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David Poland

By David Poland

18 Weeks To Oscar: Why The Martian Is Currently The Movie To Beat

screen shot 2015-08-19 at 10.41.45 am

I can hear the moaning from Oscaristas (or Oscaristos?) all over town from the headline alone. But they don’t vote for the Academy Awards.

Nor do I.

I think there are two Oscar locks right about now… Brie Larson in Best Actress and Mark Rylance in Supporting Actor.

But as I look down the barrel at this season, aiming at Best Picture, it is looking more and more like 2000 or 2006, when the Best Picture statue ended up going to the big, well-made, not terribly shocking, but very entertaining movie over a series of films that critics and “serious film people” liked better. Those two winners were Gladiator and The Departed.

Opposing Gladiator were two Soderbergh films (Traffic and Erin Brockovich), an Ang Lee movie (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), and a bonbon from Weinstein’s Miramax, Chocolat. The cute film from Miramax was the only one of the five that didn’t end up with over $100 million at the box office. So economics were a non-issue. Still, the biggest commercial hit, which was serious enough with a well-loved enough director as to not be embarrassing, won the day.

In 2006, Scorsese was well into the “he’s gotta win” era. So lots of people were all over The Departed as a Best Director winner to be. Early on, almost no one saw it as a potential Best Picture winner. (I would say “no one,” but no doubt there was someone.) In fact, it was poo-poohed by many in the chattering class as not a screenplay nominee, not an acting nominee, etc. So how did it win?

It was surrounded by small, passionately-loved modest commercial successes. Little Miss Sunshine seemed to many to be the more likely winner. The film had lost to Dreamgirls at the Golden Globes in Comedy/Musical, but Dreamgirls failed to be nominated. It won the cast award from SAG and another from BFCA. It won the Indie Spirit Best Picture award. And on Oscar night, it would take home two Oscars.

Also in that field were Babel, which won Best Drama from the Golden Globes and had two Supporting Actress nominations, The Queen, a surprise commercial hit which locked Helen Mirren in for an Oscar win from the day it was shown, and Letters From Iwo Jima, which was the surprise in the group, the Clint Eastwood foreign-language film that supplanted his much-touted Flags of Our Fathers. Like 2000, it seemed like one film (Iwo Jima) had no chance to win. But the other four were all, in perception, neck-n-neck.

What emerged? The big box office success that every Academy member saw because of the inevitable Scorsese Best Director win… and they liked it, language and violence and dildo and all.

Flash forward to 2015.

Put a gun to my head and I will say that Spotlight, The Martian, Room, and Steve Jobs will get in (though there seems to be a wave of negativity against Steve Jobs right now that could sink that awards ship).

Can the film about the scrappy reporters who do great work and make public a horrible injustice win Best Picture? Yes. But it will be Open Road’s first nominee and not hugely commercial and part of what is so beautiful about the film is that it is not very showy… it’s just plain excellent. Is that enough?

Can the movie about the kidnapped girl who has a son and for whom the outside world may be as terrifying as being stuck in Room win? Sure. But the more likely scenario is that Brie Larson takes home her first Oscar and it was lovely that the film managed a Best Picture nod.

For me, what was for a moment the frontrunner based on the movie, Steve Jobs, is no longer a serious contender to win because of the damage it took on this last week, regardless of whether the damage was remotely fair. This was not a late attack in the style of A Beautiful Mind, where the frontrunner was being smashed. This is just (inappropriate, in my opinion) negativity given wing by a disappointing box office result. But that is the real world. I would love to see the film recover, but right now, it doesn’t feel like there is a clear path to a full recovery, thus a nomination and no win.

But there are other things in the way of The Martian.

If the plan to get it nominated by The Golden Globes in comedy, that would put a stink on a humorous film that is not a comedy. They’d be better off not Globe nominated at all, really.

And of course, there are other films coming.

The big dogs are The Revenant and The Hateful Eight. Both directors have been twice before nominated for directing. Quentin’s last two movies were both nominated for Best Picture and Alejandro’s won last year, his second film to be so nominated. You can’ bet against either of these guys.

But, and a big BUT… Iñárritu had a picture win last year. And this year’s movie seems dark and brutal… which also happens to be Tarantino’s milieu. And both are set in seriously bad winter weather.

There are, of course, other movies to consider as Best Picture nominees, from Bridge of Spies to The Danish Girl to Joy To Brooklyn to Youth to even the great and explosive Mad Max: Fury Road… but are any of these winning Best Picture? Not likely.

I am not saying that the most popular commercial film always wins. That is not close to the truth at all. But I do believe that unless there is a reason to vote for something else, the film that people like the most tends to win.

That reason those films often look might be that the “popular” choice would seem too frivolous (Ghost, Beauty & The Beast, Four Weddings & A Funeral, Jerry Maguire, The Sixth Sense, Rings twice, Little Miss Sunshine, Juno, Up, Avatar, Toy Story 3, Gravity), but most often, there is a narrative. Rings 3 was a lock from Day 1 in 2003. The Aviator pushed too hard and didn’t completely capture Hollywood’s imagination about itself, making room for Eastwood. Bigelow vs Cameron. Silent, black + white old Hollywood. Affleck snubbed. Slavery over space drama.

There are other years where there seemed to be an even fight without a clear narrative for Academy votes to follow. 2007 with No Country For Old Men. Very intense movies that year, with relief coming from Juno and Atonement (a bit). But Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood was probably too much for the average Academy voter. And that left Michael Clayton, which I adore, but could not fight off the Coens, who felt very, very due at the time. Is it a coincidence that your winner was also the #2 grosser in the group behind the comedy that wouldn’t win for being a comedy (Juno)?

2001 was pretty open also with musical drama (Moulin Rouge!) against a second Rings nomination vs and stiff-upper-lip Altman precursor to “Downton Abbey” (Gosford Park) fighting a powerful little drama about loss (In The Bedroom)… leaving the door open to an old-fashioned romantic drama about a misunderstood genius, which was by far the biggest hit aside from Rings 2, which was just placeholding its way to the winning Rings 3.

The Martian has a well-liked high prestige cast, a legendary director, it’s beautifully made, and it’s a massive hit that smart audiences like and respect.

There are no locks in October (in spite of the two mentioned at the top who are likely to stay locked in, in my opinion). Things change. Positions shift. Movies are shown.

But if you had to put the house on one title for Best Picture as of today? Easy.

Give me that quizzical RCA dog look if you like. But it only makes sense in a season of really good, really challenging, not very commercial contenders. If that changes, I will be happy to note the change right here… all Fox has to do is to stumble over their shoelaces and get this thing a Best Comedy nomination at The Globes… and you will be right and I will be wrong. But until I see something change… The Martian.

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16 Responses to “18 Weeks To Oscar: Why The Martian Is Currently The Movie To Beat”

  1. Kevin says:

    You make some very good points… But what if THE FORCE AWAKENS is great, as in even better than THE MARTIAN, in addition to being the top grosser of the year?

    I’m not saying STAR WARS could/will win Best Picture, but I think it might take some of the wind out of THE MARTIAN if it lives up to the hype.

  2. The Hey says:

    I agree. The Martian should not be nominated for Comedy in the Globes.

    However, given that the same studio (Fox) will be pushing 2 dramas (Joy and Revenant) just as hard (if not more)they might feel they have a choice. It’ll be interesting what Fox’s FYC ads will look like.

  3. Crow says:

    Getting nominated in the Comedy/Musical category didn’t hurt Birdman last year.

    It will be interesting to see what kind of reviews Star Wars gets, but Martian is at 93% on rotten tomatoes. It’s probably getting in regardless. Plus it has a has a revered director who’s never won a Directing Oscar. And a big, popular, frequently nominated cast. It’s got a lot going for it.

  4. Greg says:

    Martian for comedy makes my head hurt.

    I agree Star Wars may hurt it a bit, but I haven’t walked out of a theater happier in a long time after viewing Mr.Damon and friends…

  5. Hallick says:

    So the question now is going to be which movie gets pitted against “The Martian” as the “real” choice for Best Picture. If “Revenant” is great but really dark, then that contingent is going to slam Martian all the way to the ceremony for being lightweight. If “Joy” gets the right traction, you’ll see campaigning that says it’s about time for a female-led film to win again. “Spotlight” is getting lots of raves, but I don’t feel any heat from them. Nobody’s out there hammering home day after day how great it is. Maybe that’ll come when it’s released.

    “Hateful Eight” doesn’t seem like it has the gravitas to pose a real challenge in this category. “Steve Jobs” is now (wrongly) somewhere in a damaged goods/pariah status. The Star Wars movie would have to be an out-and-out revelation to get in for more than an atta boy! nomination.

  6. Muffin says:

    I think Gladiator and The Departed were the right choices in their respective years, actually.

  7. AdamL says:

    The thing about Gladiator’s win was that it was such a director’s movie that giving it Best Pic without giving Ridley Best Director was just absurd. This wasn’t a Kings Speech or an Argo which, let’s face it, could have been directed by 40 other directors with the same result. Gladiator was a real triumph of direction and yet they went with Soderbergh which doesn’t really make sense (other than he directed two excellent films that year – I might even prefer Traffic to Gladiator, although that’s not the point.) That was not the year to split those awards. If you look at some of the average directors who have directing Oscars (Hooper being the prime example) the guy that directed Alien, Bladerunner, Gladiator and The Martian really should have one too. I’d be happy if it was his year.

  8. Triple Option says:

    What would it take for a foreign film to come in and disrupt everything? Would we have already heard of it now? I’ll be honest, the year The Departed won I would’ve gone with Pan’s Labyrinth. When the Gladiator won, I would’ve gone with Crouching Tiger. I know Life is Beautiful had a long bo run, of course, films had a longer theatrical run then but when did it start? Did the buzz & popularity push it into contention or was it released late in the year with other Oscar hopefuls and catch fire from there?

    I liked The Martian but I think I would give the win to Sicario if I had a vote.

  9. jepressman says:

    Ridley Scott should have won the director’s Oscar for Gladiator,because he made an iconic film and Crowe was the heart and soul of the film….no small achievement. Indeed,what matters isn’t the tech stuff but rather the entire film, which IS still a favorite with the people I know.Look AMPAS has,over the last decade given awards for okay movies, not great, memorable films,and that is because AMPAS has been pushed/shoved by the film festival winners and supporters. However, film festival winners are only a part of the film business and should not dominate the awards season.The Oscars should reflect the output of the entire film business. God forbid a well-made/well acted story, which is popular for the aforementioned reasons should actually win the BP Oscar. Yeah, yeah I know some of the Oscar bloggers want dramatic dud films to dominate ,you know to show how intellectual/with it their choices are,but is THAT the purpose of giving such an award?

  10. Eric says:

    Yes. An award called Best Picture should go to the best picture. It’s not the Generally Popular And Of Adequate Quality Picture award.

  11. monco says:

    And by what standard do you judge a film to be “best” when art is subjective? Gladiator is a modern classic. It was more than deserving for best picture.

  12. teppo2 says:

    2001 was the year of the first Lord of the Rings, not the second. There were plenty of people who thought it stood a great chance.

  13. Doug R says:

    After seeing that horrid Star Trek sequel, I seriously doubt Jar Jar Abrams has an Oscar worthy film in the new Star Wars. That being said, I’m sure Force Awakens will be a very enjoyable film, much like his first Star Trek.

  14. JS Partisan says:

    Doug, he’s basically restarting Star Wars with A New Hope, so the movie should have enough nostalgia in it to knock people on their asses.

  15. cadavra says:

    THE MARTIAN is a good picture, but that’s all it is. It certainly doesn’t strike me as BP-worthy.

    David, what about TRUMBO? Hollywood loves movies about itself (cf., THE ARTIST and ARGO), not to mention Cranston certainly deserves to be a Best Actor contender.

  16. Glamourboy says:

    I’m guessing that QT’s chances for a Best Director nod get slimmer and slimmer each day with this Cop controversy.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

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I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

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