Sunday, 24 January 2016

Best Actor 2015: Matt Damon in The Martian

Matt Damon received his third acting Oscar nomination for portraying Mark Watney in The Martian.

The Martian is a good film about a lone astronaut being accidentally stranded on Mars who tries to survive by using the power of science.

The film opens with just a brief scene depicting the crew of the mars mission before a quick evacuation and an accident which leave that lone astronaut left on the barren planet. We pick up with Mark Watney waking up and having to perform an emergency operation on himself to treat his injury. Damon vividly realizes the pain in Watney as he goes through with the operation, and the moment of brief anguish as Watney finally has time to comprehend his predicament. After just a few moments of soberly pondering his fate, Watney decides to do whatever it takes to survive until he can be rescued. That basically is his most serious minded sequence for a great deal of the film, as Damon, as well as the film, decide to portray Watney as an optimistic go-getter who constantly makes light of his situation. To Damon's credit, he does not go overboard with Watney's enthusiasm, oh it's strong to be sure, but he holds back enough to keep an important idea alive behind it that keeps his work from becoming farcical. The idea being his humorous attitude is basically a coping mechanism to deal with his loneliness, and terrible situation. Damon allows this to be assumed, which is essential, but this does mean the humor element of Watney is flawlessly performed either.

Damon's frequent asides, and I mean frequent, old Mark Watney seems to have a bit of joke to go along with every single thing that he does, are delivered in an enjoyable enough way, at first. Damon, at least in this instance, does not prove himself to be a great comic actor as it does become a bit repetitive after awhile. He more or less delivers every one of Watney's cracks in the same way. It is not that he even had to give a outstanding comedic performance, but Damon does not quite have enough charm to make up for that either. That is his charm does not act as a bit of override so to speak, to make Watney wholly endearing no matter what he's doing. With Damon, Watney does become just a bit tiresome with his constant comments that do stop being funny after awhile. Luckily for the film Damon's performance actually is not a one man show in say the way it is for Tom Hanks in Castaway, or Sam Rockwell in Moon. Damon does not have to carry the entire film on his shoulders as the film very frequently breaks off to see what the large ensemble of characters are doing in back home to try to save Watney. This is a saving grace, since I don't think I personally would have been able to take entire film devoted to Mark Watney and his long line of various science related jokes.

In fact as the film proceeds it jumps to Watney all the more infrequently, and spends more time in creating the larger scope of the world wide effort to save Watney. It still jumps back to him now and again, but it eventually has a cut off point when the film goes ahead one year just before Watney's rescue will be mounted. This limits Damon's performance somewhat since we suddenly see Watney after that one year. That is he's not given the chance to really show a gradual decay in Watney's physical or mental state, we just meet up with him after he's clearly been through a rough year. Damon though is good in quietly conveying the mental and physical degradation in Watney. His optimism, as well as his jokes, are still to be found, but Damon's good in reducing it as well by downright dropping it when he's not talking to a video log or to NASA. Eventually Watney must go through with the rescue, which is still extremely risky. In that it involves Watney taking off in a bare boned remote controlled rocket, and he will basically be flung into space in the hope that his old crew can somehow catch him.

Just as the launch begins, Damon has an outstanding moment as all the fear and pain of his experience as well as that of his present course comes out, but at the time he also creates the sense of a definite joy as it seems his ordeal may be over soon. It's a brilliantly performed moment by Damon as the emotions poor out in such a genuine mess revealing what's really been going on beneath the surface with Watney the whole time. After that point though Watney reverts to his old bag of tricks, even during the rescue itself since at one point he announces that his intentions to fly like iron man by depressurizing part of his suit. The film actually also only briefly touches upon his moment of rescue, as it quickly cuts away to Watney being back on earth quite comfortable with his place on earth once again. Though I must admit I don't love this performance, I can't when I do find it become just a bit grating after awhile, but this is still a good performance which carries his portion of the film well especially in providing the needed emotional weight to the story in some pivotal moments.

57 comments:

Calvin Law said...

:(

GM said...

Honestly? I'd go lower. I didn't get the praise for him.

And Go DiCaprio.

Robert MacFarlane said...

I'd be a light 4 or 3.5 myself. He's good, though Watney is kind of a schmuck in his flippancy.

Calvin Law said...

Oh well, seems like Louis and I REALLY don't agree over a great deal this awards season. Shame!

DiCaprio is definitely winning this. I have to strongly disagree though with your views on the comical aspects of his performance. I guess 'repetitive' could be used in the broadest sense of the term to describe this aspect of the performance, but I thought it gave an incredibly affecting and yet funny portrayal of both his upbeat attitude and the increasing odds against him. That he wasn't a walking ball of hilarity didn't bother me one bit, as I thought he was funny enough in a way say, an old friend is funny even with the same, similar beats in your relationship you two share. It's the way Damon makes you feel so immersed in his performance like Watney's a chap you've gotten to know over the course of the film makes it all the more excellent. I stand by my 5 and my #2 overall of the year placement for him, and my #3 BP status.

Calvin Law said...

Glad you gave him that scene before he takes off, though can't help but feel you've overlooked those little moments where he gets contact with NASA and his crew members. I thought those were flawlessly performed.

Luke Higham said...

Oh Well.

Louis: Is DiCaprio's review coming tomorrow.

Calvin Law said...

Love the Creed, Sicario and The End of the Tour placements on your list though. Bodes well for Jordan, Del Toro and Segel :)

Louis Morgan said...

Calvin:

If I had mentioned those scenes I would not have been especially positive. I actually felt the crew were the least interesting, and not particularly well performed characters, as well as I felt there was a lack of natural camaraderie between them.

Luke Higham said...

I personally am glad that Macbeth made his top 10.

Calvin Law said...

Oh well, as I always say, different strokes different folks.

Calvin Law said...

Louis: Have you rewatched Sicario, and do you have a revised rating/thoughts on Blunt's performance? And the film as a whole?

Luke Higham said...

Calvin: What rating have you put Redmayne down to.

Robert MacFarlane said...

Happy to see Creed so high, but... Ewwww, Revenant.

Calvin Law said...

Luke: Need to have a think. Certainly nothing above a 3, that's for sure, and wondering whether to cut Fassbender some slack...

Calvin Law said...

Luke, Robert, and everyone: Your own personal top 10's now (sorry if this has been asked before)

1. Carol
2. Brooklyn
3. Creed (moving it up again)
4. The Martian
5. The Hateful Eight
6. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
7. Mad Max: Fury Road
8. The End of the Tour
9. Sicario
10. Ex Machina/Mr Holmes

L Rime said...

Ahem, with all due respect, this performance is a five.

Michael McCarthy said...

Welp, I guess I won't mind Leo winning this. I could probably buy a 4.5 for him too, even though I've made my thoughts on that performance clear.

1. The Hateful Eight
2. Room
3. Mad Max: Fury Road
4. Ex Machina
5. Carol
6. Inside Out
7. Spotlight
8. Bone Tomahawk
9. Anomalisa
10. Brooklyn

2 and 3 might switch when I rewatch Room.

Luke Higham said...

Calvin: Same as before.
1. Mad Max: Fury Road
2. Brooklyn
3. Carol
4. The Revenant
5. The Hateful Eight
6. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
7. Spotlight
8. Macbeth
9. Sicario
10. Beasts Of No Nation

Robert MacFarlane said...

Having only watched the first (marvelous) 15 minutes of Macbeth and not seeing some other major films, this would be my tentative top 10:

1. Mad Max: Fury Road
2. Carol
3. Diary of Teenage Girl
4. Creed
5. The Force Awakens
6. Rogue Nation
7. Spotlight
8. Brooklyn
9. It Follows
10. Ex Machina

Luke Higham said...

Robert: May I have your thoughts on Macbeth, whenever you're finished, as well as Fassbender, Cotillard, Harris and Considine. :)

Robert MacFarlane said...

I could move Creed up. Also, TFA and Rogue Nation sort of share a spot as my "I saw these more than once in the theater and had a blast even though they're just popcorn movies" slot.

Hm. I should consider an acronym for that.

GM said...

1. Mad Max: Fury Road
2. Inside Out
3. The Second Mother
4. 45 Years
5. The Revenant
6. Sicario

I don't have a top 10. Have seen Brooklyn, Room and The The Heightful Eight, they are all good, but I don't feel they should make a top 10. Haven't seen Creed, Spotlight and most of these praised films though. And I think Carol is radically overrated.

Robert MacFarlane said...

That's fine on Carol. I thought The Revenant was embarrassing, so it evens out.

ruthiehenshallfan99 said...

I plan on seeing Carol and Brooklyn sometime soon. A theater nearby is showing them. And Inside Out for whatever reason.

Anonymous said...

Damn, failed at another prediction.

GM said...

@Robert Have you already given your thoughts in The Revenantes here in the blog?

Robert MacFarlane said...

Mostly I've just made snide jokes and asides. In short, I think it's machismo posturing hiding under the veneer of Malickesque "deeper meaning". I found it entirely empty, and often times unilluminating in terms of character or theme. DiCaprio didn't help. Once again Leo focuses so much on one aspect of his character (physical agony in this instance) that he abandons any other aspect of his character. Hardy was my favorite part, but only because I honestly thought he was giving a comedic performance.

Matt Mustin said...

Louis, what would be your nominees for Original and Adapted Screenplay?

Louis Morgan said...

Matt:

Original:

1. The Hateful Eight
2. Spotlight
3. Bridge of Spies
4. Ex Machina
5. Bone Tomahawk

Adapted:

1. The End of the Tour
2. Mad Max: Fury Road (Extremely underrated in this department as well)
3. Mr. Holmes
4. Creed
5. The Martian

Michael Patison said...

Rather disappointing, but oh well. I agree that Watney seems to have a joke for almost everything, but I found Damon to keep it fresh throughout. Oh well.

Anonymous said...

What would be your 11th to 20th favorite movies of this year?

Anyway, I liked Damon a bit more than you while I probably liked the movie less. I completely agree about the lack of chemistry between the members of the crew. I also don't think the movie is very well written. On a side note, what do you think of Carol's and Macbeth's screenplay?

Louis Morgan said...

Anonymous:

11. Ex Machina
12. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
13. Bone Tomahawk
14. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
15. Mr. Holmes
16. The Martian
17. The Gift
18. Inside Out
19. Steve Jobs
20. Beasts of No Nation

For me, I felt the screenplay to the Martian was its strongest element, and actually in a rare instance stood out more than Ridley Scott's direction. My biggest problems with the film, and they're not too major, are almost entirely due to the performances.

Carol's screenplay is actually where I found the most fault on re-watch. Haynes is kind of a master of the silent stare, but I actually feel there should have been more active conversations between Carol and Therese. In addition Therese's conversation with the other men in her life, as well all of Kyle Chandler's scenes, were written as too repetitive and simplistic.

Although I do feel the screenplay for a Shakespearean adaptation should not be hand waved, the direction in general will likely be more important to the success of the adaptation. Macbeth's screenplay though is good in terms of making some very interesting adjustments and additions to the source material.

mcofra7 said...

Good performance in an otherwise terrible movie

Anonymous said...

Louis: What are your overall thoughts on Laird Cregar as an actor?

Louis Morgan said...

Anonymous:

Clearly such a tremendous talent as he was able to shine even in the smallest role, like in Heaven Can Wait, but was outstanding when given something more substantial like I Wake Up Screaming. Sadly, like John Cazale, we really only got see the first stage in the career of an extremely promising actor.

RatedRStar said...

We will definitely see Cregar for his final role I would imagine since I have him marked down.

Anonymous said...

Louis would you still describe Carol as good and do you think it's better or worse than Far From Heaven?

Louis Morgan said...

Anonymous:

Yes, and I still prefer it over Far From Heaven.

Anonymous said...

Louis: I know Cagney's a 3,5 for Come Fill the Cup, but can you repost your thoughts on him?

Calvin Law said...

I kind of have to disagree with you on the script for Carol, I thought it reminded me a lot of Brief Encounter in the sense that the central romance overshadowed, and was meant to overshadow, the interactions of Therese and Carol with everyone else. The two make such a remarkable pairing a la Johnson and Howard, with Mara and Blanchett playing the equivalents, that it only makes sense that everyone else subconsciously 'disappoints' them on an interpersonal level. Obviously I do still think Brief Encounter is the far superior film because they did have more dialogue, beautifully written at that, to develop the relationship, but Carol is still in my view a masterpiece.

Also if you thought scenes in Carol were repetitive, I have to take issue with your views on The Revenant which, despite being a film I like, I find far easier to make the 'repetitive' argument against. But I'll stop there because I don't want to get into an argument since I've realised the only two things I've really disagreed on you strongly thus far are Damon's rating here, and Carol overall.

P.S. Glad to see Mr Holmes still being in the top 20.

Anonymous said...

I'll leave my top ten.
1. The Revenant (Blasphemy on this blog, I know)
2. Mad Max: Fury Road
3. The Hateful Eight (Liked it much more on rewatch)
4. Carol
5. Brooklyn
6. Spotlight
7. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
8. Macbeth
9. Sicario
10. Creed

Robert MacFarlane said...

Don't worry Calvin, I have a much longer argument against all things Revenant in store.

Calvin Law said...

Tantalising :)

Robert MacFarlane said...

I was rooting for that bear.

Anonymous said...

Robert: I'm sure you were.

Michael Patison said...

I find it interesting that you didn't mention Damon's ability to actually seem as intelligent as his character was. You, and I, agree that he doesn't come across nearly as intelligent as he should in Good Will Hunting, but I felt that here, where he's not playing a genius, but Watney is pretty damn smart, I found him extremely convincing.

Calvin Law said...

^Completely agreed. I'm thinking of doing a different post at some point about it, but I do think that Damon is just generally a very underrated actor, and I would say a far better one than his contemporary Leonardo DiCaprio. He exudes naturalism and ease in his characterisation in almost all his performances and never feels like he's 'trying' too hard, unlike post-Aviator, excepting-WOWS DiCaprio.

Anonymous said...

Calvin: I honestly disagree with you. Damon never impresses me that much as an actor, but I loved his performance here.

Robert MacFarlane said...

I still think The Informant is Damon's finest hour.

Anonymous said...

John Smith:Luke, i would like acces to the document.My mail is varun1@hotmail.com

Luke Higham said...

John Smith: I sent it to you last night.

Michael McCarthy said...

Calvin: Funny you should say that Leo's post-Aviator work was when he started trying too hard, as I thought that performance was possibly the most shameless example of that for him.

Alex Marqués said...

Maybe I have to rewatch "The Aviator", but I remember thinking when I saw it that I never really saw Hughes, I was watching Leo the whole time. I still think it's a good performance nonetheless, he pulled off those mannerisms really well after all, but it felt a bit too "actory" for me. I think his best work is in TWOWS.

Robert MacFarlane said...

Aviator is when his try-hard habits because noticeable.

Anonymous said...

John Smith: Thanks Luke, i foynd it.

omar! said...

Luke: Could you send me the document too?
My mail is obbash.ramo@gmail.com
Thank you

Mitchell Murray said...

Noticed that for 2011 you put Matt Damon in "The Adjustment Bureau" at #21. So, my following up questions are this:

-General thoughts on Damon and Blunt as actors (Possibly best and worst for both)
-Thoughts and ratings of both in the movie.