“The Martian” launches itself as an awards hopeful at the Toronto Film Festival

Matt Damon the Martian
For months, I’d been predicting The Martian to win a bunch of Oscars in my early looks at the race. Honestly, how I felt the nominations would go didn’t necessarily reflect that, but rather what I thought the ideal performance of this interesting title could be. Well, I wound up moving it down a bit in my predictions in advance of its premiere at the Toronto Film Festival, which proved to be an odd choice, as the early word was rather terrific for the flick. It definitely seems to be a contender, though winning seems unlikely now. At the same time, comparisons to something like Apollo 13 really do make you stand up and take notice. Could this go where something like the vastly underrated Interstellar could not last year? Let’s take a look…

Once again, a quick primer on The Martian. The story is pretty straightforward, at least at the start…what if an astronaut was accidentally stranded on Mars? For Mark Watney (Damon), that worst case scenario comes true when his crew (led by Jessica Chastain) thinks he’s been killed while on the Red Planet and takes off for Earth. Still alive, but injured and only with supplies for a short period of time, Mark has to use his science skills as a botanist to figure out how to survive for literally years until something can be figured out. Back home, NASA goes from assuming he’s been lost to wondering what can be done for him, and his crew-mates formulate plans of their own. Ridley Scott directs, while Drew Goddard penned the adaptation of Andy Weir’s novel. In addition to Damon in the lead role and Chastain in one of the main supporting ones, the star studded cast includes Sean Bean, Jeff Daniels, Mackenzie Davis, Chiwetel Ejifor, Donald Glover, Kate Mara, Michael Pena, Sebastian Stan, and Kristen Wiig. The cinematography is by Dariusz Wolski while the underrated Harry Gregson-Williams handles the score. The ingredients are all there, and apparently the mixture is up to snuff.

The thing that came out of Toronto for this flick most was how successful it will be with audiences. Every single year, we get one Best Picture nominee that’s closer to a blockbuster than an art house hit, so could this be the one? There’s certainly a chance, as I’d say in excess of 90% of the early reviews were positive to very positive. Some of it might be just excitement over Scott supposedly returning to form, but I heard a lot about Damon being great and the script by Godard being excellent as well. That’s nothing to sneeze at, so perhaps I’ve been on to something by backing it for Oscar early on? At the very least, I don’t seem nuts, so there’s that.

In terms of awards, The Martian might struggle to win in any of the major categories, but nominations across the board are still possible. It could be a player in Best Picture, Best Director (for Scott), Best Actor (for Damon), Best Supporting Actor (for Daniels, Ejiofor, Glover, or Pena), Best Supporting Actress (for Chastain or Wiig), Best Adapted Screenplay (for Goddard), Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Original Score, and Best Visual Effects. Below the line possibilities are strong for sure, and in the big spots, you could see Picture, Actor, and Adapted Screenplay happen as well. Director is an intriguing possibility, but we’ll see.

Ultimately, this seems like a contender in certain spots and possibly even a nominee in Best Picture, but probably not a winner. It’s early though, and if the more artistically inclined TIFF audiences vouched for it as a lot of fun, mainstream audiences could embrace it in such a way that it becomes one of the rare science fiction nominees in the big categories. If American Sniper could go from middling festival word to all of its nominations, this is definitely possible as well. The Martian lands in theaters on October 2nd, so we’re less than a month away from getting a firmer look at it. I know I can’t wait. Sit tight…

the martian matt damon
Stay tuned for more on The Martian between now and October, when it comes out on the 2nd!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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