Best Director – Motion Picture: The Martian

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One of the most acclaimed filmmakers of his generation, three-time Golden Globe nominee Ridley Scott (Gladiator, American Gangster and now The Martian) has also earned three Academy Award nominations for Best Director (Thelma & Louise, Gladiator and Black Hawk Down). Scott’s most recent credits include Exodus: Gods and Kings starring Christian Bale, and Prometheus, starring Michael Fassbender, Noomi Rapace and Charlize Theron.

Scott burst into the movie scene in 1977, when he made his feature debut The Duellists, for which he won the Best First Film Award at the Cannes Film Festival. He followed with the blockbuster sci-fi thriller Alien, which catapulted Sigourney Weaver to stardom and launched a successful franchise. In 1982, Scott directed the landmark film Blade Runner, starring Harrison Ford. Considered a sci-fi classic, the futuristic thriller was added to the U.S. Library of Congress’ National Film Registry in 1993. Like other major directors, his oeuvre is marked by collaboration with one particular actor, Australian Russell Crowe, with whom he has teamed five times, most recently in the legendary tale of Robin Hood, co-starring Cate Blanchett.

Based on a best-selling novel, The Martian is an artistic highlight of the movie year: A serious yet entertaining survival saga that boasts a seminal performance from Matt Damon and features an impressive ensemble that includes Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels and Chiwetel Ejiofor. The film revolves around a universal issue: While many people had at one time or another the feeling of being alone in the world, the hero, Mark Watney, experiences aloneness and loneliness on Mars. Presumed killed by a devastating windstorm that forced an emergency evacuation, Watney awakens injured. To stay alive he must react immediately, and he needs to maintain his resolve, as help might not be possible – it might also take years.

Scott perceived the movie as composed of three separate but connected storylines: "Watney is a Robinson Crusoe figure, and I really liked the character and the way the story celebrates the courage and ingenuity. As our scribe, Drew Goddard, said to me, 'It’s a love letter to science.” Goddard was elated to see his script directed by Scott: “I can still remember when I first saw Roy Batty (played by Rutger Hauer) reflect on c-beams glittering off the Tannhauser Gate in Blade Runner. I was seven years old, sitting third row back, left side of the White Roxy Theater. Everything I have ever written has been influenced by Ridley; his films are embedded in my creative DNA, and so to work with him was a dream come true.”

Working with Scott was an irresistible lure for Damon, who says Scott has elicited performances from actors that are “too good to be an accident. He’s willing to break a rule if it buys a bigger emotional connection from the audience. He paints on a much bigger canvas than most directors, and it’s exciting to do things on that scale.” While sitting among the rocks and dirt on Stage 6, Damon continued to shoot at Korda long after the other members wrapped. At one point he said: “Ridley, it’s just you and me on Mars.”

Scott knew immediately that Damon was the right thespian for the complex and demanding part: "Throughout five weeks of solo acting, I asked Matt to not only carry the story but also a substantial amount of astronaut gear on his back. Matt's unfailing high spirits and good humor buoyed the entire crew during some intense and strenuous moments." A visual stylist, Scott had the movie in his head long before shooting began, so he was able to walk his leading man through specific camera shots, coverage and setups. Recalled Damon “Ridley allows his actors to see the movie as he envisions it, which is incredibly useful for performance.”

Said Scott: “I was fascinated by the near impossibility of Watney’s task and the team effort required, not only from NASA, but also international partners. Geopolitical rivals must overcome their differences and work together for the common goal of saving an astronaut’s life, and the entire world becomes transfixed by the size and complexity of that challenge.” Scott always saw Watney as a character that "represents more than just one life. He embodies humanity’s pioneering instincts and our hopes for the future." Which may explain the film's critical acclaim and box-office response – it’s Ridley Scott's biggest commercial hit.

Emanuel Levy