“The Martian,” which won nearly universal accolades upon its release last year, was the harrowing Robinson Crusoe story of a man stranded in a hostile environment more than 200 million miles from home, fighting for survival. Botanist Mark Watney, played by Matt Damon, had to perform emergency surgery on himself, figure out how to let NASA know he was alive, grow food, and perform countless other science-y tasks to keep from falling on the wrong side of the thin line between life and instant death on the Red Planet.
Har-de-har-har. Though Watney, as embodied by the charming Damon, cracked jokes and danced to disco, “The Martian” didn’t seem much like a comedy. However, it did win “Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy” at the Golden Globes earlier this year – a strange choice that now appears to have inspired a rule change to prevent films that mostly make us cry from masquerading as films that mostly make us laugh.
The change came in an 11-page Golden Globes rulebook from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which bestows the Globes upon films and television shows each year. The rules said, more or less: Get real.
“Motion pictures shall be entered in the category that best matches the overall tone and content of the motion picture,” the rules read. “Thus, for example, dramas with comedic overtones should be entered as dramas.”
The modest language of the rule obscured the controversy that arose when “The Martian” took home an award perhaps more appropriate for a film like the Amy Schumer vehicle “Trainwreck” – a very different kind of movie that was nominated in the same category and came up short.
“Submitting films and TV shows in categories that don’t exactly fit but are less competitive has become a thing in Hollywood,” CNN wrote earlier this year. “And let’s not forget that the category included ‘The Big Short’ and ‘Joy,’ which were also questionable for some fans. Just be happy the gruesome ‘The Revenant’ (which won best motion picture, drama) didn’t make the cut for comedy/musical.”
Indeed, “Trainwreck” director Judd Apatow, wielding air quotes, called out Damon for “that whole Golden Globe comedy thing” at the Critics’ Choice Awards earlier this year.
“We only have one award, Matt,” Apatow said from stage as Damon laughed in the audience. “That’s all we get. I’m like a nerd on the schoolyard, and you stole my milk money. I mean, can we just pick whatever category we want to be in? We have an Asian man in our movie – can I go foreign film now?” He added: “Someone already told us we lost Best Comedy to ‘Carol.'”
While Apatow was joking, his remarks were funny because they were true. The notion that “The Martian” was a comedy was widely ridiculed on social media on Golden Globes night; even host Ricky Gervais got his licks in.
“Our next presenter is the star of the hilarious comedy ‘The Martian,'” Gervais said, introducing Damon. “He nearly died.”
The 93-member Hollywood Foreign Press Association also announced these less-tweetable rule changes:
— A change in the foreign language motion picture eligibility period to a 15-month period to coincide with the Academy’s eligibility period and make submissions in the category easier to manage.
– For the same reason – making life easier for foreign language entrants – submitted films are no longer required to provide screeners in addition to showing the picture at a special screening. (Screeners, however, are highly encouraged).
– Due to the expansion of viewing platforms, the rules were refined to establish distinctions between motion picture and television categories in pay-per-view windows.
– The new rules make the blackout period stricter, by banning all person-to-person interactions between publicists and voters during the voting period.
We’ll see how the changes play out at the next award ceremony, which just got a date: Jan. 8, 2017.