Roma, A Star Is Born, BlacKkKlansman, If Beale Street Could Talk, and The Favourite are all wonderful films that fully deserve the accolades they’re earning as we inch closer to February’s Oscars. But let’s not forget that the coolest movie of the year came out in July and it included Tom Cruise performing helicopter barrel rolls through mountainous terrain like a complete goddamn maniac.
That’s right, baby. It’s time we recognize Mission: Impossible – Fallout as the cinematic treasure that it is.
While Fallout may contend for a few Oscars in craft categories like sound editing, it’s not on the pundits’ radar for best picture, and it appears to have fallen out of the awards conversation entirely despite its widespread critical acclaim and healthy box office totals—two criteria any studio franchise film must meet in order to get Oscar buzz. (Perhaps in a year that didn’t include Black Panther, Fallout would have received more love.) But, reader, that was all before I made its case.
Mission: Impossible – Fallout is a well-acted, charming, propulsive thrill ride that is somehow still totally coherent as a globe-spanning spy story—an impressive feat given its many locales, set pieces, plot twists, and death-defying stunts. A lesser film would have collapsed under the weight of its ambition, but not Fallout. Fallout succeeds. Fallout is an astounding achievement in filmmaking.
The sixth installment in the Mission: Impossible series, Fallout is directed by Christopher McQuarrie and follows Cruise’s US operative Ethan Hunt as he tries to take down the mysterious terrorist group called The Syndicate once and for all. Helping (and, sometimes, impeding) Hunt is Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust, an MI6 agent whose loyalties are often in question. New in this installment is August Walker, an assassin tasked by the CIA to monitor Hunt and his team, played by Henry Cavill. All three are stars, and any time at least two of them are in a room together, it’s movie magic.
There are films more emotionally profound than Fallout (that list up top is a good place to start), but emotional profundity is only one standard with which to measure a film’s worth. Fallout is a moviegoing experience unlike any other this year, one that shows off all of the amazing things that the medium can do to one’s senses. Visually, Fallout is both pretty and gigantic to look at, like the Grand Canyon of movies. Shots are composed and framed with care, fight scenes are choreographed meticulously, stunts are planned and executed over the course of months—all rarities for a franchise action movie financed by a major Hollywood studio in 2018. Fallout is a huge movie that feels at once transportive and intimate. It cannot be replicated on TV or the stage.
As Hunt, Cruise might not show the range or vulnerability that most people associate with “Oscar performances,” but he did continuously risk his life several times for our amusement—and ended up giving us one of the most intense and committed performances of the year. It’s neither easy to convincingly play an international spy nor perform a HALO jump 25,000 feet in the air—and it’s especially hard to do both at the same time.
Cruise’s role as Hunt in the Mission Impossible series, and Fallout especially, is not your traditional Oscar-nominated turn, but it’s as much of a performance as any other. (And as a self-destructive man essentially addicted to the spy life, which torpedoes any hope of having normal relationships with people, Hunt is a more tragic character than the HALO jumps and barrel rolls would have you believe.)
Especially now that there can be up to 10 slots for best picture, the film academy members can vote for Fallout without feeling like they’re taking something away from a smaller-scale arthouse picture. There’s room for Beale Street and Fallout! There’s even room for Black Panther and Fallout—as fun and culturally resonant as the Marvel superhero movie was, we don’t have to choose just one blockbuster to represent “big movies” at awards shows. We don’t need a badly misguided separate category to honor their achievements. We can, and should, choose them both.
Notably, there is precedent for the academy nominating a pure action film for best picture. Mad Max: Fury Road was nominated in 2015, and though it didn’t win, not many of us would have been too upset if it did. Fury Road—a wild, auteurist post-apocalyptic experiment—was a very different type of action movie from the more traditionalist Fallout, but the two share two important things in common: a commitment to practical effects and stunts, and a nonstop kinetic energy that doesn’t relent until the credits roll.
Awards voters, I beseech you, give Mission: Impossible – Fallout a chance. It’s fun. It’s ambitious. Recognize the increasingly rare studio movie that tries really, really hard to entertain us and succeeds in doing so. Cruise already broke his ankle just so we could all have a good time at the movies. Don’t break my heart, too.