Movie review: Pull of “Gravity” is inescapable

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From the October 3, 2013 edition

Every week in the humble pages of this publication, I rate films on a scale of one to four stars. “Gravity” makes me wish I had more stars to give. It’s not just great. It’s in its own atmosphere.

The film is one of those cinematic high-water marks that makes me think, yeah, we haven’t seen everything before. I have seen it just once — and will see it again — but it initially stands as not only the best film of the past year, but of the past decade.

It’s almost unsurprising, as my previous holder of that title, 2006’s “Children of Men,” is from the same director, Alfonso Cuaron. I think he just landed his place among the greatest directors working today.

“Gravity” is a simple but beautifully executed idea from Cuaron’s imagination. In an opening scene that unfolds in one gloriously continuous shot, an accident in space leaves astronauts Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) and Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) alone and adrift above the Earth’s surface. The next 90 minutes documents their efforts to get home.

Cuaron has seemingly made the rare film that should please both the masses and, obviously, the critics. “Gravity” is a breathlessly tense thriller — literally, you may find it hard to breathe — with enough allegorical levels to write a film school thesis on. The double meaning of a line from the opening text haunted me after the film: “Life in space is impossible.”

After I left the preview screening of “Gravity,” I tweeted that it “can have all the Oscars.” Let’s start with director of photography Emmanuel Lubezki. He has already shot two of the most gorgeous films of the 2000s (“Children of Men” and “The Tree of Life”). Now he gets to turn his visual imagination to 3D. The results make this that rare film that absolutely demands to be seen in the 3D format.

Clooney’s legendary onscreen charm is abundant, but I had reservations about Bullock, whose career has been a spiral of rom-coms. Well, she gives the performance of her career. I questioned her casting, now I can’t imagine anyone else in the role.

It’s rare that I will declare a film to be the year’s best before we hit the late-year Oscar season, but “Gravity” is a miracle of filmmaking. It will be a miracle if I see something better.