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Hollywood Contenders – Could “The Martian” be an actual threat to win Best Picture?

the martian matt damon
If you took a gander at my predictions at the end of last week, you might have noticed that the race for Best Picture (as well as Best Director) might very well be coming down to Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight or Ridley Scott’s The Martian. Right now, Spotlight is very much the frontrunner, but The Martian has been exceeding expectations all season long, so is it time to really consider if Scott’s film can go all the way? In my eyes, yes…even if it likely has a better chance to pull an upset in Director than in Picture. This movie is in it to win it, regardless.

Almost $200 million at the domestic box office later, I have to imagine that most of you have seen the flick already, but just in case, here’s my summary again. The Martian centers astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon), who sees the ultimate worst case scenario comes true for him on a mission to Mars when his crew (led by Jessica Chastain) thinks he’s been killed while on the surface and takes off for Earth without him. 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 friends and former crew-mate formulate plans of their own. Scott directs, obviously, 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 Harry Gregson-Williams handles the score here.

spotlight michael keaton mark ruffalo

I’ve evolved a bit on this one’s potential, even though I loved the book a few years ago and was looking forward to the film adaptation as much as anything else this year. Initially, I thought it had a chance to get nominated, but was one of the few to think so. Then, I briefly went out on a limb and predicted wins in Picture and in Director for Scott, before coming back down to Earth (no pun intended) and having it solidly in the lineup. Interestingly enough though, some are actually speculating that The Martian has a chance to win the big Oscar, essentially putting my theory into practice. I’m not 100% sure I buy it, but there’s definitely a case that can be made.

To me, the bigger opportunity is for Scott to pull a Best Director upset. My rationale for this? I don’t necessarily think that The Martian can upend Spotlight in Best Picture, but if McCarthy gets his Academy Award through Best Original Screenplay, there’s an opportunity to have an almost even split, with Scott taking Director and the movie possibly winning in Best Adapted Screenplay. This of course doesn’t take into consideration any of the other contenders in the race, but there’s a chance that we could see a Picture/Director split between The Martian and Spotlight. They couldn’t be any more different, those two flicks, but considering how I think they’re both among the five best things to hit theaters in 2015 so far, you wouldn’t hear me complaining one bit if that’s how it ultimately went down.

What The Martian needs is for the precursors to either split among a handful of contenders, cite it more than any other film, or at least keep it in the race until the guilds chime in and back it. If none of that happens, you can probably kiss its chances of winning goodbye. If something like one of those situations does happen though, watch out. Again, I see Spotlight very much being in the pole position right now, but especially if something like Joy or The Revenant underwhelms, there’s little reason to doubt that Scott’s epic won’t wind up as the primary competition for Picture and Director. I can’t see it as the frontrunner right now, but a threat? Sure.

In the end, I think that The Martian will be heavily in contention right up until Oscar night, but I can’t fully embrace that it’s walking home with any Academy Awards just yet. If the critics groups and especially the guilds opt to support that, well, that’ll change things, but right now I see it definitely behind Spotlight in the biggest categories. We’ll see what happens in the months to come, but as a contender, it’s definitely sitting in an overall enviable position among other Oscar hopefuls. Sit tight though, as I suspect that we could have another year where the Academy has some curveballs to throw us…

Stay tuned to see how The Martian does!

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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