining new action extravaganza."

But Fury Road still has to overcome the fact that it has genre-movie roots, even if Miller has upped the imaginative ante and also given his series a feminist makeover with the addition of Charlize Theron’s woman warrior Furiosa. For the Academy rarely takes genre movies seriously.

Since the best picture category was opened up to as many as ten nominees in 2009, there have been only a handful of what could be described as popcorn movies that have made the cut: 2009’s Avatar and District 9, 2010’s Inception, and 2013’s Gravity.

Fury Road does have a few things operating in its favor that could help it overcome Academy prejudices. Miller is no stranger to the Academy, even if his previous three Mad Max movies earned no nominations. The ecletic director won the feature animation Oscar for 2006’s Happy Feet; got a best picture nom for producing 1996’s Babe; and screenwriting noms for Babe and 1992’s Lorenzo’s Oil. Additionally, Fury Road also boasts cinematography by the respected John Seale, whose resume includes four noms and an Oscar for 1996’s The English Patient.

There’s another problem to consider, though – a potential roadblock standing in the way of the Warners/Village Roadshow production. For if the Academy does find itself looking to reward a crowd-pleaser, there just happens to be another title waiting to open in December that also could fill the bill: A little picture called Star Wars: The Force Awakens.