Tuesday, January 07, 2014

My pick for best movie of the year is...

The envelope please.

Oh, this is so exciting.

And the winner is...


No... wait. 

And I can’t even see 3D. If I could, I’d say GRAVITY was the best picture of 2009-13. When you think of “Best Picture” in the classic sense you think of epic pictures, innovative pictures, thrilling stories, spectacular performances, movies that have lifted the art form. That’s not the struggle to get MARY POPPINS produced, or a three-hour look at a Wall Street asshole who encourages midget bowling. You don’t crown Best Picture to a cute caper movie, or a ridiculous civics lessons because Oprah Winfrey is in it. When techniques have to be invented to realize a director’s vision, that’s Picture of the Year material.

That said, if 12 YEARS A SLAVE were to win I would not be unhappy.   It's important and remarkable in its own right.  I just think GRAVITY is groundbreaking, no matter how many D's you see it in.  

First I will say, see it on a big screen. Or bigger. You will not get the full effect watching GRAVITY on your smart phone. The long opening sequence, which is one continuous shot, is maybe the most amazing thing I’ve seen in cinema. More amazing even than watching a downtrodden folk singer hold a cat and ride on a subway for five minutes. As I watched the opening sequence in GRAVITY I kept saying, “How did they do that?” Considering this is the age of CGI and amazing special effects, it now takes a lot to get a person to say that.

Alfonso Cuaron is quite the eclectic filmmaker. It’s hard to believe the same man who directed Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN also helmed HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN. And now GRAVITY. Had I known he was so versatile I would have gotten him to direct an episode of ALMOST PERFECT.

And yet for all the dazzling effects and relentless suspense, it is the characters that really launch this picture into space. George Clooney proves he can play charming even in a bulky space suit, and Sandra Bullock is downright remarkable as the newbie astronaut who must somehow get home without the help of Superman or any of the Avengers.

I don’t know if I’ve ever rooted for a character more. She brings such depth to her character, which is quite a task considering for most of the movie she’s in a space suit slamming against the sides of the shuttle. And then there’s this gorgeous scene where she sheds the suit and emerges like a butterfly, all the while weightless. All that Kubrick was trying to do in three hours plus for 2001: A SPACE ODESSEY (the evolution of man, yada yada) Cuaron achieves in that one sequence.

There are a number of excellent movies that came out in 2013. In fact, it was a year better than most.  Again, 12 YEARS A SLAVE might well take the gold. But for my money, GRAVITY rises to the top.

TOMORROW: A movie I wanted to love but didn't... although film critics did. 


Greg Ehrbar said...

I liked "Saving Mr. Banks" -- actually "Mary Poppins" should get a retroactive Best Picture Oscar and the Sherman Brothers should get a lifetime achievment award for sustaining musical films with original scores longer than any other songwriting team.

What if Oprah was floating in space with Sandra Bullock? There's your Best Picture right there.

Hamid said...

Trust me, if Oprah doesn't at least get a nomination for Best Supporting Actress, her legion of whooping, cheering, applauding, hysterical fans will make sure there's hell to pay. They still haven't forgiven the moviegoing public or the Academy for ignoring her earth shattering performance in Beloved.

It's not enough she's a billionaire with an army of sycophantic fans who lap up her every utterance. She wants to be seen as a serious actress, dammit! She's still waiting to use the Oscar acceptance speech she wrote 16 years ago. As her fans would say: WHOOOOOOOO!

ScottyB said...

I dunno. Depends if you're looking for knock-dead cinematic grandeur or something more like 'Nebraska' as what defines a film as "best".

But that's OK. I wouldn't argue with 'Gravity' being eye-candy awesome, and there was a good story in there. Beats the fuck out of arguing about the weather.

Daniel said...

"Solo Con Tu Pareja" is a very funny film that Cuaron made in 1991. Highly recommended screwball comedy.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Hamid: she was awfully good in THE COLOR PURPLE. It's clear from that that Oprah can put a character across given the right script and the right director.


ScottH said...

I completely agree about "Gravity"! I hope the studio is smart enough to get it back in theaters at some point, so people can experience it again, or for the first time, on a big screen. The 3D added a little, but this was not a one-trick movie; I'm sure it would play fine without it, as long as it's on a big screen. I've never felt more like I was IN the movie than with "Gravity."

I don't know how well it will do on DVD, Blu-Ray, video streaming, etc. I have a 55-inch TV, and I think it will be completely insufficient to appreciate this film.

Markus said...

No matter how "good" Gravity might be, I just can't get my head to look around all the misrepresentations of actual spaceflight and how stuff works in space. Scifi in general and "real spaceflight" movies in particular like to put reality aside to a degree that it's just staggering. Filmmakers try to get away with so much fantasy in this kind of movie yet pretending to show something realistic, apparently thinking no one's gonna notice since, hey, who knows crap about spaceflight anyway, right? I mean, just for example, wouldn't you facepalm at a movie when a character drives from New York to L.A. in half an hour? On a tricycle?

Brendan said...

Agree, Ken. "Gravity" is spectacular, coming from a space geek who saw some egregious errors in the movie and you know what? I didn't care. Suspension of disbelief and all that. It grabs you from the start and doesn't let you go... very much Oscar-worthy.

Thomas said...

Although I've not seen Gravity, I have seen both Y Tu Mama Tambien and Children of Men. It's only while reading this blog post that I've realised they share a director.

Tim W. said...

There are quite a number of possible candidates I haven't seen, but Gravity is definitely the best movie I've seen this year. Of all the 3D movies I've seen, only two were memorable for their 3Dness: Avatar and Gravity.

"I just think GRAVITY is groundbreaking, no matter how many D's you see it in."

There is definitely a joke about Sandra Bullock's boobs there. Or maybe that WAS the joke.

Jimmyjimmy said...

Gravity? As the best movie? Maybe the best movie the week it was released? Don't get me wrong, it was enjoyable and spectacular to look at... but likable Sandy B made the atrocious writing bearable!

Lance said...

Afraid I must disagree about Gravity. I did not find the characters compelling. I like Bullock (and Clooney), but I just didn't care about them. Looking back on it I think I would have sympathized with Bullock if the explanation of her years-before trauma was all talkie-talkie and almost treated like a throw away. I saw no character development, and as she moved from one thing to another I felt like I was watching her level up in a video game (and she wouldn't give me a turn to play). I thought 12 Years A Slave was wonderful, with far more interesting characters. Just my two cents.

404 said...

I agree, Ken. It's been a long time since I've been so engrossed in a film. I actually found myself talking to the screen at times, trying to cheer her on. I'm usually not a Sandry B fan, but she was fantastic in this movie.

Anonymous said...

I am a huge Cuaron fan and I enjoyed GRAVITY but do not think it should win Best Picture. Of all the films i've seen this year (and I have not seen American Hustle yet) - HER and PRISONERS are the best films I have seen. I know PRISONERS is beyond grim - but I thought it was so well acted and directed and it raises interesting questions about morality and justice. And HER was a very well made film for our times. Phoenix gives an amazing performance and the script tackles important issues about technology and loneliness and how difficult it is for many people to express themselves.

Sharon said...

GRAVITY left me cold, emotional. Sure, it's a mesmerizing technological achievement, but I needed more in terms of character, or apparently God forbid, story. The Cuaron's had said that they weren't out to tell a story in the usual sense, but more interested in the character study. Since that didn't resonate with me, I didn't have anything but Clooney's considerable charm (yes, I'm one of those!) and even that wasn't enough.

Plus, they never bothered to explain one crucial thing to me. With all that space debris hurtling by in sizes large to microscopic, how is that nothing ever pierced the spacesuits? If something was mentioned about how super-duper resistant the suits were, I missed it. This was something I just couldn't get past.

Richard J. Marcej said...

Well Ken, Cuaron also directed the overlooked excellent film "CHILDREN OF MEN" (Best Film of 2006 IMO) and the Potter film you mentioned was one of the best of the franchise.

Of the 70 movies I saw this year "12 YEARS A SLAVE" was the best I saw. "GRAVITY", "ALL IS LOST","CAPTAIN PHILLIPS" and "ENOUGH SAID" would round out my top five.

I'm going to guess Ken, the movie you're going to talk about tomorrow. The film the critics loved (and I wanted to love) but was a big… meh. "AMERICAN HUSTLE".

David Kukoff said...

Boy, I also couldn't get behind GRAVITY. One-dimensional characters, obvious back story. I hate to sound like the guy who flips his nose up at studio fare, but I thought THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES and MUD were the two best films of the year.

RCP said...


We know where you live.

Hamid said...


To that I can only say: WHOO! YOU GET A CAR, YOU GET A CAR, YOU GET A CAR! WHOO!

One of my top films of the year was Ron Howard's RUSH. Absolutely brilliant filmmaking and powerhouse performances.

-bee said...

I cannot argue with your gut reaction to a film, but can only try to explain why MY gut feels that Gravity is the most overrated film this year.

In general, I have little patience with films that are structured like video games, each segment a short-term objective that once solved throws the character into a series of escalating levels. (the recent Hobbit movies are another example of this).


I was also pretty exasperated that the heroine
'solved' most of her problems not via ingenuity but dumb luck (or even worse, implications that 'god was on her side'). I consider this to be the height of lazy screenwriting. The similar "All Is Lost" was somewhat better in that there was a degree of skill and cleverness on the part of the hero that was actually set up and dramatized (although God seemed to come into play in that one too).

Getting back to Gravity, I also found there to be an hint of sexism in the ultimate source of weakness/strength for a woman character being 'motherhood' - although that too could of just been lazy screenwriting using that as a crutch.


My favorite film this year is Nebraska, although I could be biased because it was so recognizable to me on a personal basis.

Todd Everett said...

Jan. 17 "Gravity" re-release

Mitchell Hundred said...

Apparently they were originally going to have Robert Downey Jr. and Blake Lively in the main roles, but they had to back out due to scheduling conflicts. Just goes to show how these things so often happen serendipitously: I don't think it would've been nearly as good with those two.

Greg Ehrbar said...


I saw The Place Behind the Pines, but seriously, where was "the place?" I was expecting to see a little shack or something. Was it just that area where the characters talked at one point?


jbryant said...

I'm not saying everyone has to agree with Cuaron's minimal approach to narrative and character in GRAVITY, but is it really bad enough to kill one's sense of wonder at his amazing technical achievement? It's an experiment of sorts, and to my eyes he pulled it off. If this thing had a script by Ed Wood and starred Kim Kardashian, it would still be a supreme cinematic achievement. To me, complaining about the film's lack of narrative depth is like complaining that they don't serve meals on a roller coaster.

Hamid said...

The BAFTA nominations are in and as usual they're a mixture of the expected and the hilarious. Oprah gets a Best Supporting Actress nomination. Her army will be happy. For now.

The most laughable category this year is the one for Outstanding British Film, which is separate to their overall Best Film category. Included in the Outstanding British Film nominations are Gravity and Saving Mr Banks. Really?! A Hollywood movie made by Disney starring Tom Hanks but written by a British screenwriter makes it a British film? Gravity is apparently a British film because it's co-produced by David Heyman. They might as well have nominated The Wolf of Wall Street for Outstanding British Film. I think Dicaprio stayed at The Dorchester hotel in London a few times.

Albert Giesbrecht said...
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Albert Giesbrecht said...
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Jon T said...

Gotta add myself to the vastly overrated camp on Gravity. Visual Effects were admittedly next level & beyond belief. But the writing was awful: George Clooney was asked to do a "George Clooney, Glib & Charming Moviestar in Space" turn from beginning to end. He quipped, flirted and grinned up to the moment of his death and then beyond.

Sandra Bullock was one note, with her past trauma that explained the shutdown nature of her character feeling like it was tacked on in the final draft of the script for some backstory.

The only arc in the movie to be found was the orbit trajectory. Ugh. But the visuals were indeed great....

mdv1959 said...

I guess you had to be in the right frame of mind to see Gravity. Yes, it requires a suspension of belief in the realities of space, but that's like not liking Star Wars because there aren't really Wookies.

I actually wasn't dying to see Gravity but went with a friend to a 3D screening and was blown away by the originality of the movie. The story is fine, to me it's Cast Away set in space, but visually it's one of those films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars, Terminator 2 and The Matrix that really moved the bar in terms of what's possible to achieve in cinema. It's also one of the few films I've seen that really does benefit from 3D.

This year reminds me why it's so pointless to name a "Best Picture", Gravity and 12 Years a Slave couldn't be more different and by most accounts both succeed brilliantly at delivering the film they set out to make. Why does one have to be best?

TDG said...
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beedoo747 said...


Not even the distant whomp whomp of a helicopter? They're just going to leave her there, and not let us know that the rescue people manage to turn up?

Sure, I liked the movie. I think it went a couple of levels too far on things that went wrong (when the water rushed into the spacecraft I was just.. no.. seriously? And then when she had to get out of the spacesuit underwater.. I was like enough already with putting obstacles in her way, can't just one darn thing go right for this poor laydee?

I liked the bit where George miraculously reappeared, though. If only all of us could have George suddenly show up and tell us how to get out of our life threatening situations.. way cool.

I have to agree with Greg, you put Oprah up there in space with Sandra, you got a best picture, 100% guaranteed. Maybe she could have been a wacky astronaut left behind in the ISS a bit too long..

Anonymous said...

Incidentally, 2001 wasn't three hours plus, but a smattering over 2 ½ hours. Wouldn't even place in a lot of 2013's running times.

Johnny Walker said...

Alfonso Cuaron is a master and this is his masterpiece -- audio/visually at least. Technically brilliant in all the right ways: Every bit of precise Kubrick-esque creativity was used to move the audience, not just to show off... and it worked. Brilliantly.

That said, I was a little frustrated by the script. The dialogue felt clam heavy and unrealistic to me. E.g. Desperately hoping to elicit signs of life: "Say something. Say anything! I don't mind!"


Before that, I really wanted to Bullock to scream at Clooney: "Don't go. Please don't go! I need you..."

Clooney: "You'll be fine, kiddo."

Bullock: "No please! You can't go! I... I don't want to die alone!" (breaks down)

*Clooney slips away*

Isn't that what her character would be screaming in her core? I know it would have broken my heart to hear her say that -- to admit defeat in such a brutally honest way.

And given it was all green screen, with very simple scenes, it just felt like it would have been an actor's dream to focus and obsess on all the nuances and dialogue... to REALLY knock it out of the park the way Cuaron did audio/visually.

One helluva a gripping and emotional ride, though. Loved it!

Kaleberg said...

I thought the back story was the weakest part of Gravity, and the physics was so lame I'm not going to wait for Sir Isaac Newton's cut to come out on DVD. The great part for me was the portrayal of the vast indifference of space and the sheer strangeness of near earth orbit, of being so close, yet in another world. The story of the two characters has been told quite often, the old professional and the newcomer in a hostile environment, with the newcomer surviving having absorbed the wisdom of the old professional. There's a reason that story comes up again and again.


re: Bullock: "No please! You can't go! I... I don't want to die alone!" (breaks down)

Clooney: "Ha, ha, fooled you there. There's no wind in space, bet you didn't know that science lady."