“Gravity” may just be the finest movie of 2013. It’s a game-changer, as cliché as it is to say that, and there’s only one other film so far this year that may yet go down as an all-time Hollywood classic.
But it will not win the Oscar for Best Picture.
This may just be a controversial, trolling argument fanning the flame that is the media hype surrounding this year’s barely begun Oscar race (and even as I write this I’m a bit hesitant to say its chances are already over, especially when people already disagree with me), but ask any pundit, and they’ll tell you that the front runner status is not a desirable one to have this early in the game.
What happens is this: there’s a “spin” machine that goes into action, hurling negative press at the wall until something sticks. Before long a “narrative” forms that can overcome quality, dollars or buzz.
“The Hurt Locker” and “The Artist” each survived attacks of plagiarism, but when time passed and reactions settled, movies that were first hailed as generation defining masterpieces like “The Social Network” and “Up in the Air” lost steam fast when people decided they were just “pretty good.”
“12 Years a Slave” may be the “official” front-runner, it also being debuted at the Toronto Film Festival and being the only film to get an article as hyperbolic as this, but the public has drawn first blood on “Gravity” with three straight weeks as the number one box office draw, and the arguments hurled against “Gravity” may outweigh those for Steve McQueen’s film. Here’s what it’s up against over the next few months:
Mysteries of #Gravity: Why we enjoy a SciFi film set in make-believe space more than we enjoy actual people set in real space
— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) October 6, 2013
Any layman might be a little put-off upon learning that parts of “12 Years a Slave” may not be 100 percent accurate or that Cecil Gaines in “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” is just a composite of a real person, but take a film like “Gravity” that screams hyper-realism and it won’t be long until people phone in the big guns to call bullshit.
Neil DeGrasse Tyson took to Twitter to say how much he enjoyed the film, but first he lampooned its inaccuracies with the hashtag
“Mysteries of #Gravity,” despite saying that the events are technically possible. And while every news outlet picked up their own astronaut to bash it, The Hollywood Reporter got none other than Buzz Aldrin, who thankfully quite liked it.
It’s a movie yes, but the media has now made it impossible to watch “Gravity” without taking it with a little grain of salt.
A “Poor” Script
Incapable of leveling any sort of aesthetic criticism on “Gravity,” the narrative has become that Alfonso and Jonas Cuaron’s script lacks polish. Some say it’s too talky, others say it’s too metaphorical and others say it’s too schmaltzy, but it’s far from a disaster.
Regardless, the people have spoken; this is not a writer’s film but a visual one. The smart Oscar pundit will tell you that films that don’t receive a screenplay nomination have a notorious time winning Best Picture, but it also stands to reason that the Academy is looking for the fully rounded movie, and a bad script might be enough to keep people from loving “Gravity” to death.
This point extends to any criticism of the script, but “Gravity” has been so propped up by critics that some articles, like The Dissolve’s regular Conversation piece, operate on chiseling away at its armor (still though, some thoughtful and necessary criticism). Like “The Social Network” before it, if a movie is called a masterpiece, people will be quick to test that assertion, and they’ll do all they can to prove you wrong.
Denial of the Future
“Avatar” only came out four years ago, but a lot of people still aren’t sold on 3-D and might never be. They’re the first to cringe at the thought that this film is really a game-changer in the way movies are made. To many this is just a CGI driven spectacle, and it doesn’t deserve anything more than the technical awards it’s bound to get.
“Gravity” may yet join “Avatar,” “Hugo” and “Life of Pi” as movies to all win Best Cinematography yet get shut out by their 2-D rivals.
The Oscars hate Sci-Fi Thrillers
Never has anything even close to “Gravity’s” genre won Best Picture at the Oscars. Never. “Gravity’s” contemporary “2001: A Space Odyssey” didn’t even get nominated for Best Picture, while the next closest comparison was when “Apollo 13” lost to “Braveheart” in 1995. If “Gravity” does win, it really will be a game-changer.
The Wrong Narrative
The Oscars are important not because they award the best movie of the year but because they still plug into the culture and the message that a win for a given movie sends to the world. Every winner has its narrative, and the narrative behind “Gravity” will be that it is the culmination of several years of 3-D filmmaking and has finally paved the way for how the future of film can be crafted.
But that’s not the most interesting narrative this year. “The Butler,” “Fruitvale Station,” “Mandela: Walk to Freedom,” “Captain Phillips,” and “12 Years a Slave” have made 2013 one of the most diverse, representative years for African Americans in Oscar history. It stands to reason that four black women could be nominated for Best Supporting Actress and at least three could be in the conversation for Best Actor.
Coming from a Brit, “12 Years a Slave” will have universal poignancy about one of America’s darkest moments in history, and that may be something Oscar can’t ignore.
“Gravity” does however fit into yet another narrative of the year, one of survival (a third case could be made for Have-More movies, in which case “The Wolf of Wall Street” would be the front-runner). “Gravity” however shares the limelight with “All is Lost,” “Captain Phillips” and of course, “12 Years a Slave.”
All be told, the Oscar season has a long way to go. There are a few movies yet to be released widely or to critics, including “American Hustle,” “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “Saving Mr. Banks,” and as great movie after great movie comes through the pipeline, “Gravity” could start to feel like a distant memory.
What happens is not an objective thing, but people simply forget what made it so great. It will be seen as just a Hollywood movie, just a thriller, just a good-looking movie, and without a compelling For Your Consideration campaign, others will start to look more appealing closer to awards night.
All of this is merely to play Devil’s Advocate. Warner Bros. is the studio backing “Gravity,” and they carried “Argo” through one of the messiest and most invigorating Oscar seasons in recent memory. That was a movie that overcame fatigue from being the first front runner, a narrative that it was just a Hollywood movie, that it had nothing ambitious about it, that it did not have the true Oscar marks that “Lincoln” did and most notably of all, a lack of a Best Director nomination.
Will “Gravity” remain well above the stratosphere or will it come plummeting from the sky? The next few months will tell, and I predict it has a strong chance at winning nine Oscars, Best Picture possibly being one of them.
But I will say this: it absolutely deserves everything it gets.