When the motion picture academy opted to nominate 8 movies for best picture a few years ago instead of five, I was delighted. I enjoy watching the lengthy spectacle every year for reasons I don’t understand, and it is always more fun if I’ve seen at least one of the movies. Or at least heard of one. Some years are better than others and often I develop a deep emotional attachment with a certain movie. Last year it was The Imitation Game, the only one I’d seen by March, but I loved it no less for its lack of competition in my mind. Okay — maybe it is not entirely healthy to get so wrapped up in which picture wins, but hey, I live in a culture where fans actually cry when their sports teams lose, so cut me some slack.
This year, I have another such favorite. Science Fiction fanatic that I am, it is not surprising that I am cheering on “The Martian”. However, I’ve seen not one but two of the movies on the list this year, and I liked the other as well. Tom Hanks’ quietly ethical insurance lawyer had me rooting for him, and left me wondering why I preferred “The Martian” to “Bridge of Spies.” It’s not a better movie really. So what gives?
It’s back to the old empathy thing, I think. I don’t have a personal link with spies or lawyers or the history of the cold war, but the astronaut wannabe in me identified so much with the man left behind. I’ve lived in Houston, toured NASA, read countless things about manned missions to Mars as background for my own book d4. But it goes further than that.
I am in awe of Andy Weir, who wrote the well researched and highly accurate book about an astronaut stranded on Mars. He was a little known science fiction author, well, just like me. Word is that he got frustrated having his stories turned down by publishers, and that in 2011 he started posting chapters of “The Martian” to his website instead. How could I not love this guy? Of course I want his movie to win.
There is another odd link, one that might even be less obvious but stronger. I have used music in each of my five books, and spent a lot of time selecting the songs that my heroes would like and possibly turn to as they developed their super powers. I have this goofy attachment to all 54 songs. So I’m watching the end of “The Martian,” thankful that the author went ahead and let me have a feel good movie without the need to kill off a character or two, and then it started.
One of the most pivotal songs referred to in x0 is Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.” I have listened to that song countless times in the past four years as I wrote, revised and blogged about my book. And there it was! Someone had the good sense to let the song run in its entirety all the through the credits and by the end I was squirming in my seat at what a perfect addition it was to the movie. In fact, I wondered why it wasn’t included in the body of the movie itself. Was it an editing choice by the director or a stipulation by the musician? Either way, the song clinched it for me. “The Martian” has got to win.
Which brings me to the topic of personal taste. My preferences are not about how well done an artistic endeavor is. I like to think that some amount of quality is needed for me to like something, but it’s more than that. It includes what I am familiar with, what I understand, and what I enjoy. I like movies about basically good people that end well. No, I didn’t enjoy the Sopranos or Breaking Bad. On the other hand, I wasn’t a huge fan of any Rocky movie and probably won’t see Creed because I also like stories about science and smart people and care very little about sports. I do like to be surprised (“Sixth Sense” was fun) but not jerked around so much I get lost. I don’t like the disgusting. You get the idea. It isn’t about quality, it’s about me. And I suspect that when you pick things you like, it’s about you.
Are you an action-loving Mad Max Fury Road type? History? Wilderness survival? Maybe you are rooting for The Revenant. I don’t think there is a right answer here. Academy members are supposed to weigh in on the objective merits, but we consumers get to like what we like. It’s an important rule for a writer to remember, when she’s on the other side and a reader is judging her creations. Take a breath. Don’t take it personally. Everyone gets to like what they like.
One thing I do like is this video of Gloria Gaynor singing “I Will Survive” superimposed with a clips of a a graceful yet vulnerable figure skater. If you are anything like me, it will have you standing up and yelling “Yes” by the end and possibly even twirling around yourself a few times while you belt out a “I Will Survive” or two along with Gloria. It makes me think of staying alive on Mars. It makes me believe that no matter how many bad reviews I get, I will survive as a writer. It makes me feel good.
And if your not anything like me? Well, that is fine too.