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25 Movies to See Before the Oscars: 4. Gravity

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Nominations: Picture, Director, Actress, Cinematography, Film Editing, Original Score, Production Design, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects

Gravity was the only movie in 2013 that was worth both the IMAX and 3D fees (Metallica Through the Never was worth that money too, though clearly not as universally appealing), a story of two astronauts, veteran Matt Kowalski played by the endlessly charismatic George Clooney and the newbie Dr. Ryan Stone played by serenely lovely Sandra, who are left adrift in space after a cataclysmic accident with a satellite leaves them stranded. For the first time in recent memory, the abilities of current CGI technology are used not to fabricate an impossible scenario of orgiastic visuals that overload the senses – they are used to bring to everyday people a rather literal view of the world that they will never be able to experience first hand. Many have commented that the film appears more as a grand scale videogame, but with the way things are now I don’t see how that can function as the insult it is intended to be: videogames have evolved into being a portal for immersive experiences of imagination and life, which is exactly the point of Gravity.

Director Alfonso Cuarón has always shown an adroit facility for revealing the beauty of realism through simplicity; the gorgeous, long, and magnificently detailed long shots that he has become famous for prove that unequivocally (This is the man that breathed new life into the floundering Harry Potter franchise, saving it from the ghastly, two dimensional world that Chris Columbus threw at the audience with the first two films). As such Gravity couldn’t have been a project more suited to or in need of Cuarón’s finesse. Cuarón’s filmography has become increasingly candid over the years as he developed first an appreciation and then an affection for the power of purity in his images, arriving at the hallmark of it all with the making of this film. The visual is completely unfettered, just a starry black abyss above and a massive green-blue planet below, with inconsequentially tiny people floating in between. In that space there is naught to play off of, a complete vacuum, the definition of nothingness. It isn’t surprising in the least to see that this is where Cuarón builds his masterpiece – the most simple of stages in the universe (no pun intended) is a frame in which these emotions can be seen for what they are, and have echoes of meaning as it will. The many comparisons to All is Lost in this context are justified but misplaced – Lost is without metaphoric angles almost entirely as focus is the literal struggle for survival, whereas Gravity is wrought with metaphoric resonance as an analogy for lonely battle of navigating grief. Bullock’s Dr. Stone, we learn in course, is coping with a very personal loss that quite clearly defines a large part of her, and the disaster she experiences parallels that, a kind of visual symphony organically inspired by the Kübler-Ross model.

What Cuarón has made with Gravity is awe-inspiring, and to belittle it as a some sci-fi rehash of Cast Away or as some melodramatic spectacle in zero-G is to have no true concept of appreciation and respect. Yes, Hollywood science fiction has been stuck in a perpetual recycling bin over the past years, and knocking a genre that is always borrowing from itself it to shoot at an easy target – but Gravity proves that even through references to 2001: A Space Odyssey and Alien that the genre isn’t a one note. From Bullock’s magnetic leading performance as bold and beautiful as she has ever done to the astounding and well-engineered cinematography (love those long tracking shots) to the magical visual effects to Cuarón’s ever-burgeoning directorial brilliance and back again, this film will certainly become a hallmark of modern filmmaking, not to mention one to look out for on Oscar night.

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