Thursday, June 13, 2024

“Mad Max” Director George Miller’s History With The Academy Awards

You can’t put doctor-turned-filmmaker George Miller into a box. This 79-year-old Australian master auteur may be well known for the “Mad Max” universe, but it’s far from his only foray into the world of cinema. Over his career, Miller has also shown an affinity for horror comedies (“The Witches of Eastwick”), family movies (the “Happy Feet” and “Babe” features), and domestic dramas (“Lorenzo’s Oil”). He has an impressive variety of genres under his belt. However, one thing that is consistent across his career is his films are pretty damn good at scoring Oscar nominations.

Granted, it didn’t seem like Miller would initially be remotely omnipresent at Academy Awards ceremonies. His first three directorial efforts were also the inaugural three entries in the “Mad Max” saga. None of them made it to the Oscars, and why would they? Regardless of quality, action movies rarely made a splash at big award shows in the 1980s unless they were in below-the-line categories. This was long before the days of “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” “Inception” and “Avatar,” becoming Oscar heavyweights nominated for Best Picture. The initial “Mad Max” movies were groundbreaking in their action choreography; however, they weren’t going to get the attention of the Academy.

Ironically, the one member of this trio that likely got closest to an Oscar nomination was the critically derided “Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.” This production starred franchise fixture Mel Gibson and saga newcomer Tina Turner. The latter also delivered the firm’s hit original song, “We Don’t Need Another Hero.” That tune secured a Best Original Song nomination at the Golden Globes that year. Because of this early precursor, it’s not hard to imagine the song was close to an Oscar nomination in the same category. Still, the Academy opted to recognize other original works that year instead. With that, the original “Mad Max” trilogy officially had zero Oscar nominations to its name.

Miller’s first follow-up to “Beyond Thunderdome,” “The Witches of Eastwick,” would finally bring one of the filmmaker’s works to the Academy Awards. “Eastwick” scored two Oscar nominations: One for Best Original Score (Academy favorite John Williams got the nomination there) and another for Best Sound. The trend of George Miller movies garnering technical nominations a-plenty at the Oscars had officially begun. Regarding its larger awards season presence, Jack Nicholson scored a handful of Best Actor nominations and even won at significant award shows held by film critic organizations. Alas, a nomination for the all-time male acting nomination leader wasn’t in the cards this time.

In 1992, Miller helmed arguably his most Oscar-friendly work with “Lorenzo’s Oil.” This feature chronicled a married couple struggling to find an antidote to their son’s dire medical condition. The down-to-earth nature of the proceedings and Oscar-friendly talent (Susan Sarandon had already scored two Best Actress Oscar nominations before the release “Lorenzo’s Oil” and Nick Nolte received a nomination the year before for “The Prince Of Tides”) anchoring the film gave it enormous Oscar potential. In the end, it scored two nominations, one for Best Actress and the other for Best Original Screenplay. These two nominations are notable for very different reasons. Sarandon’s Best Actress nomination marks (to date) the only Miller-directed performance to score an Oscar nod. Charlize Theron came close in 2015 as Furiosa in “Mad Max: Fury Road,” but yes, Sarandon inhabits the only Oscar-nominated performance in Miller’s filmography. Additionally, Miller was one of the Best Original Screenplay nominees, earning him his first Oscar nomination.

Three years later, Miller would score two further Oscar nominations for a film he didn’t direct. The 1995 hit family film “Babe” was directed by Chris Noonan. However, Miller wrote the script with Noonan and served as one of the film’s producers. Thanks to these creative roles, Miller scored two more Oscar nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture for “Babe.” These were the tip of the iceberg for “Babe’s” seven total Oscar nominations at the 68th Academy Awards, tying with “Sense and Sensibility” as the third-most nominated movie at the Oscars that year.

That massive Oscars presence would not be replicated for “Babe: Pig in the City” in 1998, a delightfully bizarre family movie that Miller directed this time around. However, the sequel did secure a Best Original Song Oscar nomination for the tune “That’ll Do.” This made “Babe: Pig in the City” the third consecutive film directed by Miller to get an Oscar nomination. That streak would extend to four with the release of the computer-animated movie “Happy Feet,” which garnered a Best Animated Feature Oscar nomination eight years later. Impressively, “Happy Feet” would win in that category, thus giving Miller his first and (to date) only Oscar of his entire legendary career.

Miller’s hot streak with the Academy would abruptly end with the critically reviled “Happy Feet Two.” Though a sequel to an Oscar-winning movie, the Kyle Buchanan book “Blood, Sweat & Chrome: The Wild and True Story of Mad Max: Fury Road” contains many knowledgeable anecdotes revealing that the project was trying for Miller, fraught with creative struggles. Unsurprisingly, that resulted in a feature totally ignored by the Academy. Lest anyone think this was the end of Miller as an Oscar darling, though, one must remember that right after “Happy Feet Two” came the action masterpiece that is “Mad Max: Fury Road.”

None of the original “Mad Max” movies ever scored a single Oscar nomination. Decades later, “Mad Max: Fury Road” earned a whopping ten nominations at the 88th Academy Awards. That included Best Picture, as well as Miller’s first nomination for Best Director. “Mad Max: Fury Road” rightfully took home six Oscars — the most Oscar wins of any motion picture at that year’s ceremony. Marking a creative, financial, critical, and awards high-point in Miller’s career, “Mad Max: Fury Road” was a huge moment for Miller’s legacy, even though there are many who feel his work should’ve been rewarded for Best Director that year instead of giving Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu a second Oscar in a row for his work on “The Revenant.”

Of course, Miller didn’t hang up his director’s hat after “Mad Max: Fury Road.” Seven years later, he delivered “Three Thousand Years of Longing,” which came up empty at the Academy Awards after garnering a mixed reception at the Cannes Film Festival and from audiences when it was released in theaters.

Now, Miller has returned to the big screen and the Wasteland with “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga.” Will it replicate the Oscar success of “Mad Max: Fury Road?” Unfortunately, judging by the film’s box-office performance, that seems doubtful, simply because “Mad Max: Fury Road’s” shiny and chrome bevy of Oscar nods and wins came about because it was such a bolt-out-of-the-blue success. A prequel explicitly building on the mythology of “Mad Max: Fury Road” won’t have that element of surprise to propel it to double-digit Oscar nominations. However, Miller’s track record with the Academy should not result in “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” receiving zero Oscar nominations. The film is widely expected to score nominations in the below-the-line categories for Best Costume Design, Production Design, Makeup & Hairstyling, Sound, and possibly Visual Effects. The film still has many supporters within the industry and critical community to keep it in the conversation throughout the rest of the year. So, don’t count out “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” yet. It’ll undoubtedly vie for nominations in some key craft categories when the 97th Academy Awards nominations get announced. After all, if you’re a post-1985 George Miller movie, at least one Oscar nomination tends to await you in cinematic Valhalla.

Have you seen “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” yet? If so, what did you think? What Oscar nominations do you think the film will receive? Do you think George Miller should’ve won Best Director for “Mad Max: Fury Road?” Please let us know in the comments section below or on our Twitter¬†account.

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