The list is starting to wind down and is about time we spoke about our next pick. The road to the Academy Awards is getting closer by the day, and if the Golden Globes were any indication, then our #3 proves to be another one of 2015’s top contenders!
#3. The Martian
Based on the 2011 novel by author Andy Weir, The Martian brought director Ridley Scott and Matt Damon to tell the story of astronaut Mark Watney. Now I know that having both Scott and Damon on board is enough for most people to take interest, but the addition of screenwriter Drew Goddard (Daredevil, Cabin in the Woods) and a supporting cast of Hollywood’s best, the film really was a no-brainer for most movie-goers. Other than the talent behind the movie, what did The Martian really offer that maybe we’ve never seen before? What makes this movie stand out more to me than my picks for #4 and #5?
First, like almost every movie that Ridley Scott has directed, the film is shot beautifully from start to finish. The majority of the film has the task of making the viewer feel for Watney and his situation, and to do this we need to believe he is on this desolate planet by himself. The Mars landscape as a barren wasteland seems like it was ripped right out of the Mad Max universe. The sky is a mix of red and orange tones than encompass everything around our stranded hero. The nights on mars are almost pitch black with nothing but the wind beating against the installation with rocks and dirt. Just as I stated with The Hateful Eight, the scenery is just as much of character as the actors themselves.
Speaking of actors, Matt Damon really knocks it out of the park. His portrayal of astronaut Mark Watney is one that you root for from start to finish. Thought dead and left behind on the planet Mars, Watney makes the best of his situation and uses the tools around him to survive what is essentially a death sentence. As the film pushes forward, Damon does his best work, blurring the line between sanity and the slow descent into madness. Despite all the odds being stacked against our hero, Damon makes it a point to crack jokes when he records video journals, an act of defiance that shows he wants to survive and not accept what is easily his likely fate, a slow, lonely death.
At times, when Damon is making the jokes or speaking with NASA, he begins to channel his character from The Departed, displaying his humorous side but also showing the seriousness of the situation. What I did like was his realistic take on problem solving. The character is a botanist and uses this to his advantage, allowing him to work out the ability to grow food from the resources he has. Even though his specialty is in plants, Damon goes on to show you that as a man of science, it’s about calculation and running numbers to increase rate of success, allowing him to hold on long enough to make contact and receive help back on Earth.
Damon isn’t the only talent of the film. He is joined by the likes of Jeff Daniels, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sean Bean, and many more. With all the additional talent that makes up the supporting cast, it’s really remarkable that Damon could still give the same performance that he did. The dynamic between the supporting cast and our lead thrives on the dilemma they are faced with, the impossible task of aiding in the survival and rescue of Watney. With such a large supporting cast, it is usually an impossible task to just share screen time without becoming too convoluted, but Goddard and Scott are able to spread everyone out just enough to drive the story to the finish line. Every player has their part and never overstays their welcome or usefulness.
The story is fun despite the grim dilemma. From the moment the audience learns that Damon survived, we begin to root for his triumph even though we know how unlikely it will be. Once our hero patches up his wounds, he instantly begins to fear death because he knows exactly how long it will take or how frightful it could be if anything else were to go wrong. You feel that sense of dread for the first few moments until Watney begins doing his science thing, and as the character begins to ride that high that comes with success, it comes crashing back down. I wouldn’t say that the film is an emotional rollercoaster, but you will almost hate whenever there is a glimmer of hope because the chances of everything working out are so low.
As the audience, you cannot help but think that the writer wants us to root for the underdog so that he can rip out any hope or happiness we have in our heart when the inevitable death happens. With each minor success from each team attempting to save Watney, you get some sort of massive failure to just destroy as much hope as possible, leaving the audience in a state of helplessness. I will say that, during the movie, the story made me think about what other possibilities there were to ensure survival? It made me think about the MARS Rover and what if they controlled it to make contact with Damon?
Ultimately, those last two questions are exactly what shot this movie towards the top of the list. A movie that makes you think but still entertains is always going to be something I find intriguing. Scott and Goddard crafted a thrilling sci-fi adventure that borders on a weird comedy/drama hybrid. It’s a mix of emotions that hit every part of the spectrum, making the end result even that more exciting. I won’t tell you how it ends, but I will tell you two things:
- It is the perfect movie to watch in the comfort of your own home and avoid that bitter winter cold!
- Sean Bean doesn’t die!