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Trying to explain why Gravity is the year’s best film is a little like arguing that cheeseburgers, warm sunny days and sex are awesome. I mean, they just are. Gravity just is. End of discussion.
Trying to imagine a world where Alfonso Cuaron’s breathtaking, groundbreaking masterpiece actually takes home the Oscar for Best Picture… well, now that’s a whole ‘nother conversation, but one that needs to happen. For the past two weeks, the Cinema Blend Movies staff has stuck up for – or poked holes in – the nine films contending for Best Picture. 12 Years a Slave is the "important" pick. Marty Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street the dangerous choice. Her would be a rewarding pick, while Philomena would be a surprise choice.
Gravity, however, is the right choice. And it is one I have been "choosing" since seeing it in September. Following my initial screening I praised Cuaron’s film as "the best film of … the year so far." It held that spot as the year played out. I named it No. 1 on my year-end Top 10 list.
Does that make it a slam-dunk Best Picture winner? Of course not, but my rationale for putting Gravity in that position goes a very long way as to explaining why I think it deserves the Oscars… and why I think the Academy feels that way, as well.
Technically speaking, Cuaron is light years ahead of its Oscar competitors. Gravity so fully immerses us in the celestial predicament of stranded astronaut Ryan Stone (Oscar nominee Sandra Bullock) that audiences complained of weightlessness and dizziness during IMAX screenings. Cuaron improves on his signature techniques in Gravity, mastering his characteristic "unbroken" long shots that allow his audience to float and glide in, over and around space crafts and satellites. When the shit hits the fan in Gravity, we are such a part of this atmosphere, we can practically smell it.
Remove the technicality of Cuaron’s movie, however, and we’d still be incredibly invested in Stone’s plight because of Bullock’s amazing performance. Gravity has star power, carried –essentially – by the two biggest actors on the planet (and off it). But casting Bullock in place of a departed Angelina Jolie proved to be a blessing, as she sheds the glamour of an A-list performance and gives herself fully to the role. You notice, perhaps for the first time, that there is a frail, vulnerable human being in that weighty space suit when Bullock strips it of and floats, brifly, like a child returned to the womb. What a masterful shot, and a perfectly timed respite between harrowing sequences. You can hear Cuaron saying to us, "Have you caught your breath yet? Good. Because here we go again!"
Gravity, to me, is a masterful ride – a harrowing but gloriously rewarding film that has deeper layers resting beneath its popcorn-thriller exterior. This, at heart, is the story of a damaged and unsure woman fighting to find a reason to live again in the wake of a terrible loss. It is an emotional survival story, tucked inside of a physical survival story. It’s expertly crafted and beautifully acted. But you can say that about far too many films that don’t the Best Picture Oscar. Why should Gravity triumph?
The film ticks off a few crucial boxes that not every other BP contender can claim. It is critically acclaimed (97% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes) and financially successful ($269 million domestically, making it the highest-grossing nominee in the category). Other films can claim one or the other. Gravity dominates both categories.
There is real precedent to Gravity taking the top prize, as well. Cuaron has claimed almost every major Director trophy leading up to the Oscars, and is viewed as the frontrunner in this year’s category. Rarely does the Academy split its Director and Picture trophy. Gravity, instead, reminds me of films like Titanic and Return of the King -- massive spectacle films that are viewed as groundbreaking technical masterpieces (at the time) and are rewarded for their critical, commercial and social successes. There’s a distinct possibility that Gravity could lose at the end of the night on Sunday, and that 12 Years or maybe American Hustle will triumph. It wouldn’t be the end of the world, because we’ll always have this out-of-this-world masterpiece to call our own.
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