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National Board of Review picks 'Mad Max' as best film. Will Oscars agree?

'Mad Max' stars Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron and became a smash hit at the box office this summer. The 'Best Film of the Year' choice by the Board is a surprise.

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    'Mad Max: Fury Road' stars Charlize Theron.
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The National Board of Review has gone with a box office blockbuster for its choice of the best film of the year, naming the movie “Mad Max: Fury Road” as the best picture to be released recently. 

“Max” stars Tom Hardy as the title protagonist, who is living in a post-apocalyptic wasteland and encounters Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), who is attempting to drive several young women to safety.

The movie, which was directed and co-written by original “Mad Max” director George Miller, became a box office and critical hit, grossing more than $153 million domestically. 

“Max” beat out such lauded competition as the journalism drama “Spotlight,” Steven Spielberg’s Cold War film “Bridge of Spies,” and the science fiction film “The Martian,” though the National Board of Review gave “Martian” director Ridley Scott the best director prize and “Martian” actor Matt Damon won the best actor award.

By awarding the best film prize to “Max” and the best director award to Mr. Scott, the National Board of Review honored films that were also box office hits. Like “Max,” “Martian,” which is based on the book of the same name by Andy Weir, became a box office smash and is currently the sixth-highest-grossing movie of the year, having taken in more than $218 million domestically.

Meanwhile, Brie Larson won the best actress prize for the film “Room” and Sylvester Stallone won the best supporting actor award for the movie “Creed.” “The Hateful Eight” actress Jennifer Jason Leigh won the best supporting actress award for the upcoming Quentin Tarantino film. 

How often does the National Board of Review predict the eventual Best Picture winner? Not often within the past decades. Since 1995, only three of the National Board of Review’s picks (“American Beauty,” “No Country for Old Men,” and “Slumdog Millionaire”) have gone on to take the big prize at the Oscars. 

At the very least, though, the National Board of Review often selects movies that end up being a nominee. Many critics liked “Max,” but the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences rarely goes for action-oriented blockbusters when selecting Best Picture nominees, so some viewed “Max” as a longer shot for a nomination than, say, “Spotlight,” “Room,” or the historical drama “Brooklyn.” 

But this choice by the National Board of Review may have Oscar voters paying renewed attention to the summer blockbuster. Of those same movies since 1995, all but three of the National Board of Review winners were at least nominated for Best Picture. 

So, Mad Max is a long shot. But it’s not unheard of for blockbuster movies to get nominated for Best Picture and even win. One of the leading contenders for the prize recently was the 2013 movie “Gravity,” which became a box office hit like “Max,” as did the 2012 movie “Argo,” which won the prize. Two 2010 films – “The King’s Speech” and “The Social Network” were widely viewed as leading contenders for Best Picture that year, also succeeded at the box office. 

Those behind the Oscars TV event are no doubt hoping a box office hit will be a nominee. While many factors influence the ratings for an Oscars telecast, including the choice of host (this year, it’s Chris Rock), the telecast saw record ratings the year that “Titanic,” one of the highest-grossing movies of all time, won Best Picture. 

Meanwhile, last year, when two low-grossing films, “Boyhood” and “Birdman,” were battling for Best Picture, the ratings for total viewers were the lowest since 2009. 

Will “Max” find its name on the shortlist when Oscar nominees are announced? Stay tuned on Jan. 14.

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