When The Martian made its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival last month, I wrote that while the movie was hugely entertaining, it was probably too slight a film to land a Best Picture nomination. Matt Damon seemed like the movie’s biggest chance at awards recognition, but even then, would his more comedic performance be lost in the shuffle of what’s always a highly competitive category? What a difference a few weeks makes.
With The Martian opening in theaters this weekend to a strong $55 million at the box office, the movie’s awards prospects appear to be shifting a bit. People really like this movie—it’s director Ridley Scott’s best-reviewed film since Thelma & Louise (yes, even more critically praised than Best Picture-winner Gladiator, consensus-wise). This is a crowd-pleaser through and through, and the volume of praise on this thing has grown to where we can no longer ignore the Oscar implications.
A Best Picture nomination is looking a bit more likely, depending on how things shake out down the road. As we look ahead to the bleakness of pictures like The Revenant and Room potentially filling out the list of nominees, The Martian could offer voters a chance to recognize a movie that soars on the charms of Damon and leaves audiences feeling giddy and hopeful.
Speaking of which, Damon seems to be moving up the list of Best Actor contenders rather rapidly. This year’s Oscars are all about the stacked Best Actress field for once, but Damon—in a “One Man Show” type of performance that previously landed nods for Sandra Bullock and Tom Hanks—could potentially be headed for his second Best Actor nomination. Sure, his recent string of “controversial” comments threaten to put a hamper on this momentum, and The Martian certainly isn’t as dramatic or thematically heavy as Gravity or Cast Away, but much of the film’s success is undoubtedly due to Damon’s effortless performance, so he’s a contender to be sure.
If The Martian does indeed become a favorite amongst Academy voters, I’d also look for its prospects in other categories to rise—especially in Best Adapted Screenplay. Drew Goddard’s script is tight, breezy, and whip smart, so it’s certainly deserving of recognition. And Scott himself could be a factor in the Best Director race, gunning for a fourth nomination overall. That category is already looking quite crowded with talent, but a “return-to-form” narrative for an industry veteran might be a recipe for success.
As always, Oscar season is ever-fluid, so as the rest of the year’s films start to roll out over the next couple of months the staying power of The Martian will determine its ultimate success. But with the film’s cards now all on the table in terms of box office and critical consensus, its future is looking bright.
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