Sunday, February 2, 2020

The 2010s: Well, goodbye! Have fun on the other side of this door

Okay, yes: I'm not really done with the 2010s yet.  But, you know, I basically am, and am very ready to dispense with a little (actually, characteristically overlong) top ten for that departed decade.  Now, I should still have such a list for 2019, too.  And that's fair enough, considering there aren't any making it onto the list below.  Anyway, while it might seem strange—though I think you'll agree it makes sense—I'm a lot more comfortable with my top ten of the 2010s than I am just my top ten of this past year.  They've been a fairly stable bunch, particularly the top five.  I could have made the same list four weeks ago when it was perfectly of the moment.  I think I stuck it out in the hopes that something would muscle its way to the top of the heap; and, in defense of 2019, it made its most valiant efforts in its final weeks.  Perhaps the year's single strongest gesture only arrived on American shores shortly after it died.  But even if there were some close calls, there was nothing that truly changed my mind, and the odds against any of the films still remaining on my 2019 pile turning out to actually be mind-blowing masterpieces are so low I think it's pretty safe to disregard 'em.

So I should note the honorable mentions (which do include a couple of 2019 films).  They're basically an unsorted nos. 11-30, and some of them could have been higher, and in some cases it would be better for my credibility if they had been.  (Then again, in some cases, it would be even worse.)  In any event, they are truly wonderful films, and I celebrate them each and every one.  It's possible you may be able to guess from this when over the past six years I think my reviews rose to the level of "not terrible."  (If not, well, it was in 2015.)

From 2010: Rupert Wyatt's The Rise of the Planet of the Apes
2011: Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life; Brad Bird's Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol
2012: Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained; Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom; Sam Fell & Chris Butler's ParaNorman; Scott Derrickson's Sinister
2013: Baz Luhrman's The Great Gatsby; Spike Jonze's Her; Michael Bay's Pain & Gain
2014: Eugenio Mira's (and Damien Chazelle's) Grand Piano; Chris Lord & Phil Miller's The LEGO Movie
2015: George Miller's Mad Max: Fury Road (oh, I know, I know)
2016: Martin Scorsese's Silence
2017: Denis Villeneuve's Blade Runner 2049
2018: Steven Caple Jr.'s Creed II; Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey & Rodney Rothman's Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse
2019: Terrence Malick's A Hidden Life; Makoto Shinkai's Weathering With You

Now here's where I say something that should never have to spoken aloud.  As always, "the best" only means "my personal favorite."  What the hell else could it mean?  There is no such thing as objectivity in the evaluation of art: any argument that "best" and "favorite" are distinct categories is supremely arrogant, and any expression of the notion in practical terms is almost by necessity dishonest.  If being honest means I also have to look a little stupid, that's certainly nothing new.  If it also means that my top ten list, or anybody's top ten list, is only mental masturbation—well, of course it would be.  And while everybody likes to masturbate, and some people like to watch, that doesn't mean anybody involved should pretend it's dignified.  So let's begin.

10. EX MACHINA (Alex Garland, 2015)
Alex Garland's Ex Machina may be the most graceful piece of thematic juggling on this list: it is, in no particular order, a piece of rock-hard speculative fiction about the prospect of strong artificial intelligence seated in realistic android bodies; a film deeply concerned with the way that men look at women, and how this can sometimes blind them to what they're really seeing; a mesmerizing low-key visual effects showcase; and probably the nerviest thriller of the 2010s, smart as hell, cunning as hell (which is even more important), and inordinate amounts of tingly fun as it plays out its paranoia with a whole lot of quietly-cruel joy.

It also looks just Goddamned fantastic, a stunning update of the style of 70s sci-fi for the 2010s along with its tone: Ex Machina sites its philosophical and technological and economic and social musings within some of the best-motivated "coldly clinical" digital cinematography of the decade, effortlessly capturing the inhumane textures of its antagonist's isolated modernist fortress, a location just a hair too plausible to be an actual Bond villain's lair, but absolutely perfect as the laboratory for a sociopathic Frankenstein who also happens to be the CEO of Google-Facebook.  Within their cage, its characters do terrible things to each other in the name of science and sex and survival, and they are each the most perfectly-realized version of their type—one cannot speak too highly of Oscar Isaac's monstrous inventor-capitalist or Domnhall Gleeson's weak-minded pontificating nerd, but the star that was born here (even if she seems to have flickered out too fast) was Alicia Vikander as the electronic slave given the shape of a woman, and who therefore became inscrutable to the man interrogating her, despite turning out, in the end, to be so easily, and terrifyingly, explicable.

9. TANGLED (Nathan Greno and Byron Howard, 2010)
If you asked me what defined the cinema of the 2010s, I guess I'd necessarily have to give the exact same obvious answer everyone else would: it's the superheroes, stupid.  Or, at least, the box office predominance of huge-ass mega-franchises deploying existing IP, especially superheroes, as a form of intermittent theatrical television.  And we'll even get to the superheroes in a second.  But there was other stuff going on in the theatrical big-leagues, because while I'm sad to say I think the party might be over, the other thing that defined the 2010s was that it saw the flowering of a New Golden Age of animation; and it hasn't exactly escaped my notice that almost half of the films on this list are cartoons.  (That another 40% of 'em are notionally "live-action" films that are, technicalities aside, pretty much cartoons suggests a cinematic future that many are clearly not prepared to accept.)  In any event, Tangled was in the vanguard of this Golden Age, and it was the first true masterpiece to roll out of the CGI factory that Walt Disney Animation Studios had, with a frown, finally submitted to becoming after its one last shot at a 2-D revival in 2009.

At the very least, Tangled was sufficient to turn that frown upside down: not only did Tangled demonstrate that WDAS was capable of competing at the highest level in CGI, it showed that the Disney princess musical was still a living genre, capable of being translated into the 3-D animation that had developed a stranglehold on the American industry, and without any loss of artistry.  The miracle is that despite Tangled being Disney's very first try at it in its new medium, somehow they made it all work so beautifully, with its groundbreaking innovations in detailed rigging, hair animation, lighting animation, skin texturing, and the painterly rendition of backgrounds each becoming the foundation for WDAS' technique for the rest of the decade and counting.  Maybe it was Frozen that put Disney back on top; but it was Tangled that carried them most of the way up that mountain.  In some respects, it even remains the studio's most endlessly surprising achievement in CGI: ten years later, the skill and technology exercised here still takes my breath away, for there has not been a single cartoon since, Disney or otherwise, that has offered noticeably better "acting," and of the three Disney princess musicals to follow, not a one showcases the same subtle flexibility and expressiveness of the feelings that play out upon Rapunzel's face as she discovers herself in a world bigger than she'd ever imagined.  And, sure, it's also one of the funniest Disney cartoons, and one of its more thematically weighty, and these things earn Tangled extra points.  But I said I wouldn't lie, and its place on this list has everything to do with the way I cry when I see two people falling in love under a sky full of floating lanterns, each reflecting off a pond so smooth that it makes it looks like, with each other's help, they've found their way to heaven.

8. AQUAMAN (James Wan, 2018)
Sometimes I suspect that even I have superhero fatigue: I just have to think about Spider-Man: Far From Home, or the fact that they're still going to be making Marvel movies when even the smallest child who watched Avengers: Endgame has kids of their own, and it's hard not feel that the cinematic representation of the superhero will fall into the same kind of creative heat death that the comic book versions did, especially as CGI and computerized voice reproduction gets better and better and, eventually, they're just going to dispose entirely with the actors who age and die, or simply get tired of talking to (let alone being) digital raccoons.  But then I just have to think about the masterpiece of the Distinguished Competition, and I'm excited about superheroes all over again.

Aquaman, after all, is the superhero film par excellence, the finest of its breed.  It has practically everything: every possible genre that the superhero form could contain, from adventure to romance to horror, along with most of the big ideas that a superhero story could convey, and it does 'em in pretty much my favorite setting for any kind of movie, a fantasy-etched undersea realm.  But ultimately it comes down to the wild creativity it demonstrates, and the emotional heft it carries, despite doing so within one of the most basic hero's journeys since Star Wars.  Or maybe I mean "because it did so": at bottom, Aquaman is great because it is so defiantly simple—and all of it tied together with the most inventively-fluid filmmaking James Wan has ever managed and a never-better Jason Mamoa finding the wounded heart of this Atlantean who should be king, even if he'd really rather not be.

7. READY PLAYER ONE (Steven Spielberg, 2018)
When I said I planned on looking stupid, I definitely meant it.  First things first: Ready Player One, the novel, is indeed a bag of shit.  That Ready Player One, the movie, is even good is a tremendous achievement already, and it's a shame that it will be forever stained by its origins within Ernest Cline's sixth-grade-reading-level celebration of geek culture.  Yet I suspect that an unvoiced, maybe even unacknowledged contempt for its source material is precisely where the genius of the film lies: if I'd put Blade Runner 2049 on here, you wouldn't think anything amiss, but what elevates this, Steven Spielberg's perfect double feature-mate with Villeneuve's sadsack dystopian drama, is that while it explores the same fundamental pessimism about our civilization, it does so in such vastly more insidious ways.  It represents the greatest maker of populist entertainments in cinema history turning his gaze upon the legacy of populist entertainments, and he cannot hide that it troubles him.  On one level, it's a movie about how everything will work out okay through teamwork and friendship and kissing and going outside once in a while.  (You know, once or twice a week; let's not get crazy here.)  On another level, which was perhaps only ever a subconscious current within its director's desire to just do one more grand adventure, it is a movie about how the world already ended, years ago—but we still have to live in it.

By no means is Ready Player One a slouch in its depiction of the slow economic and ecological rot of our 21st century; it's already one of the best post-apocalyptic movies simply for the relatively restrained creativity of its visualization, providing in every frame a plausible reason why all the addicted millions prefer fantasy to their reality.  But what Ready Player One never says explicitly is deafening in its silence, and it's sad, too, because its characters could not possibly articulate it: the end of the world here was a predominantly psychic apocalypse, and this is a snapshot of the dwindling days of a crumbling culture made of nothing but old stories, all commodified to the point of meaninglessness and remixed to the point of insulting parody.  Perhaps no movie has ever been more about the past's stranglehold on the future than this.  That it's never remotely miserable as an experience—that it's never not an absolute blast of old-school adventure filmmaking painted with the pleasures of recognition and rendered mostly as a goofy cartoon (for isn't this the only way we can even imagine ourselves as heroes anymore?)—only makes its disquiet more poignant.  If it locates any hope whatsoever, it's only in the mediocre notion that people can still find something worth living for beyond their corporate-owned electric dreams.  Ready Player One is here because there is no other film this decade that more vividly elucidates what I've tried to make my whole critical philosophy here at Kinemalogue: that every movie is art, and has something to say.  This is true even when its maker says, expressly, "it's just a movie."

6. TRON: LEGACY (Joseph Kosinski, 2010)
In fact, one of the more troublesome things I've had to deal with this decade has been to contend with the fact that, for most people with any interest in The Cinema, cultural gatekeeping is a real, almost physical force.  If it's a blockbuster, and not Fury Road, it ain't "art," it's empty cash-grab garbage, and hence actual formal analysis can be dispensed with in favor of a perpetual critical flex and a whole lot of taste signalling.  Which brings us to TRON: Legacy, which I contend got one of the rawest deals of the decade.  It's one of the single most intoxicatingly, hypnotically lovely motion pictures to have ever come into existence, though when I say that's what makes it great I get looks like I have some manner of mental disability, because for some folks "great cinema" really is just people talking in rooms.  Frankly,  Legacy even has some pretty damn fine talking in rooms.  Yet on its chosen level of spectacle-mongering, Legacy is even harder to beat: it takes the fascinating (but abrasive) neon aesthetic of its weirdo 1982 progenitor and softens it a touch, rebuilding it through the higher technology of 2010 and refashioning the original's visual ideas into forms that are nothing less than pure pop splendor.  What we get is two hundred million dollars' worth of glowing primary colors, representing vague metaphysical concepts, exploding in strange and endless patterns out of darkness while Daft Punk and Joseph Trapanese's mesmerizing score plays and arcane battles are waged between digital demiurges in a mythic tale of a Creator and the act of violence that always attends any act of creation.  That its form happens to match its function in ways almost no movie ever does is, naturally, almost always overlooked.  (I rather wish it had kept its uncanny early-10s de-aging algorithms confined to the Grid, where they belonged; but you can't have everything.)

It has absolutely nothing specific to say about our relationship with technology or anything like that, but that would only cheapen it anyway: the epic sweep of its gonzo computer mythology is fairly irreducible to anything besides pure archetype, but I mean that in the best possible way, because in certain circumstances—and Joe Kosinki's rigorous, geometry-minded direction of this amazing display would absolutely be one of those circumstances—such archetypes reach abstraction beyond conventional meaning, becoming avatars of primeval, mystical emotions about the purpose of existence that would have been too big for any merely human vessels to have contained in the first place.  (The Tree of Life has a lot of breathtakingly meaningful things to say about the absence of God, too, but it certainly does not have disc wars.)  TRON: Legacy creates a world of overwhelming beauty, much more of it practical in its origins than you might suspect (Claudio Miranda's dehumanizing—or transhumanizing—cinematography remains the best work of his career; Darren Gilford's production design likewise).  But all that said, it is surely not devoid of any human touch: Jeff Bridges is fantastic as The Dude in this, even if he's arguably even better as Satan.

5. SUMMER OF 84 (François Simaud, Anouk Whissel & Yoann-Karl Whissel, 2018)
The most enjoyable thing about watching a lot of movies is probably also the most frustrating: the moments when you find a tiny little VOD movie that got a few write-ups coming out of a film festival, nothing fancy and devoid of any particular buzz, and it turns out that not only are you just about the only person in the whole universe who loves it, you're practically the only one who even remembers it exists, not that too many people were ever aware of it in the first place.

Summer of 84 is exactly like that, a secret masterpiece from the creators of 2015's fun (and very-much-not-a-masterpiece) Turbo Kid.  Like that film, it is a positive wallow in one of the other big currents of the 2010s, nostalgia for the 1980s.  But Summer of 84's nostalgia is of an entirely different kind than the warm remembrance that animates, say, Stranger Things.  (Or certain movies on this very list, for that matter.)  Instead, it takes a hard look at what one of the 80s biggest genres, the kid's adventure film, actually represents—I'm fond of saying that it only took 38 years, but they finally made a 1980s kid's adventure with a wholly satisfactory third act.  If Ready Player One was insidious about its business, though, Summer of 84 gets downright diabolical: it's so damned good at being just a 1980s kid's adventure film, albeit one operating on an exceptionally high level of narrative and aesthetic craft (the Le Matos score is maybe the single best film score of the 2010s), that even if you did already know something about it going in, by the time it gets to where it's going, you'll have been lulled into the genre's safe embrace, not that it's likely you could ever be entirely prepared for the sheer savagery of its assault upon the roots of nostalgia.  It's a movie that realizes that the past was only better because we were younger in it, and stupider too; it's a movie that rejects nostalgia categorically (not just for the 80s), and it rejects it alongside the idiotically innocent notion that children can have adventures and always come out unscathed.  It loves its chosen genre too much to lie about it anymore, is the thing, and while it's genuinely painful to see its remorseless logic play out, by the end it's no longer willing to pretend that any love for an imagined past could be a healthy one.  In the process, it finds the essential horror that underlies any successful kid's adventure film—but, uniquely, it refuses to turn away.  Summer of 84 is by far the meanest movie on this list, and it may even be the most quietly meta, too; but it's both of those things in the best possible way.

4. IT'S SUCH A BEAUTIFUL DAY (Don Hertzfeldt, 2012)
Don Hertzfeldt went from strength to strength throughout the 2010s, and while he's still young enough that he could certainly have something even more exciting in store, it would be a safe bet to assume that he'll be remembered best for 2015's excellent sci-fi melancholic "World of Tomorrow" (especially considering the dumbassed release plan for "World of Tomorrow 2" which involved a $4 rental for a 15 minute film, in other words, a retrenchment towards the very hardest of his hardcore fans; it also doesn't help that "World of Tomorrow 2" is just "pretty good" rather than "holy shit great").

So, as time goes on, I wouldn't be too surprised if the Worlds of Tomorrow continue to turn people back to his one true masterpiece, It's Such a Beautiful Day, his only feature-length effort to date and, of all his work, the one that best balances his crassly whimsical sense of humor—and his experimenter's approach to the medium of animation—with all the deep philosophical concerns that had started to poke up in his cartoons since the mid-00s.  Presented as the fugue of a slowly-dying man named Bill, a stand-in for every one of us in a very literal sense (for, as always in Hertzfeldt, Bill is but a simple stick-figure), Beautiful Day takes stock of an ordinary life ending in an extraordinary way, and does not find any peace in it at all.  The human awareness of mortality has almost never been presented in film (let alone in animation) with such pristine clarity, and Beautiful Day dispenses with the trite platitudes such an examination typically occasions, finding that even the stupidest banalities of conscious existence still beat non-existence with a gnarly stick.  It's not the least bit dignified or resigned: it rages full-throated against the sheer unfairness of what our existence will ultimately mean for every one of us—even as it comprehends, in the most upsetting mixture of hilarity and horror of the decade, the ultimate absurdity of the eternity we asked for.

3. YOUR NAME. (Makoto Shinkai, 2017)
Whereas in the post-Shrek era, American animation contemplated CGI and decided that 2-D animation was over forever (and the few cautious efforts at resuscitating it have always confirmed this conventional wisdom), the Japanese industry has tended to treat computers as a tool in service of a fundamentally "flat" artform—very much a continuation of Disney's own hybrid experiments in CAPS and Deep Canvas—if not always to the best possible results.  But the filmmaker who has been by far the most successful at it—a creator whose aesthetic seems to be largely impossible to replicate, given that several of his fellow-travelers have turned out some pretty Goddamn wonky-looking films in their attempts—is Makoto Shinkai, and I think he did so by demanding the most work be put into it, driving his teams the way he drove himself back when he was a DIY nobody making cartoons on his computer at the turn of the century.

Over the course of the 2010s, his efforts matured, and Shinkai went from the dude who made the melancholy slice-of-life 5 Centimeters Per Second to the biggest name in Japanese animation and one of the four or five biggest in the whole wide world, in no small part on the back of the glorious lighting effects, the giddily-detailed painted backdrops, and the vertiginous tension between "flat" animation's very flatness and computer-boosted three-dimensional staging which, taken together, mark any Shinkai film.  But what really brought him to the attention of everybody who cares even the slightest about cartoons was what his craft was for: giving voice to the loss of feeling inherent to growing up (maybe especially to growing up in Japan) and recapturing those lost passions in one dangerously purified form.  Once past the awkward and bumbling screenplays of his early features, he arrived on his most perfect synthesis of romantic yearning, nostalgia, and dizzying imagery with Your Name, which is still awkward and bumbling on the level of plot but consistently in ways that you scarcely even notice as its silly body-swap story becomes, first, a desperately sad meditation on how you forget everything that really matters to you, and then becomes a tense adventure driven by the impossible desire to get it back.  This is the best romance of the 2010s, and the best use of pure goofy fantasy to get at the things that should be true even if they aren't; and with Your Name, Shinkai announced himself as the best filmmaker of the decade.

Obviously, I still hate that period in the title.  What is that?  (Meanwhile, it's not even Shinkai's best work: that title belongs to his age-inappropriate realist melodrama, 2013's The Garden of Words, which would handily claim the no. 3 spot on this list if I felt that a 46 minute film were truly a "feature."  It is surely not—like, when was the last time you went to the theater to see something shorter than an hour?—but just because it doesn't qualify doesn't mean it isn't better.)

2. MOANA (Ron Clements & John Musker, 2016)
Realistically speaking, the industrial process that produces Disney animation does not tend to leave a lot of room for quote-unquote "auteurs."  If you can, in fact, locate a personality and a voice within many of its personnel over the years, sometimes even its directors, it takes a real effort, and it's often pretty suppositional anyway.  But every rule has its exceptions, and those with an interest in animation really need to stop and make such an exception for Ron Clements and John Musker.  At some point, it stops being an accident, you know, that the best of the best of Disney animation in my lifetime shares this inseparable duo at the top of the crew list, from the superhit that perfected the Disney princess musical and resurrected the studio (indeed, the artform itself!) back in 1989, and on through the 90s Renaissance that is, to my mind, almost as much a history of Clements and Musker's managerial and artistic successes as it is anything else.  Yes, they hit the skids in the 00s along with most of their peers.  (I daresay that only visionaries could ever spend over a decade nurturing Treasure Planet into existence.  The "why" is a question we'll never have an answer to, but still, respect?  I guess?)  Almost uniquely, however, Clements and Musker came back from the wilderness, treating the soft reception of The Princess and the Frog as an opportunity rather than a career-ending failure, and retraining themselves in their 60s for the bold new world of full-on CG animation.  You can call this one a comeback.

The result of their dangerous leap into a new medium (co-directors Don Hall and Chris Williams presumably helped in some way) was Moana.  I have no trouble naming it the most wonderful exploitation of CGI animation's possibilities, even when set against the (only slightly!) more aggressive experiments of something like Spider-Verse, mixing media in ways that stun the eye but never seem like they exist solely for their own sake.  Rather, everything here is in service of what might be the very best of the Disney princess musicals—which makes it a masterpiece amongst masterpieces—and it's at least one of the best on every possible level you could name, from the fun, engaging heroes to the superb action-adventuring of its plot all the way down to the lovely ecological fable it tells, though maybe the thing that feels the most like learning from the usual mistakes of the Disney princess musical is the way it was built to be a musical all the way through, with its musical numbers, courtesy Lin-Manuel Miranda, Opetaia Foa'i, and Mark Mancina (miraculously, every single one of them at least very good and usually much better than that), driving the story and characters until its very climax winds up presented in a song that is simultaneously an offer of, and plea for, humanity's forgiveness.

Further bonus points: totally uniquely within its genre, Moana doesn't even have a romance, but unlike, say, the showy sneering of the Frozens (which wind up having one anyway, just not the one you'd likely find remotely interesting), it simply embodies a story that doesn't need romance, so you never notice it.  But the showy sneering is what gets attention, I guess.  I could go on about the godlike way it mixes photorealistic water animation with some of the most flexible CG cartooning in the medium, or Clements and Musker's best "now the heroes fight a hopeless battle against a giant magical monster!" ending of their five giant monster endings ("auteur" can be code for "repeats themselves over and over" I suppose), but what it really boils down to is the terrific emotional immediacy of its heroine's journey, underlined by the great songs, the symbol-laden visuals, and the seriously-impressive vocal performances.  Of all of Disney's contemporary output, Moana is by far the one that moves me the most, deep, deep down in the places that only myth paired with world-class animation could possibly touch.

1. GRAVITY (Alfonso Cuarón, 2013)
I mean, obviously: there was never any serious threat that the film that remains my favorite movie of all time was ever going to be dethroned as merely the best of the 2010s.  But it was apparently dethroned in the hearts of the critical consensus: with all the best of the 10s lists flying around at the end of that decade, some of them so long I slightly wonder what the purpose of them was supposed to be, Gravity seems to have been half-forgotten, though it was not so very long ago that I don't remember the breathless adoration it was met with upon its release.  I have my theories as to why it seems to have faded, and it's entirely plausible that some of the reasons it drifted away into space are, in fact, the reasons I continue to cherish it so much.  Above all, of course, Gravity is a spectacle, "only" a spectacle, but it is spectacle in pursuit of something fundamental and true.  It's been accused of brainless simplicity, but, well, yes, that's kind of the point; for all the elaboration and sophistication that we've built up over countless centuries, there's a certain hard-to-deny accuracy to the idea that, as someone once remarked, there's only one really serious philosophical problem.  In this regard, Gravity presents a heroine absolutely spoilt for choice on how to solve that problem.

Outer space has served as much the same metaphor throughout most of the existence of cerebral science fiction, at least since 2001: A Space Odyssey, presenting itself as ready symbolism for story after story about consciousnesses floating alone forever through the empty and meaningless expanse, always struggling to physically and spiritually survive.   But that's what we're doing right now, man; yes, we get it.  I mean, it's a great metaphor for that.  Gravity's brilliance is in re-literalizing the metaphor-which-was-barely-even-a-metaphor-in-the-first-place, throwing one Ryan Stone into low-Earth orbit in the midst of an unprecedented disaster (Gravity is also, very quietly, a borderline-apocalyptic film for our whole civilization) and gives her not even one single reason to survive it, as well as one big reason, and in every moment the opportunity, to simply do nothing and accept that her existence has come to an end.  And yet: for no reason she can ever really articulate, at every opportunity, she chooses to keep fighting to live.

I hate superlatives, because they speak to absolutes, but Goddamn is it hard to avoid them here: for the exact same reasons it's the best movie about revolting against despair and suicide, Gravity is the most viscerally immediate piece of experiential cinema ever created, or, at least, that I've ever seen, and it's rather difficult to imagine anything being more visceral or immediate or experiential, even in theory.  Cuarón and Emmanuel Lubezki's nerve-wracking long takes, their chaotic choreography of a deadly universe, and world-champion VFX lock you right into the sensation and subjectivity of poor Ryan Stone's ordeal without any greater hope of escaping it than she has; and, for this, I continue to believe it's the finest craft of any movie I've ever seen, even as it abandons the tools of traditional filmmaking more-or-less entirely to become the most photoreal of all photoreal cartoons.  It could be described as borderline traumatic, but that's as it ought to be.

That this has apparently become easy to forget as the experience of it has grown more distant was probably even unavoidable.  Gravity in 3-D, after all, was the ultimate theatrical experienceand I say that as someone who despises "the theatrical experience" the way most people describe it, "communal" this, "magic of the crowd" that.  I don't know who the fuck you're watching movies with, but I really prefer not being aware they even exist, and Gravity certainly made that last thing very easy, silencing them and even capable of silencing one's own inner voice.  I saw it three times in theaters; definitely a record.  It remains a masterpiece on home video, no doubt about it; but, in this one instance, I'm willing to admit that the small screen serves mainly to remind you of the punishing existential wonder you witnessed in its original form.  Certainly, that final shot demanded the biggest possible screen.  I acknowledge no irony that my favorite shot of Gravity isn't even in space.  It's the last image of the movie, the lowest-possible-angle shot of Sandra Bullock as Ryan in the form of a self-made titan, beyond grief and despondency—alive, and undaunted even so.

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