Best Picture 2013?
Easily one of the best - if not the best - films of the year, Director Alfonso 'Children of Men' Cuaron's Gravity is a masterful exercise in pure suspense and relentless tension; a powerful and blisteringly accurate disaster movie set in the dead of space, where not only can no one hear you scream, but they also can't hear the high-speed bullet-like impact of debris tearing through your ship and leaving you stranded in the great abyssal vacuum.Cuaron's powerful use of sound - or lack thereof - coupled with an impassioned score, only heightens the near-unbearable tension, whilst regular Terrence Malick collaborator, acclaimed cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (who shot all of Cuaron's previous films) provides us with some stunning images, both of the earth from space, and of space shuttles and space stations disintegrating into a million tiny Lego-like pieces. And that's not to mention several effective unsubtle-but-not-intrusive symbolic touches (like the rebirth theme, which starts with a beautiful Zero-G foetal coil for the main character).Basically a one-(wo)man show, with the ever charming George Clooney on hand for a surprisingly powerful extended cameo, Gravity marks a potential second Best Actress Oscar for star Sandra Bullock, who arguably equals her fantastic career-high Blind Side role with a strong-yet-vulnerable performance here as an astronaut left stranded in space with little oxygen, few supplies, dwindling fuel and no communication with Mission Control back on Earth. The survival structure of the story pushes Bullock to her limits, evidencing both a mental and physical strain to the seemingly endless catastrophes that befall her character. Who would have thought that the sweet-but-lightweight actress could be capable of such heavyweight roles?
Yet it is still a tribute to the unquestionable skill of the director that he is able to not only draw such performances out of his cast (who were, once upon a time, to be Natalie Portman and Robert Downey Jr.), but also quite so much tension out of such a minimalistic, realistic setting and story, blowing similar but more conventionally Oscar-worthy efforts like Apollo 13 out of the atmosphere with its ground-breaking depiction of against-the-clock space disaster.
Worth the production delays and extended wait to get the film fully rendered in 3D, this is one of the best - again, if not the best - examples of the technology since the format's introduction with the benchmark-setting Avatar.
As with Cameron's spectacle, Gravity is so dominated by CG effects that the 3D works, providing it with a genuinely immersive quality which (besides Avatar) is likely unparalleled in previous uses of the format. Not only do we get all those trademark reach-out-and-touch-it moments that viewers appear to have a love/hate relationship with, but the 3D brings life to a place most of us are utterly unfamiliar with: truly affording us a glimpse at the bottomless depth of space. It's also probably the first time any of us have seen space-side views of the Earth where the landscape takes on a tangible texture, with mountain ranges and plateaus giving an extra dimension to the previously 'flat' globe.
Above all, though, the 3D cinematography draws you into the intense claustrophobia and suffocating environment, marrying 1st and 3rd person shots seamlessly, delivering a feature which is almost like a 90-minute version of the epic car-assault tracking-shot in Cuaron's Children of Men (where the camera pans in and out and around the car in one long take, as it is shot at and attacked), and which is unrelenting in its tension, leaving you literally holding your breath to see what happens next.
VerdictIf there's any justice in the world, this film will rack us a number of Awards - or at least Nominations - in the Best Picture, Director, Actress, Cinematography, Effects and Score departments; there've been few that better it in any categories and none that can top them all.
If you see just one movie at the cinema this year, let it be Gravity.
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