[#2016oscardeathrace] The Martian (2015)

 

Director: Ridley Scott

Cast: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Pena, Kate Mara, Sean Bean, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, Chiwetel Ejiofor

Screenplay: Drew Goddard

144 mins. Rated PG-13 for some strong language, injury images, and brief nudity.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture of the Year
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role [Matt Damon]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Production Design

IMDb Top 250: #208 (as of 2/23/2016)

 

The Oscars have been pretty good to science fiction in the last few years. We had 2013’s Gravity, 2014’s Interstellar, and this year with The Martian, Ex Machina, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens (yes, I know the last one is more fantasy). Today, though, we will focus on the one nominated for Best Picture this year (that’s The Martian).

Mark Watney (Matt Damon, The Bourne Identity, Interstellar) is dead. There was a storm on the surface of Mars and his crew, led by Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty, Crimson Peak), barely managed to escape. With one casualty, the crew is on the long journey back home, their collective hearts and minds in grief over the loss of Mark. There’s really only one major problem: Mark Watney is actually alive. Having survived the storm, he is now stranded on the desolate planet by himself and no way of getting home. But then he starts to think he may not be so doomed, and Mark probably says it best: “I’m gonna have to science the shit out of this.”

I found The Martian to be a rather thrilling and enjoyable ride. I know many have come to doubt director Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Exodus: Gods and Kings) and his abilities as a filmmaker in recent years, and I have to admit he has had some real flubs in his previous projects, but he still interests me with his unique films, all carrying a very-Ridley-Scott flavor to them. The screenplay for The Martian, by Drew Goddard (TV’s Daredevil, World War Z) is fabulous and, other than genre, very much a diversion for Scott, especially considering its comedic tones, which I did not expect, but the director handles it very well, proving his versatility behind the lens.

Matt Damon kills it as Watney, making it look easy to essentially carry a film. Now, that isn’t to say he doesn’t have a terrific supporting cast. Chastain does great work, but it is Jeff Daniels (Dumb & Dumber, Steve Jobs) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave, Triple 9) who really shine here. There are others involved here who really bring it to the table, but I would be deeply disappointed in myself if I didn’t mention Donald Glover who has a pretty small role but creates a very memorable performance from it.

The cinematography is beautiful and blends very nicely with the visual effects to create a stunningly real representation of Mars. The production design is another win here, though its nomination is a little laughable for a film with so few actual sets.

There are plenty of moments in The Martian that harken back to Scott’s original sci-fi masterpiece Alien without absolutely saying “I MADE ALIEN TOO!” and they help to remind us of how this masterful filmmaker has created so many worlds. The Martian is another incredible piece to add to Ridley’s impressive resume. Now, the film runs on a little too long and occasionally bogs itself down in explain Mark’s plight, but these are small problems that fail to dramatically affect my enjoyment.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2016oscardeathrace] Brooklyn (2015)

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Director: John Crowley

Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Domhnall Gleeson, Emory Cohen, Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters

Screenplay: Nick Hornby

111 mins. Rated PG-13 for a scene of sexuality and brief strong language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture of the Year
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role [Saoirse Ronan]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay

 

It seems that every Oscar season, a film comes along, usually with a Best Picture nomination, that I just don’t think will be any good. Some years, I get pleasantly surprised (thinking Philomena here) and other years, I get The Grand Budapest Hotel (which, I get it, many of you enjoyed, but I most certainly did not). This year, that film was Brooklyn. But do I have a winner here or more of the dreckish variety?

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Brooklyn features Saoirse Ronan (Atonement, Lost River) as Eilis, an Irish immigrant living in Brooklyn in the 1950s. The film follows her leaving of Ireland and learning to adapt to the American lifestyle. It also shows her finding love in Tony (Emory Cohen, The Place Beyond the Pines, The Gambler), a nice young Italian man she meets, and how their relationship is tested by her family, her situation, and her past. In comes Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson, Ex Machina, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) as a more comfortable alternative to Tony and Eilis finds herself in a painful position where one heart is destined to be broken.

Brooklyn feels from the surface like a film we’ve seen before, and in fact, from the very beginning, I was doubting its ability to keep me interested. Indeed, it did take me about 10 minutes to be absolutely sucked in, and I was. The film’s pacing picked up almost immediately and didn’t drop off.

Saoirse Ronan commands the screen in her portrayal of Eilis, a young woman torn between the promises and duties she has been tasked in life. Eilis is a woman who doesn’t not own her life at the beginning, but she learns to take charge in order to survive.

Emory Cohen and Domhnall Gleeson play two perfectly opposite sides of the coin, each presenting Eilis with an entirely different complete with pros on cons. Both actors seek to aid Nick Hornby’s (An Education, Wild) excellent screenplay.

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Lastly, the musical score is a beautiful bow to place on this film, which pollinates multiple genres without truly sticking with just one. Brooklyn is a wonderfully nuanced and performed film with a terrific script backing it up. Saoirse Ronan may not walk away with the trophy for her work here, but Brooklyn is another great showcase of the young actress’s multi-layered skills.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Whiplash (2014)

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Director: Damien Chazelle

Cast: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Paul Reiser

Screenplay: Damien Chazelle

107 mins. Rated R for strong language including some sexual references.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (J.K. Simmons)
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Achievement in Film Editing
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture of the Year
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay

 

Whiplash was a strange entry to the list of Best Picture nominees at this year’s Oscars. It kind of just came out of nowhere. Everyone was talking about this movie that came out at the beginning of the year and just sort of slipped by everyone. All of the sudden, though, people were talking about J.K. Simmons (TV’s The Legend of Korra, Spider-Man) and his riveting performance as a musical maestro with a sharp edge.

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Whiplash tells the story of Andrew Neimann (Miles Teller, The Spectacular Now, The Divergent Series: Insurgent), a fantastic drummer who dreams of entering stardom at any cost. He will do absolutely anything to become one of the greats. This brings him to the attention of Fletcher (Simmons), a bandleader at the prestigious music school Andrew attends. Fletcher has the hottest ensemble on campus and everyone wants to join, but there are costs to working with the best, as Andrew soon discovers. As relationships with his girlfriend and father (played by Paul Reiser, Aliens, Life After Beth) crumble around him, can Andrew hold it all together?

Whiplash is, to put it best, a jarring piece of art. It is difficult to watch and, in equal measures, glorious and destructive. The performances by Teller and Simmons are intense and building and emotionally draining.

The screenplay, by writer-director Damien Chazelle, is an engrossing pile of paper, with themes of stardom and loneliness worked in.

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Whiplash feels like a rock concert that you want to see but don’t necessarily want to be a part of. The stellar work from just about everyone involved is top notch. My only complaint is that it does lull for a bit in the middle, but other than that, this is a movie you need to see. Now. Seriously. Go rent it now.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Boyhood (2014)

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Director: Richard Linklater

Cast: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Lorelei Linklater, Ethan Hawke

Screenplay: Richard Linklater

165 mins. Rated R for language including sexual references, and for teen drug and alcohol use.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role (Patricia Arquette)
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture of the Year
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Ethan Hawke)
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Directing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Original Screenplay
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Film Editing

 

In 2002, director Richard Linklater (Before Sunrise, Bernie) began shooting a film, one that would keep him busy for the next twelve years. That film was Boyhood, a tale surrounding the adolescence of Mason (Ellar Coltrane, Fast Food Nation, Lone Star State of Mind), his mother (Patricia Arquette, TV’s Medium, Holes), his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), and his absent father (Ethan Hawke, Gattaca, Predestination). It covers the hurdles that young people encounter in their lives and the many challenged in adjusting to the world. It may appear simple, but this isn’t a simple film by any means. Its assembly, too, was a difficult one, as Linklater gathered his cast and crew together every year for twelve years to film sections of the movie as the actors aged alongside it.

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What a film! Boyhood constantly flips back and forth in my mind for the best film of 2014 (the other possibility being Birdman). I love how the film analyzes those major steps on the way to adulthood. Mason’s journey, aided by powerhouse performances by Arquette and Hawke, is a heartfelt one, one that many others have been on and can completely connect to. Coltrane’s performance improves as the film moves on, but it isn’t anything to mess up the film.

Linklater’s perfectly helmed camera gives us some gorgeous (and somehow unaged) cinematography. His camera elevates the vision to a true art form.

Linklater understood his audience would want to place the film on the timeline. He placed clues to guide the film, like song choices and events like discussions about a seventh Star Wars film.

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Boyhood is a visually stunning, emotionally resonant film that continues to impress and overwhelm each viewing. Linklater’s careful planning (he was to sign over directorial duties to Ethan Hawke if he died during production) led to an incredible film that will be known for its uniqueness as much as for its universality.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

American Sniper (2014)

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Director: Clint Eastwood

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller

Screenplay: Jason Hall

132 mins. Rated R for strong and disturbing war violence, and language throughout including some sexual references.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Achievement in Sound Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture of the Year
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (Bradley Cooper)
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Film Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing

 

American Sniper is the true story of Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook, Serena), the most lethal sniper in US military history and the effect his fame, and sometimes infamy, has on his life in the states with the woman he loves, Taya (Sienna Miller, Foxcatcher, Unfinished Business).

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I enjoyed the film immensely, although I did have one major fault. I believe that this film spends too much time out of the country when the real heart of the film lies in the problematic yet loving relationship he has with Taya. I enjoyed Cooper’s character arc in the film, but there were sequences that could’ve been trimmed down to streamline Kyle’s story to something slightly more engaging, especially under the powerful work, both physically and emotionally, given by Bradley Cooper.

The chemistry between the two leads is fantastic, and director Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby, Jersey Boys) presents his audience with a completely engrossing near-masterpiece on the effects of PTSD on the armed forces. His cinematography is exquisite, the score is engaging and simple, and the sets are so real that I got lost in them. This film is an expertly crafted piece of moviemaking.

Now, many have described American Sniper as a pandering film, but I feel it provides an unbiased look at a man’s life. This was a man who was serving his country. This was a man with morals who gave his all to protect the people he loved. I personally didn’t agree with the decision to go to war with the amount of intelligence we had, but that doesn’t mean that I have a problem with the decisions that Chris Kyle made in defense of his country. No matter how you feel about the subject matter presented, this is an epic tale of what we pay to keep others safe.

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Bradley Cooper definitely does justice to the late Kyle, and he gives perhaps the most engaging performance of his career, proving yet again that the funny man can continue to surprise. Under the expert eye of seasoned director Eastwood, American Sniper is a slightly flawed but certainly engaging film. Definitely worth the time, no matter your thoughts on the man.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

The Theory of Everything (2014)

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Director: James Marsh

Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones

Screenplay: Andrew McCarten

123 mins. Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and suggestive material.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (Eddie Redmayne)
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture of the Year
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role (Felicity Jones)
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score

 

In The Theory of Everything, Eddie Redmayne (Les Miserables, Jupiter Ascending) portrays Stephen Hawking in the years chronicling his debilitating disease and the unstoppable will of the human mind as his relationship with eventual wife Jane (Felicity Jones, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, True Story) heads through its most difficult steps.

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Eddie Redmayne absolutely perfects the art of becoming a human being in his portrayal of Mr. Hawking. There are so many times when I watched this movie and forgot I was watching a movie. His performance is so layered with emotional resonance, even as his disease progresses, that it becomes difficult to discern when he is speaking his lines from when his eyes convey his communication.

Felicity Jones provides pretty great, though somewhat overshadowed, work as Jane Hawking, a woman tortured by promises and unbeatable devotion to her husband. These two have tremendous chemistry.

Director James Marsh begins his films with breathtaking visuals symbolizing Hawking’s great mind but it eventually fades away which is sad as I found it to be a wholly engaging bit of visual spectacle that threads the movie together in an almost mystical way.

The Oscar-nominated score is an engaging one, a numeric tone of simple patterns used well.

Did anyone else notice that the end credits are in reverse as homage to the underlying theme of time’s nonlinear presentation.

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The Theory of Everything misses the visual marks that could make it extraordinary. Thankfully, the film is built on the wonderful chemistry of definitive stars Redmayne and Jones. It isn’t the best picture of 2014, but it is a remarkable character study of one of the most interesting characters in history.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2015oscardeathrace] The Imitation Game (2014)

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Director: Morten Tyldum

Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Charles Dance, Mark Strong

Screenplay: Graham Moore

114 mins. Rated PG-13 for some sexual references, mature thematic material and historical smoking.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture of the Year [Awards Not Yet Announced]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (Benedict Cumberbatch) [Awards Not Yet Announced]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role (Keira Knightley) [Awards Not Yet Announced]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Directing [Awards Not Yet Announced]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published [Awards Not Yet Announced]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Editing [Awards Not Yet Announced]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Production Design [Awards Not Yet Announced]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score [Awards Not Yet Announced]

 

Hey wait, before we begin, take a look at that MPAA rating. “Historical Smoking.” Seriously? Many of you know my thoughts on the MPAA, so this gives me a giggle. Of anger.

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I’m sure you’ve heard of Alan Turing. I have. But I didn’t know him. Not much. This is the story of a pivotal few years in Alan Turing’s life.

Mr. Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch, TV’s Sherlock, Star Trek Into Darkness) has just hired to break a code. A code called Enigma. The only problem is, Enigma gets reset every night at midnight with a new cipher created by a machine, and people are dying every minute that it isn’t solved.

Alan has been charged to solve Enigma every day, when the odds are stacked against him. What can solve an unsolvable code?

The Imitation Game is an elaborate true-life thriller covering major pieces of the real life of Alan Turing, including his relationship with Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Laggies).  The two performers (who are actually friends) have great chemistry in the roles. Fantastic supporting work from Matthew Goode (Watchmen, Belle) as Hugh Alexander, the man running the project to break Enigma, and Charles Dance (TV’s Game of Thrones, Alien 3) as Commander Denniston, the man just looking for a reason to fire Turing, who has some secrets of his own.

Cumberbatch here gives a pointed, tragic spin to Turing here, his performance is so deeply saddening, it is reminiscent of Tom Hanks’ great turn from 2013’s Captain Phillips. I love how we get bits of Alan’s life to fuel the story rather than just someone yelling at the screen “ALAN LIKES TO GO RUNNING!” When Cumberbatch shows us a man who has given everything to solving the puzzle that when the question is finally asked, “How do we thank him?” the answer is rather heartbreaking.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing with Keira Knightley as Joan Clarke in The Imitation Game.

The Black List (an annual list of the most popular unproduced screenplays) for 2011 had The Imitation Game smack dab on top and it’s hard to think of why it took so long for this film to reach the screen, but I’m happy it did. This is an engaging film for the all the action it doesn’t need to show and all the pure gold acting work given by the cast. Definitely worthy of its Best Picture nomination.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2015oscardeathrace] Selma (2014)

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Director: Ava DuVernay

Cast: David Oyelowo, Tom Wilkinson, Carmen Ejogo, Andre Holland, Tessa Thompson, Giovanni Ribisi, Lorraine Toussaint, Stephen James, Wendell Pierce, Common, Alessandro Nivola, Keith Stanfield, Cuba Gooding Jr., Dylan Baker, Tim Roth, Oprah Winfrey

Screenplay: Paul Webb

128 mins. Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic material including violence, a suggestive moment, and brief language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture of the Year [Awards Not Yet Announced]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song (“Glory” by Common, John Legend) [Awards Not Yet Announced]

 

Selma is the story of a key moment in the life of Martin Luther King, Jr (David Oyelowo, Interstellar, A Most Violent Year): the fight for the right to vote. King has tries to get help from President Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Wilkinson, Batman Begins, The Grand Budapest Hotel), but to no avail. His wife, Coretta (Carmen Ejogo, TV’s Zero Hour, The Purge: Anarchy), would hope to keep him out of harm’s way. But in Selma, Alabama, a woman named Annie Lee Cooper (Oprah Winfrey, The Color Purple, The Butler) can’t even get registered to vote. King takes his civil rights movement to Selma in hopes of swaying Governor George Wallace (Tim Roth, TV’s Lie to Me, Pulp Fiction) to let them vote.

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While the film Selma isn’t perfect, it does contain some of the more perfect casting and performance work of the past year. David Oyelowo is the spitting visage of the late Dr. King. He has the look, he has the voice, and he has the mannerisms down to a science. Tom Wilkinson plays the former President filled with self-doubt and delusion. Rapper Common (TV’s Hell on Wheels, Smokin’ Aces) gives one of his best roles as James Bevel, as does Wendell Pierce (TV’s The Wire, Parker) in the position of Reverand Hosea Williams. We also get some great turns from some major Hollywood players, like Martin Sheen and Dylan Baker (Spider-Man 2, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues), in small roles to elevate the craft of the other actors to something truly great.

Director Ava DuVernay’s camera is more stoic than static, offering what feels more like a live docu-drama than a sweeping picture, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it did mess with the flow slightly.

I really enjoyed the song “Glory” from Common and John Legend that plays over the closing credits. It displays a plethora of African-American cultural music from the time of Dr. King to present day.

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Ava DuVernay’s Selma is a film that must be watched, if only for the powerful messages it conveys. I honestly did not know as much about this facet of the Civil Rights Movement, in particular the events in Selma, Alabama, and so I found the film engaging and shocking at times, and definitely worth your time.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Oscar Madness] Gravity (2013)

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Director: Alfonso Cuaron

Cast: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney

Screenplay: Alfonso Cuaron, Jonas Cuaron

91 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense perilous sequences, some disturbing images and brief strong language.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Achievement in Cinematography
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Achievement in Directing
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Achievement in Film Editing
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Achievement in Sound Editing
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Achievement in Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture of the Year
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role (Sandra Bullock)
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Production Design

 

Gravity’s trailer won me over because it did something that too many trailers to wrong. It teased plot, but didn’t give it all away. There has been a recent trend in trailers which have been very good at not spoilering the whole freaking movie. Frozen and Monster University have actually been like short films teasing the tone of the movie while not ruining the experience, while Star Wars-Episode VII: The Force Awakens gives us just moments to titillate us, and it worked. Gravity’s trailer just touches on the first ten minutes. That’s it. A tease.

Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock, The Proposal, The Heat) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney, Ocean’s Eleven, The Monuments Men) are astronauts on a mission to fix and update some parts on the Hubble Telescope. While on a spacewalk, their shuttle is hit by debris from a chain reaction satellite explosion, causing them to be stranded out in space. Now, they must find a way to get back to Earth with no shuttle in the new film from Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban).

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I may not like Sandra Bullock, but this is easily her best performance in years. She just knocks in out of the park.

George Clooney provides some terrific work in a supporting role as Matt. He has the confidence of a man on his last mission.

Cuaron had to develop new filmmaking techniques to handle the cinematography of weightless space and increase the capabilities of an all-CGI film. It took at least four years to get there, but it was worth it, and we all knew it was taking those technical awards at the Oscars. Here’s a tip: if your film has to invent new processes and equipment, you will win Oscars. It just happens.

The film is edited to together to keep movie and it features some really long sequences to keep the audience involved in the movie. It certainly works, because it literally left me shaking. I wish I could’ve paused it so I could leave for a few minutes to calm back down.

Innovative lighting techniques also create an involved experience.

The sound, or lack thereof, and the minimal use of music really assist in making the film real, and few space films utilize the silence of space so well.

Awesome CG! Just sayin’!

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Gravity is everything I wanted it to be. This uplifting space adventure kept me on the edge of my seat that I was fearful I would fall out of it. If this film doesn’t leave you breathless, you don’t have lungs.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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