MOTW: Why "Gravity" Is Unequivocally the Best Film of 2013 and 2014

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Medical engineer Dr. Ryan Stone is on her first Space Shuttle mission accompanied by veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky, who is commanding his final expedition. During a spacewalk, debris from a satellite crashes into the space shuttle Explorer, leaving it mostly destroyed, and stranding them in space with limited air.
Photo Credit: Warner Bros.
February 3rd, 2014

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"Gravity" is one of those special kinds of movies that reaches the pinnacle of critical acclaim and box-office domination. Few movies in any year receive the kind of universal praise that "Gravity" received in 2013 and 2014. Indeed, it is really many different factors that brought "Gravity" to millions of viewers across the globe and won it dozens of award nominations and wins from the most prestigious film organizations.

Taken alone, the acting, cinematography, special effects, score and writing in "Gravity" would each carry a much weaker movie into being something special. Taken together, it is clear how special this movie truly is. There are a variety of reasons that people love movies: intense action scenes, a musical score that is in harmony with the flow and pace of the movie, impeccable acting, awe-inspiring special effects, and so on. One look at the Academy Award nominations for "Gravity" shows how the movie truly has something for every type of movie-watcher.

Acting

It never hurts to have a pair of Academy Award-winning actors to headline a film. Sandra Bullock, who won for "The Blind Side," and George Clooney, who won for "Syriana," are literally the only stars in this film with more than a few lines of dialog. The acting never rings hollow, making it impossible to disconnect from the action on the screen. Almost nobody watching the film has ever floated in space, nor experienced any of the terrors and destruction featured in "Gravity," but they all feel its power. The audience holds its breath as characters run out of oxygen, they brace themselves for impact while space debris comes hurtling at them at a speed that destroys everything in its path and they feel sadness and heartbreak for the characters as if one of their own friends or family members were suffering. That is the power that award-winning acting brings to a movie.

Score

In only his third composing gig, Steven Price perfectly complements the action on the screen for "Gravity." From the moment it was released in theaters, "Gravity" was assured an Academy Award nomination. Throughout long stretches of the film, the only sounds heard are the characters breathing and the haunting music created by Mr. Price. The final scene's musical build-up is nearly as triumphant as the images themselves, which is a feat in a movie as visually impressive as "Gravity."

Cinematography and Special Effects

One trademark of Alfonso Cuaron is his use of extremely long shots. In an era of disjointed and jarring quick-cuts, this long-form of storytelling is especially refreshing. The opening scene spans 17 minutes without the camera cutting away from the action. During this time, the vantage point swoops around the characters, complex space machinery and even through the helmet of Sandra Bullock's character. This is especially a treat for viewers of the movie in 3D, who experience the heads-up display as if they were looking out of Sandra Bullock's eyes. This is the perfect fusion of special effects and masterful camera work under the expert direction of Alfonso Cuaron and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. The visual effects of "Gravity" are so impressive that it is almost impossible to discern which elements of the screen are real and which are computer-generated.

Writing

Finally, the writing and pacing make this movie the winner that it is. The movie races through its 91 minutes and barely lets up until the white-knuckle finale. Even still, the movie balances out moments of humor, triumph, terror, action and drama. "Breathless" is one of the most accurate ways to describe this movie's pacing. Whether from the terror of running out of oxygen, or from cheering at the moments of triumph for the characters, this movie is full of scenes that make it hard for the audience to catch its breath. It is never labored or annoying though, which is the true mark of excellent writing. It is not a chore to watch "Gravity." There are no cheap scares like in horror movies, which seek only to make you jump from loud noises and sudden cuts. Instead, the scary moments come from the psychological terror of floating in space and being all alone.

Gravity is definitely one of the top movies of 2013 and 2014, despite the amount of amazing films released during the year, including "12 Years a Slave," "American Hustle," "About Time" and "Her." No other movie combines so many facets of tremendous film-making into one neat package the way they are combined. This movie is sure to be cherished for generations to come.