Oscar Beat: Can ‘The Martian’ Put Matt Damon Back into the Awards Fray?

     September 14, 2015

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While filmmaker Ridley Scott has had his brushes with Oscar glory before (Gladiator took home Best Picture, but Scott lost the director prize to Steven Soderbergh for Traffic), his recent string of films has been more miss than hit. So expectations for Scott’s sci-fi survival pic The Martian were appropriately measured despite promising trailers and the starpower of Matt Damon in front of the camera. The film recently had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (read Matt’s review here), and wouldn’t you know, it’s really good! The thing is pure entertainment, with Damon playing Mark Watney—an astronaut who is stranded on Mars when his team believes him dead—with a pitch perfect mix of confidence, wit, and humor.

But given the film’s release date and pedigree—despite Scott’s recent output—many have wondered if The Martian could be “an Oscar movie.” Well as for the film itself, while I expect it’s going to be a huge hit at the box office, it’s maybe too slight to land major nods for Best Picture or Director, though I wouldn’t entirely rule out Drew Goddard’s hilarious and propulsive script for Best Adapted Screenplay. Whereas films like Cast Away and Gravity dove deep into the psychological effects of loneliness and despair, The Martian’s Mark Watney is an eternal optimist, and nearly all of his time on Mars is played as fun and breezy rather than diving deep into Watney’s emotional state.


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Image via 20th Century Fox

And that’s where Damon comes into play. He’s so good that while Watney is hilarious and witty, Damon imbues the character with hints at the sadness and fear that must be buried deep, deep down inside. So while I don’t necessarily see The Martian being a major Oscar player, it’s possible Damon could make a run for a Best Actor nomination. But again, this isn’t as dynamic or showy a performance as Sandra Bullock’s or Tom Hanks’s, so the film’s refusal to veer into deeply dramatic territory may keep Damon on the outskirts of the fray—especially as the Best Actor race begins to get crowded.

In the past, box office have one of a few vital indicators a film’s success or failure with the Academy, so it’s possible massive popularity on a commercial scale could boost the film’s chances in Picture and Director, but as the timetable for Oscar voting has shifted, box office has become less and less of a factor. The film does have very strong shots in below-the-line categories, though, from Best Visual Effects to Best Sound Design and Sound Mixing, so I expect The Martian to have at least some presence during the ceremony next year. Whether it’s Damon’s time to land a third acting nomination (he’s already a winner for Original Screenplay, obviously) or if The Martian has a shot at being the “populist” Best Picture nominee, however, is a bit up in the air at the moment.

Click here to catch up on all of our TIFF 2015 coverage thus far, and peruse recent TIFF Oscar Beat articles below:


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Image via 20th Century Fox

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