What movie will lead the pack when Oscar nominations are announced a week from Thursday?
Writing a recent column predicting the nominees for the crafts categories (cinematography, production design, film editing and the like), I kept typing the name of one movie over and over again: "Mad Max: Fury Road."
If you've seen George Miller's post-apocalyptic head trip, that shouldn't come as a surprise. Five minutes into the movie, you were probably marveling, as I was, at the way production designer Colin Gibson created an entire civilization that looked (dys)functional to every last detail. (Gibson and his team also created all the movie's insane lineup of vehicles.)
"Fury Road" amazes on every level. So you start checking off the categories. We covered production design. That's one. Margaret Sixel's expert editing, which keeps this careening, full-throttle movie completely comprehensible, was just nominated for an American Cinema Editors Eddie Award. The academy's editing branch will likely follow suit. There's two.
The sound team responsible for the movie's deafening roar should pick up nominations for both sound editing and sound design. That's three and four. Miller lured cinematographer John Seale, an Oscar winner for "The English Patient," out of retirement to capture the movie's adrenalized action and breathtaking desert imagery. He's a lock for No. 5.
Jenny Beaven's costume design, with its array of armor and masks, should be recognized by costume branch voters, though it might be a bit grungy for this group. Put it in as a tentative sixth nomination. "Fury Road" is on firmer ground in makeup and hair and visual effects, having already made the shortlists in both categories. That's seven and eight.
Director Miller is liked and respected by his peers and, at the age of 70, has delivered a film opera big enough to contain feminist ambitions, chainsaw-wielding polecats and barking mad humor. It's not surprising that "Fury Road" succeeds as a post-apocalyptic action movie. Miller practically invented and defined the genre. But the way he uses his astonishing imagery in the service of a story driven by women searching for a place free of tyranny is radical. Miller should be nominated, and I wouldn't be surprised if he wins this category when the envelope is opened in February.
Add a best picture nomination and "Mad Max: Fury Road" will lead the field with 10 nods. Or nine if the costume branch doesn't come through.
If it comes away with nine, "Fury Road" could wind up tied with Todd Haynes' beautiful romance, "Carol," another movie that should score big in the crafts categories. I'd put "Carol" down for nine nominations: picture, director Haynes, screenwriter Phyllis Nagy, actresses Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, cinematographer Edward Lachman (a repeat winner with critics groups), costume designer and academy favorite Sandy Powell, production designer Judy Becker and composer Carter Burwell.
So there you have it. The big winners Oscar nominations morning will be a post-apocalyptic chase movie, released in the summer, and a period lesbian romance.
Just what everyone expected, right?