Top 10 films of 2013: Gravity

Feature Ryan Lambie 26 Dec 2013 - 23:29

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...

1. 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.

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Can't disagree with that. While it's not the finest film I've ever seen, it's certainly the finest experience in many years.

Some might call Gravity's story shallow, I just like to call it simple. One person (mostly) with one goal and we get to watch her try and achieve that goal. Combine that with some of the most immersive special effects I've seen in a long time and it makes for one hell of an experience.

as a visual and immersive experience it was simply astonishing and technically incredible (I can take or leave 3D but felt for this film it was almost essential). As an emotional one it was lacking due to Bullocks weakness as a dramatic actress. She just wasn't good enough for the role. I think the film would've benefitted with a stronger but less well known actress in the role; would've definitely helped to sell me more on the peril involved.

Could I please ask what your reasons are for saying this?

I haven't yet seen the film, but am very excited too.

for as much talk about how this movie "did the science right", i was so put off by its disrespect of basic scientific principles that i lost respect for the movie. When "Armageddon" got more of its science right than we live in a pretty sad world.

The film IMAX was made for

SPOILER ALEEEEERRRRRT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! DO NOT READ THIS COMMENT IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN MOVIE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

One thing that dismisses for me all the "oh that movie is unreal, Stone would not have made it" is the scene where Tiangong enters atmosfere and falls apart. The capsule with Stone in it starts to spin, but soon after some debri knocks into it "slightly" and stops spining thus sending it into perfect fall for landing.Pretty conveniet? But for me it is story about the ultimate miracle powered by faith and love of life. And of course the Buddha statue on Tiangong (I wonder if this scene was edited in for China, OF COURSE IT WAS)))))) Real physics aside, I don't bother to think about Gravity as a movie with overly positive ending.

That is just a ridiculous comment.

People who have a go at the science are just contrarians clutching at straws. Gravity is an impressive, ambitious, compelling and gripping 90 minutes of cinema with some of the most memorable set-pieces and camera shots of recent years, but because it's really popular, some people just have to find something to hate about it.

Now don't get me wrong: I'm not saying Gravity is exempt from being disliked, but there's a difference between someone giving valid, coherent reasons for not enjoying it to just moaning about science or the positioning of satellites. Who cares if it's a bit wrong; it really doesn't affect the film at all. Why go to the cinema if things like that annoy you?

Troll much?

I can't imagine I'll watch this film again. It was technically marvellous but for such envelope-pushing filmmaking it was a shame to see it rely on so many laboured, dated and hackneyed storytelling tropes (like *SPOILERS* Clooney's 'Let me go' death scene and a grieving, blameless mother who can't forgive herself for her child's death). It's hard to criticise Gravity but it's even harder to love it without reservation. It could've done with a more intelligent script considering the craftsmanship was so impressive.

I've seen 8 films in Imax this year, and for the most part, it is very much still a gimmick. Most directors just haven't got it yet. So, it was great to see that Cuaron made such a good job of it. He deserves the best picture for that alone. If you haven't seen this film yet, and there is an Imax anywhere near you, I would definitely recommend making the trip

Then you throw in a tense, stripped down thriller, and some spectacular effects (which were actually used by the story, instead of the story being built around the effects), and you get the film of the year (in fact, probably the best film of the last 5 years)

"Gravity is a film designed to be seen several feet high and tower over us". Um, can I not watch this sitting on the floor? What does this sentence even mean?

agreed

so what was more "sciency"? : that commercial satellites were at the same orbit as the ISS and hubble, that there was specific momentum when the story needed it, that sandra bullock was only wearing half a space suit (that she could take off in seconds), that bullocks CO2 alarm was going off for about 15 minutes with her getting dead, or that NASA was let two completely dangerous and unrelated EVA's happen at once?

yeah...thats just the stuff i remember...

im reposting my same comment to save time...

so what was more "sciency"? :
that commercial satellites were at the same orbit as the ISS and hubble,
that there was specific momentum when the story needed it, that sandra
bullock was only wearing half a space suit (that she could take off in
seconds), that bullocks CO2 alarm was going off for about 15 minutes
with her getting dead, or that NASA was let two completely dangerous and
unrelated EVA's happen at once?

yeah...thats just the stuff i remember...

All the more, you just can't compare "Gravity" to "Armageddon" man. The one has some scientific inaccuracies, while the other is crazier than a bag of wet cats.

Man I was just telling my wife how I wish we would have watched it on IMAX. We haven't seen it at all yet

A play on words? Something about gravity?

Loved this film. It did cure me of ever wanting to go into space though!

One has some scientific inaccuracies, while the other is crazier than an outhouse rat

Your guess is as good as mine, TWC. It would be good to know for other films which height they have been designed for in the style of ratings e.g. B (bed), S (sofa), F (floor), SOT (standing on the tube).

The beauty of this film is that, in amongst the jaw-dropping visuals, A-list talent and technical virtuosity, is a truly simple story. Few films of this kind understand economy of story-telling. Gravity goes on just as long as it needs to, and that's why it IS the best film of the year.

A worthy winner. 2 films that left me speechless in the cinema this year were Act of Killing and this. Watching it in IMAX and in 3D was an unforgettable experience.

I think that the Buddha on the Shenzhou spacecraft was meant to continue the theme of spiritual rebirth (you notice an Orthodox Christian icon in the Soyuz spacecraft). It is a motif that reflects her own journey from the fetal position you see her in while in the ISS airlock to her triumphal baptism/rebirth in the lake after she exits the Shenzhou. In fact, this journey is one of the things that has drawn me so strongly to this film.

On a technical note, I have thought about the tumbling problem with the Shenzhou as well (I was all but yelling at the screen for her to dump the damned modules! Dump the damned modules! You will burn if you don't unload them NOW!!!!) Of course, she does get rid of the orbital module and the aft service module (the engine etc) but she is still tumbling out of control and she really needs that heat shield pointed DOWN in her arc of descent! Now, the best I can figure is that the re-entry vehicle or RV was designed to be aerodynamically stable with the heat shield in the desired attitude, so it would be possible for the RV to eventually stabilize as you see...although I would not care to wager on that. (Note...my science background is in geology. Although I have considerable experience some years ago as an commercial aviation structural mechanic, I did not work in the space program...and needless to say, my degree in geology does not make me anything resembling an expert on orbital mechanics etc)

The commercial satellites were at different altitudes. You specifically hear in the beginning that the initial Russian satellite that was shot by a missile was at a lower altitude and was not expected to concern them until other satellites were struck and the debris accelerated into a higher orbit that would
strike the shuttle, the ISS and Tiangong. The larger problem is how Tiangong managed to lose nearly one hundred miles of altitude in only two orbital passes...but this is also a story set in a universe where the space shuttle is still operating...and therefore not our own reality

Gonna disagree with you on her acting chops here, but as in all things, YMMV.

i completely accept that but its not how space works. so explaining the plot to me like i missed it doesnt help anything. but dont sell me a movie based on reality when its basically just bruckheimer style looney toons.

my point is that gravity came of just as silly and cartoonish as Armageddon. yes the acting was far superior and the story made more sense....but i was still lost in how little sense everything made from a real world stand point.

you cant walk from new york to tokyo in a minute and thats how silly the basics of the movie are.

I prefer watching my living room from inside the tv. Or maybe "several feet high" alludes to how cataclysmically roasted one should be on narcotics of their choosing, which explains "tower over us" unless of course I'm the only one that sees water towers come to life and zap people right out of their pajamas

It means you should watch it on the big screen. A TV at home will struggle to deliver the experience needed to suck you into the suspense, like an IMAX screen towering over you will.

Wasn't anything out of the ordinary. The effects were quite good (at times the CGI was obvious, though), apart from that, what else did it have to offer?

The 'hallucination speech' from Clooney, after Bullock had decided to give up hope, was the kind of scene you'd see in a karate movie when the main character has lost motivation until he remembers a word of advice from his master. Hands down the most over hyped film of the year.

Those were merely plot hiccups compared to the brazen ignorance of Bay's Armageddon!!

Apart from the pretty visuals I'm immune to the hype for this eye-roll inducing mumblecore meets micro-gravity Lifetime Channel drama.

It wasn't filmed in an IMAX format, unfortunately (64mm or whatever), and has had incredibly limited IMAX showings, in the UK at least.

Shame, the first 10 minutes would have been beyond belief. They were amazing anyway.

Thoroughly entertaining. Non-stop peril, and lots of fun.

No

Agreed.

I'll say this about GRAVITY--this was a film that needed, no--it HAD to be seen in the theaters, especially in 3D and/or IMAX. I'm glad I caught it in the theater.

Agreed. The VFX were fantastic--some of the best I've seen in some time (both this and PACIFIC RIM). I also didn't mind the dramatic cheats the film used; it held my attention and was truly a film that had to be seen in theaters.

It's Bullock's film all the way, and she delivered.

Well said!

Exactly--it's a survival story that just happens to be set in outer space. It did not wear out its welcome (at least for me). And visually...yeah, this film packed one hell of a punch. For me, GRAVITY, PACIFIC RIM, RUSH, MAN OF STEEL, OBLIVION, and 47 RONIN were the films that really scored high in terms of visuals and VFX.

Just my opinion, though!

You clearly didn't see it in 3d IMAX. I promise you that in that context it was anything but ordinary. I can see it being a far far lesser work as a pirated MP4 on a laptop though. It needs the big canvas, and almost uniquely, 3D.

Saw it on a IMAX screen in Auckland and yes, it was beyond belief.

Sometimes its a pain to know a lot. I am a smart, educated person but ignorant of space science and hence loved every second and noticed literally NONE of this.

There are no boring films, just boring people. Ignore him, its great.

Surely if a film needs to be seen on a certain type of screen, it's basically a failure as a narrative driven tale and is simply reduced to a (very advanced) light show.

" A TV at home will struggle to deliver the experience needed to suck you into the suspense, like an IMAX screen towering over you will."

And that's the quote for the bluray packaging right there.

You, my friend have never seen Spy Hard.

One of the few films I have seen in recent years that seemed too short, it wasn't but never have 91 minutes gone by so quickly. I sat through the all the credits partly by routine these days but partly because I didn't want it to finish so soon.

Its clearly not a failure. Its generally agreed to be one of the year's best films and was a commercial as well as critical success. "I don't like it" and "it's a failure" are not the same thing.

So? You think anyone else needs to know that?

Its like a short information film saying what ever you do dont ever fu*king go into space!!

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