Top 15 Films of 2015, No. 15 – The Martian

The Martian is a science-fiction film directed by Ridley Scott, with a screenplay by Drew Goddard, which is adapted from Andy Weir’s award-winning novel of the same name. The film follows Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) and his crew during a manned mission to Mars. In the midst of a ferocious storm, the crew presumes Watney dead, and they are forced to abandon the mission and leave Watney behind. However, it turns out Watney survived. Stranded on Mars with only limited supplies, Watney must utilize his cleverness and resourcefulness in order to signal to his counterparts on Earth that he is still alive.

The Martian 3Back in August, I ranked The Martian #7 on my list of most-anticipated films for the fall movie season. Rightfully so—this movie did not disappoint. Director Ridley Scott is one of Hollywood’s kings of science fiction (having directed Alien, Blade Runner, and Prometheus), and The Martian could be his best yet. Last year’s Interstellar was a science-fiction film that I greatly enjoyed, mainly because filmmaking genius Christopher Nolan was behind it. However, my only beef with it was that it was a bit too convoluted and highbrow—understanding the science was unfathomable. That complexity is what makes The Martian work. Ridley Scott did not reinvent the wheel (I mean, this movie is basically Interstellar on Mars), and yet it works on a level that most science-fiction films can never reach. That is due to the brilliant filmmaking combination of the legendary Scott and screenwriter Drew Goddard. Goddard’s script is at times thrilling, but all the while humorous; it delves into scientific intricacies but keeps the tone light with constant wit. The Martian is a tasty concoction of comedy and drama, and Scott and Goddard hit this one out of the park.

The Martian 2Matt Damon received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor for his performance in The Martian, and the Academy could not have gotten this one more correct. Despite an ensemble cast, Damon rarely spends any time on screen with any of those actors and actresses; his performance is as “solo” as Harrison Ford in Star Wars (bad joke, I know). In order for a movie to work where its main character spends 90% of the film alone in solitude, it has to have a remarkable performance from its lead—Matt Damon, a seasoned veteran, supplied just that. Over the course of the film, we watch him display a wide variety of emotions: he moves from scared, to humored, to terrified, to hopeful, to exhausted, to thrilled, and Damon does so with skill and radiance. He is obviously one of the better actors of his generation, and I am hard-pressed to find any performance in his film arsenal that rivals his acting in The Martian—he gave us the perfect blend of comedic and dramatic acting.

The Martian 4In the previous paragraph, I mentioned the film’s ensemble cast; this stellar group of actors aided in the movie’s success. When we are not with Watney on Mars, we are in one of two places: (1) with Watney’s crew as it travels back towards Earth, or (2) with NASA staff back on Earth as they plot a way to rescue Watney. Those respective segments of the film work flawlessly because of the performers assembled. Watney’s crew includes Jessica Chastain and Kate Mara, and both of these stunning actresses shined in their limited screen time. Back on Earth, we see some outstanding performances from Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Kristen Wiig. The Martian 5However, my favorite supporting performance was from Donald Glover (also known as “Childish Gambino,” one of my favorite rappers in the game). Glover portrays an astrodynamicist that masterminds the plan to bring Watney home, and he hilariously and charmingly portrays his character as a socially awkward savant—a genius with some fumbling eccentricities. Glover definitely stole the show in each of his scenes. The Martian is rated PG-13 for some strong language, injury images, and brief nudity.

The Martian trailer:

Academy Award nominations for The Martian:

Best Picture (Simon Kinberg, Ridley Scott, Michael Schaefer, and Mark Huffam, producers)

Best Actor in a Leading Role (Matt Damon)

Best Production Design (Celia Bobak and Arthur Max)

Best Sound Editing (Oliver Tarney)

Best Sound Mixing (Paul Massey, Mark Taylor, and Mac Ruth)

Best Visual Effects (Anders Langlands, Chris Lawrence, Richard Stammers, and Steven Warner)

Best Adapted Screenplay (Drew Goddard)

Top 15 Films of the Year, No. 10 – Looper

Looper is a film written and directed by Rian Johnson.  The movie is set in Kansas City during the year 2044, thirty years before time travel is invented.  Time travel is illegal in the future, and it is only used by the mob on the black market.  When the mafia wants someone killed, they send that person back thirty years where trained assassins, called “loopers,” kill them.  The story follows Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a looper who encounters his own self when the older version of himself (Bruce Willis) is sent back from the future to be assassinated.  When a looper comes across their older self, an event known as “closing the loop,” they must kill the older version of themselves or face death by the mob.  When Joe’s older self gets away, a series of wild, electrifying events take place.  Ultimately, the deeper reason for the elder Joe’s return is revealed and the fate of human existence consequently hangs in the balance.

Looper is clearly one of the year’s most confusing films; however, in this case, confusing does not necessarily equal an immediate dislike for the movie.  In fact, Looper was one of my personal favorites released in 2012, and I rushed to buy it on Blu-ray the day it came out.  Rian Johnson (Brick, The Brothers Bloom) creates a landscape in both the past and future that resembles the darkest of dystopian societies, and his use of short, expeditious scenes plays perfectly along with this theme.  If you are a fan of sci-fi thrillers, you will definitely want to check this one out—it is essentially a mix between The Terminator (1984) and Minority Report (2002).

Since Looper was released in September, it has garnered significant critical acclaim, and it was featured on a variety of important lists of top films of the year.  With that being said, it has not been nominated for any major movie awards.  The only noteworthy nomination is for Best Original Screenplay at the Writers Guild Awards.  Even without any momentous award nominations, I still view Looper as one of the best movies of 2012.

One strong point of the film that critics across the nation have praised is the cast.  Gordon-Levitt (500 Days of Summer, Premium Rush) plays young Joe and Bruce Willis (Pulp Fiction, Die Hard) plays the elder Joe, and the two bear a striking resemblance in the film—this is because makeup artist Kazuhiro Tsuji created various prosthetics for Gordon-Levitt to wear to resemble Willis’ facial features.  In the diner scene when both versions of Joe are sitting across a table from each other, it is blatantly visible how alike they truly look.  Not only does Gordon-Levitt mimic Willis’ physical features, he also engages in the action scenes of the film in the same nature as Willis has been doing for his entire career in movies like the Die Hard and The Expendables franchises.

Solid supporting performances are given by Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada, The Young Victoria) as Sara, the farmhouse owner that young Joe seeks refuge at while hiding from the mafia, and Jeff Daniels (Dumb and Dumber, The Newsroom) as Abe, the guy the mob sent back to the past to manage the loopers.  The breakout performance, however, is from Pierce Gagnon as he portrays Sara’s son Cid, a young, innocent-looking boy who ends up being more than meets the eye.  Looper is rated R for strong violence, language, some sexuality/nudity, and drug content.

Academy Award nominations for Looper:


Previous movies on the countdown of the Top 15 Films of the Year:

11. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

12. The Dark Knight Rises

13. Flight

14. The Master

15. Argo