Top 10 films of 2013: Gravity
We reach the number one spot in our writers' selection of 2013's finest films. Here's why Gravity made the top of the list...
Over the past few weeks, Den of Geek writers have been voting for their favourite films of the year. So finally, here's what's at number one: the magnificent Gravity...
Cinema’s always been a fusion of technology and artistry, from the very first moving pictures of the 19th century to the envelope-pushing motion-capture and 3D of Avatar. But films few of the last decade have interrogated the possibilities of cutting-edge computer technology as thoroughly as Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity, which uses these techniques to simulate an unparalleled sense of weightlessness and dislocation.
Far from a high-tech gimmick, Cuaron's tumbling, free-falling camera is used to tell an elegantly simple human story. Sandra Bullock stars as a rookie astronaut still finding her space legs, while George Clooney plays the seasoned traveller on his last mission before retirement. During a routine repair on an orbiting satellite, disaster strikes: debris destroys the astronauts’ shuttle, and they’re left stranded in the upper atmosphere with no obvious means of returning home.
Cuaron’s premise is familiar, cliched even - the character with “one day before retirement” is a time-worn story element, after all - but maybe this is an effort to orient the audience in something familiar before the dizzying mayhem begins.
Like Bullock, Gravity places its audience in the lap of the unknown, not only outside Earth’s atmosphere, but also outside the rules of mainstream filmmaking: the camera whips and hovers around the astronauts, the perspective flicking from third-person to first-person with few obvious edits. Steven Price’s music adds further to the woozy sense of detachment: his ambient soundtrack pulsates and rises and falls, becomes deafening and then deathly silent, with no obvious beginning or end, a Mobius loop of sound. The vacuum of space allows tonnes of jagged debris to sneak up on the protagonists stealthily, the only noises being the muffled thuds and scrapes from within the astronauts’ helmets.
In short, Cuaron uses a conventional story to ground a style of filmmaking that is free-floating and untethered.
In the midst of what must have been an arduous shoot - all green screens, wires and uncomfortable harnesses - the two leads turn in superb performances. Clooney, again, is the story’s anchor - a warm, dependable centre. And when he’s suddenly flung out of the narrative, we feel the same sense of shock and uncertainty as Bullock. Yet Gravity is Bullock’s picture, and she seizes the chance to prove what many of us have known for years: that she’s a first-rate actress, capable of conveying all the vulnerability, sorrow and determination the story requires.
In some ways, Gravity has been a victim of its success. Its critical adulation and positive word of mouth propelled the movie into this year’s top 10, unexpectedly placing this collision of art-house and popcorn entertainment into the company of films like Iron Man 3 and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. It’s the kind of success that even Cuaron probably hadn’t expected, and which has resulted in a minor backlash that it wouldn’t endured had it been a more underground hit.
Some have picked fault with its science, from the relative positions of space stations to the unrealistically svelte quality of Sandra Bullock’s undergarments. Others have tutted that Gravity doesn’t deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, a comparison hastily made because of its genre more than its actual content.
But Gravity surely isn’t intended to be a scientifically accurate movie, or a monumental comment on humanity's place in the universe, but rather an immersive and emotional one. It aims to convince in the moment, to make you forget that you’re watching a movie, to truly make you feel the spine-tingling sensation of falling through space without a safety net.
Startling though the scenes of debris silently shredding millions of dollars’ worth of NASA equipment are, it’s the image of Bullock’s outstretched hand, frantically reaching out to grab something, anything to prevent herself from falling into the void of space, that is surely the most powerful.
Gravity provides something else we haven’t seen in this year’s top-grossing films: beauty. As ever, we’ve sat through more than our fair share of collapsing cities, soaring superheroes and exploding oil tankers in 2013, but we’ve seen relatively few attempts to use special effects to create a true sense of awe in the face of the unknown. Gravity is a film designed to be seen several feet high and tower over us.
This, quite simply, is why Gravity is among the best films of 2013: its compact 90 minutes takes us on a thrilling emotional journey of chaos, adventure, and ultimately, wonder.
Follow our Twitter feed for faster news and bad jokes right here. And be our Facebook chum here.