The Martian, and more recent Hugo and Bradbury Award winning films, with a full table of winners

The Martian won both the Hugo Awards for Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form, in 2016, but not the Bradbury Award which went to Mad Max: Fury Road. It was way ahead at the nominations stage, and comfortably ahead on the final ballot, with Mad Max: Fury Road in second place, Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens third, Ex Machina fourth and The Avengers: Age of Ultron fifth in both final ballot order and nominations. This was the last year that there were only five finalists in each Hugo category.

This is one of the most star-heavy Hugo winners that is not based on The Lord of the Rings. All of the returning actors are men. Matt Damon, in the lead, was Colin, the organised crime mole within the police in The Departed, ten years before.

Jeff Daniels, here NASA chief Ted Sanders, was Debra Winger’s husband Flap Horton thirty-two years ago in Terms of Endearment.

Michael Peña, astronaut Rick Martinez here, was in back-to-back Oscar winners a decade before, as Daniel the locksmith in Crash (almost the only interesting character in the film) and was also (with more hair) Omar in Million Dollar Baby.

Sean Bean, Mitch Henderson here, was of course Boromir in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

Chiwetel Ojiafor, here Vincent Kapoor, was the protagonist in 12 Years a Slave and the antagonist in Serenity.

Farther down the credits, Enzo Cilenti, Mike Watkins here, is barely visible in Guardians of the Galaxy as a guard. Gruffudd Glynn, Jack here, had a small part in the Doctor Who episode The Woman Who Lived. Brian Caspe, the timer controller here, had a small part in Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror. I can’t be bothered to get photographs, I’m afraid.

I went to see this in the cinema with F when it came out, and wrote then:

F and I went to see The Martian last night. I had read the book for the Clarke Award, and enjoyed it very much (though obviously not quite as much as the ones we shortlisted); it was by far the most widely owned of all the books submitted on both LibraryThing and Goodreads. The film did what I hoped it would do, and included almost all of the set piece scenes from the book, making them at least as good as they had been in my head. I’m not going to claim that it’s Great Art, but I do think it’s Hugo-worthy and I expect it will be on my list for Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) – the only other film I’ve seen in the cinema this year was The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, which came out in 2014 and so would have been eligible for this year’s Hugos (but didn’t even make the top 15).

I enjoyed it on rewatching as well – the effects are fantastic and it is very well paced, but was a struck by a couple of negatives. First off, the acting isn’t all that brilliant actually. Jeff Daniels in particular, as the director of NASA, seems to have only one expression on his face.

Second, it’s another case of ethnic erasure I’m afraid. Chiwetel Ojiafor’s character, Vincent Kapoor, is clearly Asian (Venkat Kapoor) in the book, as is Mackenzie Davis’s character, Mindy Park. Another Asian actor playing one of the NASA controllers had all of her speaking scenes cut out in editing. Ridley Scott is entitled to make his own editing decisions, but the rest of us are also entitled to point out when several of them go in the same direction.

I still enjoyed it enough to put it in the top of half of my table of Hugo, Nebula and Bradbury winners, ahead of Stardust but behind The Truman Show.

As previously mentioned, I’m going to draw a close to this sequence of film reviews now. The subsequent winners are:

2017 Hugo and Bradbury: Arrival. It was convincingly ahead of the field in both Hugo nominations and the final ballot, and I certainly voted for it myself (I was also the Hugo administrator that year). I’m putting it in my top ten, below Terminator 2: Judgement Day but above Galaxy Quest.

2018 Bradbury: Get Out. I wrote of it:

I thought Get Out was brilliant – taking an old sf trope, injecting it with the dynamic of the current debate about race, and Josh Lyman from The West Wing as a genial but completely mad scientist. Daniel Kaluuya is particularly good as the protagonist. Maybe a bit too close to the horror side of the genre for my personal taste.

I still ranked it only half way down my Hugo ballot that year, and I’m doing the same with my overall rankings.

2018 Hugo: Wonder Woman. I saw it in the cinema, and wrote:

I went to see Wonder Woman last weekend in my local cinema. I haven’t been following the DC movies recently — the last I saw was The Dark Knight Rises five years ago — and went into it pretty unspoiled with no expectations. I really enjoyed it, and heartily recommend it to everyone.

Spoiler alert!

I had no idea that the film is largely set during the closing weeks of the first world war, in November 1918, with almost all of the second half set in a fictionalised Belgium. Although we Belgians have contributed greatly to the comics tradition, we’re not used to seeing our country in superhero movies.

The fictional Belgian village of Veld, typically for Flanders of the time, has shop signs in French but the villagers mainly speak Flemish to each other — and a frisson went around the movie hall as Wonder Woman spoke to them in their own language. Later in the film, the audience went very quiet at one point.

The resonances were pretty strong. The cinema I was sitting in (which committed a major faux pas on the film’s opening night) was built on the site of buildings destroyed during the invasion of August 1914, close to the monument to the 272 civilians in our town killed during that terrible month. The movie’s interrogation of the rationale for war hit very close to home.

And although it is (rightly) being noted that the portrayal of chemical weapons in Wonder Woman has an eerie similarity to what is happening in Syria right now, it remains the case that the Belgian military Service for the Removal and Destruction of Explosive material — which is based in the woods in our home village — is still finding 150-200 tons of first world war munitions every year, 5-10% of which is toxic, with no sign of that abating.

I’m glad to say that the century-old chemical weapons don’t come near our local headquarters, but are kept in Poelkapelle, 150 km west of here. They are currently working through a significant backlog with their new disposal chamber, which started working only last April after the previous one got blown up in 2012.

Coming from where I do, I’m used to writers taking my own cultural heritage and mangling it horribly. I think Wonder Woman very successfully avoided this trap as far as Belgium goes (though the castle where the military gala ball takes place appears to be in a very un-Belgian landscape). (And I did wonder about Themiscyra apparently being within a day or so of both Turkey and London.)

It’s fundamentally a funny, witty action film with a light approach to actual history; but it does the serious bits very well. As I said, strongly recommended.

On reflection, I was giving it a lot of bonus points for being set in Belgium, and I think I’d actually rank it below Get Out today, but still near the middle of the table.

2019: Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse (both Hugo and Bradbury). I was the Hugo administrator again this year, so did not write this up at the time. I enjoyed it a lot, and it (just) gets into the top half of the table of winners. This was the most recent film to win the Bradbury Award – it went to TV episodes in 2020, 2021 and 2022.

2020: The Hugo went to a TV series and the Bradbury Award to and episode of the same TV series, so no entry in the list. (I was deputy Hugo administrator that year.)

2021: The Old Guard (Hugo). I was involved with the process throughout the nominations stage, but left shortly after votes on the final ballot started coming in, and wrote:

Charlize Theron and her co-stars are very cute immortal fighters in today’s world, and do a lot of biffing, for no reason that I could really detect.

I found this film incomprehensible, and am ranking it right at the end of the table, ahead of only The Sixth Sense and some of the sillier Retro Hugo winners.

2022: Dune (Hugo). I was deputy Hugo administrator again this year, and Dune was an early favourite. I went to see it when it came out, and wrote:

Well, well, well – I had not realised that Dennis Villeneuve’s Dune is not yet out in the UK or America. My British and American (and I guess also Irish) friends, you have a treat in store.

F and I went to see it yesterday in the IMAX near the Heysel stadium. I think in retrospect I’d have gone for the 3-D experience rather than the IMAX; it is such a huge film that one rather gets lost in the perspective.

You have surely read the book, so the only important thing to say about the plot is that we get only halfway – although the film is being advertised as Dune, tout court, it’s actually only the first half, up to the point where Paul and Jessica are adopted by the Fremen. So assuming that the opening night in the US in October is successful (and I think it will be), there’ll be a part 2 next year, or in 2023.

What to say: it looks fantastic. Sets, effects, planets, big buildings, big bangs, ornithopters you can almost believe in, and of course the sandworms. (F wondered if the film-makers had drawn inspiration from SpongeBob’s Alaskan bull worm; it’s pretty clear that SpongeBob in this instance was inspired by Frank Herbert.) Here’s the trailer which gives you some idea (though you really have to see it on the big screen).

So, other things to comment on. The casting is good. I want to particularly note Rebecca Ferguson, who despite her name is Swedish, as Lady Jessica, Paul’s mother. She is less hard-edged than the character in the book, but I think deeper for it. Charlotte Rampling basically just gets one scene as the Reverend Mother, but steals it completely. Javier Bardem is Stilgar, leader of the indigenous Fremen, and is superb – the first scene where he brings the “gift of water” sets the tone. (I helped him with an event in the European Parliament in 2012 – see here at 0:37.) Jason Momoa is great as Duncan Idaho. Slightly less convinced by Josh Brolin as Gurney Halleck. The nobles – Oscar Isaac as the Duke, Stellan Skarsgård as the Baron – are fine. Sharon Duncan-Brewster, who I last saw as Daniel’s friend and Edith’s girlfriend Fran in Russsell T. Davies’ Years and Years (which I don’t seem to have written up), plays a genderflipped Liet Kynes. The two young leads, Timothée Chalamet as Paul and Zendaya as Chani, are good to look at and manage to carry off the freighting of youth combined with destiny very well. There is justifiable commentary that although the Fremen are ethnically diverse, none of them are actually played by actors whose ethnicity comes from the desert.

But the casting is secondary just to the staging and cinematography. All the key moments are there; some of them look as good as I had hoped, most of them look far better than I’d hoped. The music is just right too, though I was a little sorry that the Pink Floyd from one of the trailers didn’t make it to the big screen:

So, it will get one of my Hugo nominations for next year. I think I may still vote for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings ahead of it, though.

I still think it’s pretty good, and am putting it also in my top ten, just behind Arrival.

So, here is my definitive list of the films that have won the Hugo, Nebula and Ray Bradbury Awards, in reverse order, starting with the bottom half of the table:

64) The Canterville Ghost (Retro Short, 1945) 48) The Princess Bride (1987)
63) Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (Retro Short, 1944)47) 2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984)
62) Curse of the Cat People (Retro Short, 1945)46) Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1990)
61) The Sixth Sense (Nebula, 1999)45) Fantasia (Retro Long Form, 1941)
60) Heaven Can Wait (Retro Long, 1944)44) Return of the Jedi (1982)
59) The Incredible Shrinking Man (Outstanding Movie, 1958)43) Edward Scissorhands (1990)
58) The Old Guard (2021)42) Bambi (Retro, 1943)
57) A Boy and His Dog (1976)41) The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
56) Pinocchio (Retro Short Form, 1941)40) Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
55) Destination Moon (Retro, 1951)39) WALL-E (2009)
54) Slaughterhouse-Five (1973)38) Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
53) The War of the Worlds (Retro, 1954)37) Howl’s Moving Castle (Nebula 2006)
52) Sleeper (Hugo/Nebula 1974)36) Moon (2010)
51) The Incredibles (Hugo 2004) 35) Young Frankenstein (Hugo/Nebula 1975)
50) The Avengers (2013)34) Soylent Green (Nebula 1973)
49) Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)33) The Picture of Dorian Gray (Retro, 1946)

And the top half:

32) The Empire Strikes Back (1980)16) Superman (1978)
31) Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse (2018) 15) Inception (2011)
30) District 9 (Bradbury 2010)14) Contact (1997)
29) Wonder Woman (Hugo 2018)13) Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Hugo/Nebula 2001)
28) Serenity (Hugo/Nebula 2005)12) Beasts of the Southern Wild (Bradbury 2012)
27) Stardust (2008)11) Galaxy Quest (Hugo/Nebula 2000)
26) The Martian (2015)10) Dune (2022)
25) The Truman Show (1998)9) Arrival (2017)
24) Get Out (Bradbury 2018)8) Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
23) Gravity (2014)7) Blade Runner (1983)
22) Aliens (1986)6) Back to the Future (1985)
21) Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)5) 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
20) Dr Strangelove (1965)4) The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
19) Jurassic Park (1993)3) Star Wars (Hugo/Nebula 1978/77)
18) Pan’s Labyrinth (2007)2) The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
17) A Clockwork Orange (1972)1) Alien (1979)