3 on 3: Can 'Gravity' win Best Picture?

Posted by · 2:59 pm · October 5th, 2013

After three film festivals and weeks of buzz, Alfonso Cuarón’s “Gravity” has finally arrived in theaters in the U.S. The film has been an awards season player for some time, but the universal acclaim has likely surprised even Warner Bros., who produced and is distributing the film.

As of today, “Gravity” has a 96 out of 100 average score on Metacritic. Out of 47 reviews, 27 have been graded a 100 score (for comparison’s sake, last year’s highest rated film was “Zero Dark Thirty” with a 95 and 26 100 scores). On Rotten Tomatoes, “Gravity” has a 98% “fresh” rating with 202 positive and just 5 negative reviews. Last year, the highest rated Oscar player was the eventual Best Picture winner “Argo,” with 96% (“Zero Dark Thirty” followed with 93%). And, in terms of box office, “Gravity” earned a stellar $17 million on Friday for what could be a $44-48 million opening weekend.  That would put it in the top 10 October debuts of all-time.

Obviously, critics and moviegoers are not the Academy, but that reaction shows the film’s reception in two spheres that matter to AMPAS voters. So, the big question everyone will be asking is: can “Gravity” win Best Picture? It’s one subject Kristopher Tapley, Guy Lodge and I ponder as we bring you another installment of 3 on 3.

Did Universal Pictures make a mistake passing on the project?

Kristopher Tapley: It’s tough to say. Universal has been going through a lot of changes as of late and a risk like this may simply not have been a luxury they could afford. Certainly it would have been nice to have a film like “Gravity” in their catalog, because it is such a landmark achievement, but every studio is different at different times. Warner Bros. may simply have been a better home for the film at the end of the day, so I guess my answer is no, I don’t think they made a “mistake,” per se.

Gregory Ellwood: Absolutely. No one can ever realistically calculate what the extra time it took “Gravity” to find another home added to the final product, but Cuarón had this picture pre-visualized years ago. Did special effects significantly advance in just two years? Would Cuaron and his team come up with the same special effect solutions shooting in the US as they did in the UK? Would Steven Price still been the film’s composer? Hard to say. It’s also difficult to imagine Angelina Jolie, who was attached to the film at Universal, would have delivered a less powerful performance than Bullock. That means Universal lost out on what may turnout to be a global phenomenon. Now, if it had been Natalie Portman or Scarlett Johansson? No disrespect to those younger ladies, but then you’re talking a much different movie.

Guy Lodge: Well, one might say the reviews and the early box office returns provide an easy answer to that question — what studio wouldn’t regret passing on a commercial and critical hit that also looks and feels like nothing else out there? At the same time, it was a high-risk proposition: Cuarón’s last film, a similarly cutting-edge genre piece, registered with cinephiles but not general audiences, and “Gravity” came with a heftier price tag. (Meanwhile, the script — prior to reshoots — was cooler in temperature than the film we see today, so you can understand their fear that audiences wouldn’t respond to it.) Should they have been braver, trusting in Cuarón’s seemingly limitless artistry and the power of star casting to help audiences make the leap? Yes. But hindsight, much like Justin Timberlake, is always 20/20.

Unlike “Avatar” or “2001,” can “Gravity” win Best Picture?

Kristopher Tapley: Science-fiction always faces an uphill climb for whatever reason. I guess it’s genre bias, but then, it’s not like “Gravity” is a steeped in genre. It’s a thriller and more realistic than some of the stuff that becomes classified as “sci-fi,” but even a movie like “Apollo 13” couldn’t get there. I think, yes, “Gravity” can win Best Picture, but like those other two films, it’s an instant landmark. The accomplishment is lost on no one, but historically, those milestones are passed over by the Academy. I’d like to think it has an even better chance than those examples did, however.

Gregory Ellwood: The passion from filmmakers and actors who have seen “Gravity” so far says yes. Remember, “Gravity” is set in space, but it’s not science-fiction. It’s mostly (and yes, “mostly”) based completely on reality. And, so far, that seems to be resonating with the industry and the general public. A lot will be written about “Gravity’s” chances but the critical acclaim is probably even more than Warner Bros. anticipated. Will “American Hustle,” “12 Years A Slave” (upon release) or “Saving Mr. Banks” resonate more? One thing’s for sure, “Gravity” will be a contender until the end.

Guy Lodge: Yes. On the one hand, genre precedent (or lack thereof) is never a reason to bet against a film winning picture. Horror films “couldn’t” win Best Picture… until “The Silence of the Lambs.” Fantasy epics “couldn’t” win Best Picture… until “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.” And so on. But I think the more salient point is that “Gravity” — it’s unearthly setting notwithstanding — isn’t really cut from the same cloth as “Avatar” or “2001.” There’s debate over whether the film should really be labeled sci-fi at all. I say no: though my space knowledge is too limited to make clear judgements on the film’s real-world credibility, there was nothing in it that seemed implausible to me. Some Academy members might find overtly fantastical science-fiction alienating, but “Gravity” is a fundamentally relatable human drama, only against a spectacular backdrop. That will help it.

Sandra Bullock has not decided what her next film would be. What advice would you give her? What should she do next?

Kristopher Tapley: Far be it from me to give someone like Sandra Bullock advice, but honestly, I say this: Keep doing what you’re doing. We just ran a fun feature about some of her lesser-laureled performances that are nonetheless great examples of her being at the top of her game. She’s always had that spark, since we first saw her 20 years ago in movies like “Demolition Man” and “Speed.” She’s made smart decisions every step of the way, reaped financial benefits, picked up awards. Whatever she does next, I hope it’s less calculation than risk. Because the lesson of “Gravity” is to reach for the stars, so I’d love to see her do something completely, entirely unexpected.

Gregory Ellwood: Bullock has publicly stated she felt like she had to earn her Oscar after winning for “The Blind Side.” I think whether she wins or not this season (she will be nominated), “Gravity” proves her worth as an Academy Award-winning actress. Does this mean Bullock should be taking on the next “Under the Skin” or “Holy Motors” that comes her way? We certainly wouldn’t protest, but not really. First off, Bullock has made it clear she loves to make comedies or action comedies. Those films will always be part of her creative slate. What “Gravity” has done is to put her in the conversation of drama actresses such as Meryl Streep, Kate Winslet, Cate Blanchett and Nicole Kidman that many top filmmakers pursue for their talent and financing. That wasn’t necessarily the case after “Blind Side.”  Bullock might still lose out on some roles those other four ladies are offered, but I’d expect her prestige film output to definitely increase in the years ahead.

Guy Lodge: Anything she wants to, pretty much. Anyone who thought Bullock’s career might have peaked with her divisive Oscar win in 2010 was proven sorely wrong this year with the fantastic one-two punch of “The Heat” and “Gravity.” The former proved her enduring commercial viability in her bread-and-butter genre, and was one of the fleetest, funniest comic vehicles of her career. The latter not only took her into uncharteed territory — “Gravity” is both auteur cinema and a dramatic blockbuster — but demanded that she shoulder it pretty much solo. Not only has she gained the best reviews of her career, but her fans seem to be taking the leap with her. So she’s in an enviable position, career-wise: what she’s always done is still working, but she has enough industry clout and audience goodwill to experiment a little. I hope she keeps doing so, but I wouldn’t want her to neglect her gifts as a mainstream comedienne. “The Heat 2” is one summer sequel I actually want to see.

What did you think about “Gravity” and do you think it can win Best Picture? Vote in our poll and share your thoughts below

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