OPINION BY ERIC DEUTZ
Ladies and gentlemen, Oscar season is officially upon us. And about once a year (if that), a movie comes out that manages to walk that impossible line between being both a crowd and critical favorite—a film that can grab a nomination for Best Picture while also being one of the top ten highest grossing films of the year.
Since 2010, members of this exclusive club number to just four films: “American Sniper,” “Gravity,” “Inception” and “Toy Story 3.”
I realize it’s early, but if there’s one film this year that has any chance of joining that group, I believe it’s Sir Ridley Scott’s beautifully-crafted return to form, “The Martian,” an exhilarating and sometimes hysterical journey about a man faced with an impossible circumstance, and the helplessness of the world that can do little but root him on.
“The Martian,” misleadingly, does not tell the coming-of-age story of one of our young, green-skinned neighbors just trying to find his place in the world. Rather, it follows a group of human astronauts and their mission to study the possibility of life on Mars.
But when a massive storm hits, the crew has no choice but to evacuate, leaving crew member and plant biologist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) behind after he was killed by a large piece of flying debris in the storm. …Or was he? Soon enough, Watney awakes, barely alive, but completely aware of his situation: isolated on a desolate planet millions of miles away from Earth, with no way to get back and no chance of any manned mission reaching him for years.
Any fan of director Scott’s work (“Alien,” “Gladiator”) knows that beautiful scenic design and cinematography are simply a part of his trade, and “The Martian” never disappoints in that aspect. As desolate as Mars is, it sure is beautiful, as are the visual effects throughout.
For his part, Matt Damon – who is becoming quite the expert on being left behind on desolate planets, thanks to “Interstellar” – gives what is probably his most intriguing performance in almost ten years. He nails the emotional moments and continues his reputation as one of the best criers on the big screen, but it’s so much more than that. The real genius in this film comes in the genre-bending tone set throughout – Scott’s sure-handed direction and Damon’s misleadingly casual and sometimes hilarious performance turns the scariest situation imaginable into one of the best times you’ll have at the theater all year.
Of course, making it that much fun may have its negative side effects – the Academy Awards generally like their favorites a little deeper and a little more thought provoking. In the box office, this movie will have no problem – with $54.3 million, it had the 15 biggest opening weekend of the year, and I expect it should climb that list pretty quickly thanks to the press and highly positive word of mouth it’s receiving. But in a fair world, this movie also deserves to be right up there with the critically and technically best of the year, deserving nominations for its cinematography, visual effects, sound editing, director and certainly its lead actor. It seems quite likely that the Academy will go for their usual biopics and experimental favorites, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But between this film and “Mad Max: Fury Road,” if they choose to overlook the action/adventure genre as they usually do, they’ll be missing out.