Witney has been reviewing and making book for the nine films nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. Today: Gravity.
When Gravity was released back in October, critics all over the world lost their minds. I can’t think of a film in recent memory (at least not a mainstream, big-budget Hollywood popcorn flick) that was as highly lauded as Alfonso Cuarón’s space disaster. The lionization of Gravity kind of makes sense: Not only is it an excellent and impeccably made movie, but the use of special effects and 3-D finally seem to have been done right. This is not a pretend 3-D retrofit. This is a film that attempts – and largely succeeds – to fold its special effects and 3-D imagery into its actual tone. Critics loved it because, well, it may actually prove to be important someday. Because it was so graceful and exhilarating about its effects and its gimmick (and the 3-D may not even be considered a “gimmick” this time around), it’s a film that is right up-to-the-minute of its time. Gravity could not have been made one year ago. Gravity is 2013’s movie.
So for pure spectacle alone, Gravity deserves to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Luckily, it’s also a well-told story on top of that. Not a complex story, mind you, or even a necessarily deep one (it requires strength to persist living in the midst of a 90-minute-long space disaster, especially when you’re as royally screwed as Sandra Bullock’s character is), but a compelling story that is further complimented by Gravity’s genre tropes. All disaster films (from 2012 to The Poseidon Adventure) are harrowing tales of survival, and the lengths to which people will go to cling onto life. Gravity can perhaps be considered the platonic ideal of “the tale of survival,” as it’s all about survival, of the body and of the spirit. It’s one of those movies where you can use one of those laughably clichéd crit phrases like “a triumph of the human spirit! It soars!” and actually kind of mean it.
And while I do like this film a lot, I do have some minor quibbles. For one, it doesn’t quite penetrate emotionally all the way. You are going to be so wowed by the special effects that you may not be drawn in by Bullock’s sad tale of a lost child, and a festering depression that manifests itself in the face of certain doom. You’ll see it, and you’ll get it, but merely understand what a film was getting at doesn’t necessarily make it a success. I also feel that Bullock, while a serviceable actress, is largely interchangeable with any other equally capable actress; she doesn’t necessarily make the role hers. We sympathize with her because, well, she’s Sandra Bullock.
But again, this is but a minor complaint about what is, without hyperbole, one of the best films of the year. It’s a film that emphasizes cinema over movie, and required a theatrical experience, all the more vital in a world of increased web-and-TV-based movie consumption. I’m curious to see how first-time viewers react to Gravity once they see it on home video. Will the impact be the same? Will it be as exhilarating? Will the small screen rob it of its power? Or perhaps, with less to be dazzled by, the story may actually hit a little bit harder.
Odds to win: 2:1