The Academy Awards are just days away — which means it’s time to buckle down and really get to know this year’s Best Picture contenders. Today’s deep-dive: Ridley Scott’s adaptation of Andy Weir’s sci-fi adventure novel about a botanist stranded on Mars after a deadly storm, The Martian.
Name: The Martian
Tweetable description: After being presumed dead and left behind on Mars by his crewmates, astronaut Mark Watney must devise ways—like growing potatoes—to survive.
Movie math: (Interstellar – Gravity) x Cast Away + (Saturday Night Fever ÷ 10) = The Martian
Release date: Oct. 2, 2015
DVD release date: Jan. 12, 2016
Run time: 2 hrs., 24 mins.
Box office: $228.3 million (through Feb. 19); opening weekend: $54.3 million
Budget: $108 million
What Chris Nashawaty said: “Scott’s sci-fi adventure is the kind of film you leave the theater itching to tell your friends to see. Like Apollo 13 and Gravity, it turns science and problem solving into an edge-of-your-seat experience… It’s a rare blockbuster with the brains to match its budget.” A-
Best line: “I’m going to have to science the s— out of this.” —Mark Watney (Matt Damon)
Number of Oscar nods: Seven. Matt Damon landed a nod for Best Actor in a Leading Role, and Drew Goddard is nominated for Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay. The four remaining nominations are for Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Visual Effects, and Production Design.
The Martian’s Oscar history: This is the fourth nomination for Ridley Scott, who was overlooked in this year’s Best Director category, but would share the trophy alongside producers Simon Kinberg, Michael Schaefer, and Mark Huffam if The Martian takes Best Picture. Matt Damon won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar alongside Ben Affleck in 1998 for Good Will Hunting, and has been nominated twice for acting (Good Will Hunting and 2010’s Invictus). In the sound department, Paul Massey has been nominated six times for work in films like 1994’s Legends of the Fall and 2004’s Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, but has never won; and Mark Taylor and Oliver Tarney were both nominated in 2014 for Captain Phillips. As for Visual Effects, Richard Stammers has been nominated twice (Prometheus in 2012, X-Men: Days of Future Past in 2015), and Chris Lawrence won in 2014 for Gravity. Finally, production designer Arthur Max nabbed nods for Gladiator in 2001 and American Gangster in 2008, and set decorator Celia Bobak previously landed a nomination for her work on The Phantom of the Opera in 2005.
What it’s won thus far: The Martian scored two major prizes at the Golden Globes, with wins for Best Picture and Best Actor (Matt Damon) — albeit in the Comedy or Musical category. The National Board of Review was even a bigger fan, honoring Ridley Scott, Damon, and screenwriter Drew Goddard with major honors. The production design team took home the Excellence in Production Design Award from the Art Directors Guild, and both the People’s Choice Awards and the Hollywood Film Awards selected the film, giving the film major populist cred. Goddard also won accolades from the Black Film Critics Circle, Utah Film Critics Association, St. Louis Film Critics Association, Nevada Film Critics Society and Las Vegas Film Critics Society. Scott nabbed Best Director at the Phoenix Film Critics Society Awards and North Texas Film Critics Association.
Why it should win: For its optimism. Look at it this way: It’s the polar opposite of this year’s other Best Picture nominee about a lonely man wandering a hostile landscape, and it manages to juggle its gut-wrenching premise with a lighthearted, even at times upbeat tone, thanks to Matt Damon’s performance and Ridley Scott’s direction. The Martian is a fine return to form for both well-liked artists — and especially for the director after his last few misfires. Still, it succeeds simply by being a well-told survival story that balances suspense with wit. What other film this year could follow a harrowing near-death scene with one set to disco music in the middle of an unforgiving desert? What other film could make the planting of potatoes edge-of-your-seat entertainment? What other Best Picture nominee pushed emotional buttons and held your interest through the power of math and science, not just space? Drew Goddard didn’t shy away from the challenges of adapting Andy Weir’s dense tech-heavy novel, and as a result, his screenplay, combined with Damon’s note-perfect delivery and Scott’s visual brilliance, appealed to a global audience — as evidenced by the soaring box office numbers.
Why it won’t win: Because it’s sci-fi. In 2013, Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity won seven Oscars — none of which were Best Picture. The Martian, a similar sci-fi survival tale, could be headed for the same fate. (That the Academy already denied Ridley Scott a nomination for Best Director, an honor Cuarón achieved three years earlier, indicates spotty support.) Instead, The Martian will join the long list of great sci-fi movies that Oscar failed to recognize with the top prize. (See: 2001, Star Wars, Alien.) The film might also be penalized by high-brow voters for being such a popcorn movie, for its [SPOILER] ending. If Watney [SPOILER] at the end of the movie instead of [SPOILER], might Oscar have taken The Martian more seriously?
Vegas Odds: 100/1, according to Paddy Power betting website, giving it the same odds as Room and Mad Max: Fury Road — that is, fourth in likelihood to win the prize.