Top Ten Movies of 2013 — Number Six


There’s a widely-shared view that Alfonso Cuarón delivered the sort of virtuoso directing job with Gravity that should end with a mic drop at the close of the credits. Even the film’s detractors typically can’t help but marvel at the way he sent his camera careening through the weightlessness of space while still offering storytelling clarity. No matter how dazzling individual shots were, including those that simulated a single take without an edit, they didn’t abdicate the responsibility to communicate action and a clear sense of place to the audience, avoiding the very real risk of becoming empty showmanship. Cuarón did take a lot of hits for the screenplay he penned with his son Jonas, the motions complaining about the simplicity of the emotions on display resoundingly seconded by the film’s exclusion from the Original Screenplay Oscar race, despite the overall work’s status as a legitimate contender for the top award. I can see the point of the complaint, but I think it’s off-base, indicating a serious misreading of Gravity, which owes more to Raiders of the Lost Ark than 2001: A Space Odyssey. By keying in a fairly direct, highly emotional story, Cuarón gives the film a welcome human underpinning while developing heartfelt metaphors of rebirth and endurance. As the director himself has noted, he had an ideal partner in Sandra Bullock as the space traveler stranded among the stars. Exploiting her own natural relatable presence, Bullock builds her character out of small, telling pieces. The struggles, pain, frustration and triumphs, big and small, of the character come through with beautiful poignancy. There’s perhaps no other performer who could make a moment of howling along to the sound of dogs on a static-riddled radio communication into a deeply moving moment. Indeed, it’s the moment of the film that sticks with me the most, even more than the countless scenes of visual daring. This scene is where the underappreciated elegance of Gravity is most striking and powerful. Within it resides Cuarón’s deep commitment to giving the humanity of his film a level of care equal or possibly even greater than its remarkable technical feats.

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