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George Miller’s “Mad Max: Fury Road” was a huge winner at the 2016 Academy Awards Sunday evening, taking home six Oscars to net the most trophies of any film of the year, but losing out in its bid for Best Picture to “Spotlight,” during a night that will be remembered both for the way it highlighted Hollywood’s diversity problems and for the end it brought to the long drought of Leonardo DiCaprio — who finally took home his much-anticipated first Best Actor award for his role in “The Revenant.”
“Mad Max: Fury Road” won Oscars for Costume Design, Production Design & Set Direction, Makeup & Hairstyling, Film Editing, Sound Editing, and Sound Mixing, bringing a slew of the film’s creators into the spotlight. The awards came in quick succession, with costume designer Jenny Beavan being the first to be called to the stage, where she remarked “What another lovely day,” before warning that without better treatment of the environment, the dystopian future of “Fury Road” could become a reality — a topic DiCaprio would also hit on in his speech (albeit without mentioning the dystopia).
“Mad Max” won so many awards that Louis C.K. even joked that they had taken the prize for Best Documentary (Short Subject).
After no actors of color were nominated for this year’s Awards, Hollywood’s hotly discussed diversity problem was a through-line to the entire event. Host Chris Rock opened the show by opening the conversation, calling the industry not racist-racist, but sorority-racist, in a perspective-raising monologue. From there, the issue of inclusivity became a recurring motif. When Colin Gibson and Lisa Thompson won the award for Best Production Design & Set Direction for their work on “Mad Max,” the first Oscar win for each, Gibson turned his acceptance speech into a nod to the larger theme.
“It never ceases to annoy me how many it people it takes to make me look competent,” Gibson said, “To get one of these it gives you an idea of the multitude of Australians, New Zealanders, Brits Americans South Africans, Namibians, who all came together under [director] George [Miller]’s vision to bring you a tale about a man with mental health issues, an amputee Amazon and five runaway sex slaves — so I’d like to chalk this one up as the first Oscar for diversity.”
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” which had earned five nominations, was shut out of the awards, although it still had a tangible presence during the evening. J.J. Abrams presented the Best Director award, and C-3P0, R2-D2 and BB-8 took the stage at one point to argue about seating, compare Threepio’s likeness to the Oscar, and pay homage to legendary composer John Williams.
Williams has been nominated for fifty Academy Awards and won five, leading Threepio to observe that it’s “no wonder he has a good seat.” His work on “Episode VII” was nominated for Best Original Score, but lost out to Ennio Morricone, who won the first Oscar of his venerable career for his work on Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight.” According to critic Mark Harris, the 87 year-old Morricone is the oldest person to ever win a competitive Academy Award. Morricone very graciously singled out the work of Williams during his acceptance speech.
“Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” were both bested in the Visual Effects category by “Ex Machina,”which starred Poe Dameron (and Apocalypse) himself, Oscar Isaac, as well as Alicia Vikander, who won the Best Supporting Actress award for her role in “The Danish Girl.” “Scott Pilgrim” alum Brie Larson won Best Actress for her work in “Room.”
Science fiction was well-represented throughout the night, as Leonard Nimoy, the actor and director most famous for his portrayal of Spock throughout decades of “Star Trek” series and movies, was the final deceased filmmaker to be celebrated by the In Memoriam segment, which featured Dave Grohl playing Paul McCartney’s “Blackbird.”
Sam Smith won Best Song for the Bond theme he penned for “Spectre,” “Writing’s on the Wall.”
For his work on “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home,” “Aladdin” and “The Fifth Element,” as well as “Fury Road,” Mark Mangini had been nominated by the Academy four times, and it was the first for David White, but and the pair shared their pride when they won in the category of Sound Editing.
“George Miller would tell us, ‘”Mad Max” is a film we see with our ears,'” Mangini said. “I knew sound could tell my story, but nothing quite like this. Sound artists are storytellers.”
White turned down the volume in his thanks, saying, “I’m so proud, so proud, to work on this loud, loud, loud film that actually had silence in it!”
The gala saw a stampede of goodwill for the Charlize Theron/Tom Hardy blockbuster.
“‘Mad Max’ was the best reviewed film of 2015, audiences loved it, and to be honored tonight is just more than we could have ever hoped for,” said Margaret Sixel, while accepting her award for Best Editing. “But it took enormous creative courage and guts to make this film,” she said, going on to thank director George Miller, producer Doug Mitchell, “and the whole crew that endured six months in that Namibian desert to bring back the most amazing footage.”
“Mad Max: Fury Road” was lauded for the surprising depth it exhibited, despite being popcorn-friendly summer fare. Its success, and the rising social tide for more equal representation in media, could mean more original stories starring fresh characters from the major studios. One thing is for sure, though–with their six wins out of ten nominations, George Miller’s cast and crew can afford to leave the blood bags behind. After they’re done celebrating, they might be better off finding one of those hangover-curing IV drips.