Mad Max: Fury Road

The Big Budget Film Awards of 2015

Crimson Peak Jessica Chastain

by S.L. Fevre, Eden O’Nuallain, Cleopatra Parnell, Amanda Smith, Rachel Ann Taylor, Vanessa Tottle, and Gabriel Valdez

We’re doing something supremely weird this year. We’re breaking up the films of 2015 by big, mid, and low budget categories. We’re qualifying big budget as anything that cost more than $50 million to produce.

The reasons for doing this are multiple. The idea of genre is a lost concept. In a year when the Golden Globes award “The Martian” as best comedy, we’ve lost some sense of what a comedy even is. It also allows films to compete with other films that had about the same level of access and spending. How do you decide a best film race between, say, the $200 million “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and something like “Tangerine,” which was shot on iPhones for $100,000? The two have completely different goals in terms of how they interact with audiences.

Now, let’s talk about one thing that’s quickly apparent in the list below. It’s overwhelmingly white. Isn’t that just what the Oscars are being criticized for this year? We noticed a funny thing splitting films between budgets. The big-budget films we considered were cast far more homogenously than the mid- and especially the low-budget films. Welcome to Hollywood.

You’ll also see that “The Revenant” is nowhere to be seen in this category. We made ourselves a rule – a film has to open in at least 100 theaters in 2015 (or to come out on rental or streaming that year) to be considered a 2015 film. “The Revenant” opened in no more than four until January 8.

The reason for this rule is this: we want to consider a film when audiences actually get a chance to see it. We do this because it allows us to consider a wider range of smaller films that slip through theaters but are worthy of consideration and acknowledgement. Obviously, these don’t tend to be part of the big budget category, but the rule also means that to us, “The Revenant” is a 2016 film.

Oh, and also: we’re not separating the acting categories by gender.

Let’s dive in:

Best Supporting Actor in a Big Budget Film:
Jessica Chastain, Crimson Peak

 

There was also energy for Viola Davis’s FBI handler in “Blackhat.” Playing a federal agent who knows how to exert political pressure to open the right doors, Davis enjoyed a role women rarely get to inhabit in thrillers. Simon Pegg got some love from us for “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation.” He does some remarkable work, not the least of which is buddying with Tom Cruise in a way that creates a more human space for the action star. Pegg embraced the “supporting” part of “supporting actor” in a way most actors don’t know how.

Ultimately, however, Jessica Chastain’s role in “Crimson Peak” appeared on six of our seven shortlists. In fact, she appeared on the seventh, but that was for her role as mission commander in “The Martian.” As opposed to the heroic leader she plays there, in “Crimson Peak” she is the best villain of the year. Simultaneously measured and out of control, she embodies the madness of Guillermo Del Toro’s world like few before her. She seems to be the entire Grand Guignol genre on her own, both chewing the scenery and delivering on a profoundly nuanced dramatic level. She is the single most important element of the film, playing her role with a range the Oscars overlooked. Even for her vast array of work before this, her role in “Crimson Peak” is still a performance no one expected from her.

All actors receiving a vote:
Jessica Chastain, “Crimson Peak”
Viola Davis, “Blackhat”
Simon Pegg, “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation”
Jessica Chastain, “The Martian”
Jennifer Jason Leigh, “The Hateful Eight”
Nicholas Hoult, “Mad Max: Fury Road”
Donald Sutherland, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2”
Julianne Nicholson, “Black Mass”
Michele Rodriguez, “Furious 7”

Best Actor in a Big Budget Film:
Johnny Depp, Black Mass

 

We liked Matt Damon in “The Martian” quite a lot. The film is carried on his back much more than it is in its design or presentation of another world, and that says something. Charlize Theron came close to nabbing this for “Mad Max: Fury Road.” She gives the angry, yearning performance that most expected out of Tom Hardy going in, and she’s the beating heart of one of the best movies of the year.

It’s Johnny Depp in “Black Mass” who deserves this most, however. Either that, or we just like our villains. Most critics had written Depp off as unable to convey these sorts of roles anymore. As the ugly, terrifying Whitey Bulger, Depp plays the most disturbing character in his career. The movie slightly fails him, being more of a historical checklist than an actual theory of the man. Nonetheless, Depp brings his ‘A’ game. His presence makes the viewer cringe in anticipation of what horror his character might commit next. Depp makes the role work even when other actors fail to make theirs work (like Dakota Johnson and Benedict Cumberbatch, in a rare miss). He also seems to center Joel Edgerton’s performance, which is all over the map except when Depp’s on-screen. In that way, Depp seems to transcend even the failures of the film around him, raising “Black Mass” from good to must-see territory almost entirely on his performance.

All actors receiving a vote:
Johnny Depp, Black Mass
Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road
Matt Damon, The Martian
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Daisy Ridley, Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Jennifer Lawrence, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2
Mia Wasikowska, Crimson Peak
Alicia Vikander, The Man from UNCLE

Best Screenplay in a Big Budget Film:
Mad Max: Fury Road

 

This came down to a two-horse race between “Inside Out” and “Mad Max: Fury Road.” It’d be hard to find two more different films in 2015, but ultimately, we went with “Mad Max.” The film is simply a perfect storm of storytelling, both on the page and on the screen. Writers George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, and Nick Lathouris had the benefit of a decade of poring over story treatments and tightening the screenplay. There’s something special about a film that goes through that much editing.

Since it’s an apt metaphor, consider films like cars. A screenplay that a studio shops around, written and re-written by different teams of writers, is like a car taken to different mechanics. Some you can trust, some you can’t. A film that’s held by one team as a project you tinker with over years and years – it all runs as one machine. Every part is geared toward the same purpose. Nothing in the film is working against another element. That is the feeling that pervades “Mad Max: Fury Road.”

Few films are brave enough to take apart the concepts of toxic masculinity that drive so many in the real world to possess and violate. Fewer still manage to address these concepts through fantastical or science-fictional means. These are too often treated in writing as the realm of by-men, for-men. A screenplay that can buck that trend, especially in such an immediate emotional way is invaluable.

All writers receiving a vote:
George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nick Lathouris, Mad Max: Fury Road
Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley, Inside Out
Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, Michael Arndt, Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Guillermo Del Toro & Matthew Robbins, Crimson Peak
David O. Russell, Joy
Christopher McQuarrie, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
Quentin Tarantino, The Hateful Eight
Andy & Lana Wachowski, Jupiter Ascending
Drew Goddard, The Martian

Best Director of a Big Budget Film:
George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road

 

This became a logjam in voting pretty quickly. The winner just about lapped the field, but “Inside Out,” the underrated “Jupiter Ascending,” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” all got some love, tying for third place. It was Christopher McQuarrie for “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation” who took second. His beautiful sense of pace, his theatrical approach to designing a set piece, and the unexpected performances he lured from Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, and Simon Pegg all made us remember the job he did as, well, surprising.

Yet there really was no competition. “Mad Max: Fury Road” was phenomenal. Four of us named director George Miller tops in this category. It is the fusion of so many pieces working in concert together that makes a film this special. Every element of the film was in tune with the next. This is the same kind of fusion of technical and design elements you saw with the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, yet with a far more urgent thematic message:

Even to the nuances, like bringing Eve Ensler in as a consultant to ensure that Miller didn’t direct the women in the film on topics he wasn’t qualified to direct. It’s not some mastery of all the moving parts of a film that’s important in a director. It’s recognizing when you aren’t best qualified to speak to something in your film, and acknowledging and bringing in someone who is.

All directors receiving a vote:
George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
Christopher McQuarrie, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
Pete Docter & Ronnie Del Carmen, Inside Out
J.J. Abrams, Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Andy & Lana Wachowski, Jupiter Ascending
David O. Russell, Joy
Guillermo Del Toro, Crimson Peak
Scott Cooper, Black Mass
Ridley Scott, The Martian

Best Big Budget Film of 2015:
Mad Max: Fury Road

 

Big surprise after those last two categories. But let’s look at the films that came near. “Jupiter Ascending” already won our Most Thankless Role of 2015 for Mila Kunis. As a film that refuses to take itself seriously while also conveying messages about feminism and gender fluidity that you often don’t see, many of us held onto it as something rare and special.

We gave “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” our Best Diversity of 2015, for featuring positive women, Black, and Hispanic characters, and speaking to the relationship between misogyny, racism, and toxic masculinity through the actions of its characters.

“Mad Max: Fury Road” is one of the best films ever made, period. Yet there’s something more important than just saying this is the best film of the year. It’s recognizing the trend across all these films. They all follow leading women and champion perspectives of feminism. They may not all agree on those perspectives, but feminism is hardly a movement limited to any individual’s perception of what it should be. They also all feature roles for men that aren’t sidelined to feminism, but rather engage actively as part of the cause.

The notion that these films don’t make money or aren’t as good is ridiculous. If anything, we may be proving the opposite – that the age of films geared simply to play toward poisonous concepts of misogyny and racism is over. Today, we want films that are more inclusive – of gender, of race, of sexuality, of disability. We’ve already talked about why “Mad Max: Fury Road” is good. It’s more important to begin talking about what “Mad Max: Fury Road” is a part of as a movement in film and storytelling. It’s echoed through all the films that received a vote this year:

All films receiving a vote:
Mad Max: Fury Road
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Jupiter Ascending
Inside out
Crimson Peak
Joy
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
The Martian
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2

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