Top Ten Movies of 2015 — Number Four

4 martian

Befitting his status as a filmmaker approaching his octogenarian years, Ridley Scott is something of a throwback. Until The Martian, I didn’t realize just how far in Hollywood’s history his creative instincts lie. Since he made his feature directorial debut in the latter half of the second, Scott was easy to plop into the categories of the other auteurs from around that era, deeply informed by the greater artistic latitude afforded to those behind the camera. That he truly made his name with a pair of films that combined harder science fiction elements with more audience-friendly directness (as if George Lucas had brought a little more of THX 1138 to that galaxy far, far away) only cemented his reputation as a filmmaker with a distinct point of view. My epiphany following The Martian is this: Scott is a gifted studio system toiler misplaced in a different era. Throughout his lengthy career, he’s hopscotched across genres with casual abandon. His five big-screen outings preceding The Martian included a biblical epic, a sleazy thriller, and, of all things, a Robin Hood movie. He didn’t agonize over this latest project for years and years, thinking through the subtext of every tiny detail. Scott signed on late, after Drew Goddard made the bad bet of opting out of directing his own screenplay (adapted from Andy Weir’s novel of the same name) in order to preside over a Spider-Man spinoff film that will likely never shoot a single digital frame. And yet, Scott performs heroically, perfectly shaping the story of a spacefaring NASA botanist (Matt Damon) who uses his scientific ingenuity to survive and seek rescue after being left for dead on Mars. Committing fully to an almost procedural march through the feats of botany, engineering, and astronautics required by all invested in the stranded soul’s return, Scott crafts a film with perfectly calibrated timing, taking the plot particulars seriously while infusing the whole endeavor with a sense of zingy wonder. The Martian might by the most flat-out entertaining film of the past year, engaging with its wit, cleverness, and unfussy polish. Valuable as it is to have directors who strain and strive to deliver resonant works of profound art each and every time out, there’s value in the filmmaker who can work with just about anything that’s handed to them, always with the possibility that they’ll deliver a finished product that absolutely soars.

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