Best Motion Picture: Musical or Comedy | Vol. 3 / No. 12.2

Photo: Joe Shlabotnik, CC BY 2.0
Photo: Joe Shlabotnik, CC BY 2.0

In which I kind-of defend the choice of The Martian for the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture: Musical or Comedy.


It’s no secret that The Martian — Ridley Scott’s film adaptation of the brilliant and funny (and geeky) book of the same name by Andy Weir — is not a musical. Nor, despite it having funny moments, is it a comedy. The Martian is a film about a mentally tough and brilliant astronaut being left for dead in one of the least hospitable places humans can conceivably get to in the middle-term future. While it takes a lot of humour to make such a horrible experience endurable, having a main character who call tell enough jokes to not go totally barking mad while being alone for that long does not make it a comedy.

And, the Golden Globes have awarded it this year’s prize for the category Best Motion Picture: Musical or Comedy.

Over at The Verge, Bryan Bishop thinks they did it because it couldn’t hack it in the other Best Motion Picture category, the one reserved for Drama. He’s of the opinion that everyone knew it couldn’t win against The Revenant or Mad Max: Fury Road, so they tossed it into Musical or Comedy.

That’s possible, but I have another suggestion.

See, musicals and comedies don’t have a hell of a lot in common. The very existence of a category just for them (and only them) is, to my mind, a peculiarity, and one that can best be explained by a kind of snobbery.

On the one hand, you’ve got “drama” — serious movies for serious people. Film as film was meant to be: art. On the other hand you’ve got “the rest” — you know, those movies the plebs watch, with their jokes and their singing, you know how it is with those kind of people. What do they call them again? Oh yes, “musicals” and “comedies.” No, not comedy like Shakespeare, darling, just anything with jokes.

They might as well have added “genre films”.

Now, for a time — five years, from 1958 to 1962 — they handed out an award for musicals and an award for comedies. That, at least, suggests to me that the awards were for a time for something specific. But lumping musicals and comedies together suggests to me that all they wanted was a dumping ground for “things not drama.”

Maybe, in a sense, Bishop is right — maybe they are trying to “throw a bone” to a movie they liked but can’t see winning against more “serious” contenders. But it looks to me like they designed the category just for that purpose from the very start. In which case, maybe The Martian, with its offbeat jokes and disco soundtrack, fits it to a T.

All hail The Martian, best of the also-rans.


Richard Ford Burley is a writer and doctoral candidate at Boston College, as well as an editor at Ledger, the first academic journal devoted to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. In his spare time he writes about science, skepticism, feminism, and futurism here at This Week In Tomorrow.

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