A collective, laughing-at chuckle arose from those who follow such things when, on December 10th 2015, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (who continue to ignore my applications for membership) announced Ridley Scott’s The Martian as a Golden Globe nominee for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy. I hadn’t seen it yet at that point but I was certainly not alone in being stunned that a movie directed by possibly the most humorless human being in Hollywood could be nominated as the best comedy of the year. We’re talking about the man who directed Alien (1979), Blade Runner (1982), Gladiator (2000), Black Hawk Down, and Hannibal (both 2001, both awful for different reasons), whose 40-year career has produced laughs equal to the amount found in the average episode of Two and a Half Men. And it won.
Let’s get this out of the way though: the Golden Globes are a joke. Everyone is drunk (to which I do not object), there are entirely too many categories (to which I object strongly), and absolutely no one cares what those categories are or who wins them. I’d rather watch Tina Fey and Amy Poehler or Ricky Gervais do free-standing comedy for three hours. But at least they’re not the Grammys.
Anyway, the matter at hand: The Martian tells the story of Mark Watney (Matt Damon), a NASA botanist and crewmember of the cleverly-named Ares III mission to Mars. Watney is presumed dead after getting his shit ruined during a violent storm and left behind on the Red Planet by Commander Melissa Lewis (the always-awesome-even-with-a-hack-director Jessica Chastain) and the rest of the Ares crew (including Michael Peña and Kate Mara, who are criminally under-utilized, and Sebastian Stan, who is honestly unrecognizable to me without stupid floppy hair and a bionic arm). Watney ends up having to figure out a way to grow food and procure water on a planet that provides neither while a ragtag group of guys who wear suits (including Jeff Daniels as a NASA administrator who is the only complex character in the film and Chiwetel Ejiofor as the Mars mission’s director who somehow transformed from an Indian man to a Black man in the book-to-film transition) and a few others who don’t wear suits (including crazy-eyed Donald Glover as an “astrodynamicist” who devises the plan to rescue Watney in his pajamas and some white lady I’ve never heard of as the obviously-Korean-American Mindy Park who first notices that Watney is alive) tries to bring him back alive.
There was a point I at least intended to reach when I started this screed. In spite of the myriad faults of both the film itself and that dreadful-yet-somehow-exciting time of year known as Award Season, The Martian is an immensely enjoyable film that is more than deserving of the accolades it has received. Anchored by a brilliant (mostly solo) performance from Matt Damon and a strong screenplay from Cloverfield (2008)/Cabin in the Woods (2012) writer (also director of the latter) Drew Goddard, The Martian, whatever genre it might be, is undoubtedly one of last year’s best movies.
Director: Ridley Scott
Starring: Matt Damon, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor