In an attempt to get back into the groove of movie reviewing, I’ve decided to present my reviews as a journal/column going forward, perhaps on a monthly basis. I’m also no longer giving out letter grades because to be honest, they’re driving me batty.

Gravity is either an anomaly in cinema or a beacon for its future. You could say it’s a modern-day 2001: A Space Odyssey, but unlike Kubrick’s film, most of it transpires in exteriors rather than interiors—a vital distinction given its outer space setting. You could also call it a technological successor to Alien in that it’s very much a horror film, but there are no aliens, and the horror instead stems from the most extreme environmental circumstances one could imagine. You could run through any number of classic science fiction, action or horror films and find not a single true predecessor to Gravity—it accomplishes something new, but without seeming entirely alien.

Whether seen in 3D on the largest IMAX screen or in a perfectly acceptable 2D version (but make sure it’s a theatrical screening), the film is an enthralling visual experience. The camera continually glides around the only two real characters (played by George Clooney and a never-better Sandra Bullock) as if it was a ballet dancer, gracefully swerving over and under human bodies, through intricate, massive satellites, space stations and ricocheting cosmic debris. Often, the camera will pull back to reveal the awesome Earthscapes canvasing the distant backgrounds, working in tandem with Steven Price’s prog-ambient score and its effective loud-soft dynamics.

You’re best off knowing little about the narrative going in, except that much of the film narrows its focus towards one goal: the desire to survive when the elements are against you. Some have complained that the film has too simplistic a story, one at odds with its technical and conceptual innovation; in fact, wedding such a primal, basic and unapologetically entertaining narrative with the new visual language director/writer Alfonso Cuaron has devised creates a sublime tension. Together, they represent the very best a convergence of art and commerce has to offer. I’ve seen the film twice (once in 3D, once in 2D) and both times I’ve left the theater elated, exhausted and deeply moved.

As dependable as Rohmer or Ozu, Nicole Holofcener could be their modern American equivalent as an auteur director. In terms of style and sensibility, she arguably makes the same film over and over again, but touches on a different, tiny but significant quirk of human behavior each time out. The worst you can say about her latest, a gentle but solid rom-com about what to reveal to and conceal from a new lover is that it hinges on a plot contrivance usually found in the more hackneyed sitcoms. Fortunately, everything else in the film is nearly perfect. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is consistently, dependably funny on TV shows from Seinfeld to Veep; here, she’s wisely cast for those talents but also able to show that her range extends beyond comedy. She’s up to task, matching Holofcener regular Catherine Keener (playing her character’s foil), but with a tenderness and whimsy that Keener might not have managed had she played Louis-Dreyfus’ part. As for the late James Gandolfini, it’s near impossible to be objective given real-life circumstances, but his own unexpected tenderness and ease slots into the film beautifully. Sweet, sad and in the end, more realistic than the premise initially suggests, Enough Said is another Holofcener film, which is to say, as good as anything else she’s done.

Matteo Garrone’s previous film, the bleak crime drama Gomorrah was easy to admire but hard to fully embrace, not so much due to its subject matter but to its nearly clinical apathy. This follow-up (and second Grand Prix Cannes winner in a row) is decidedly lighter, following Naples fishmonger and small-time con man, Luciano (Aniello Arena). After witnessing the fame and fortune it has brought one of its contestants, he obsesses over securing a spot on Italy’s version of the reality TV show Big Brother. The film further illustrates Garrone’s technical mastery with its lengthy, brilliant tracking shots and gorgeous saturated colors—at times, the jaunty pacing and extravagant set pieces (the opening wedding sequence is of a piece with all of cinema’s great ones) resembles a Fellini film, albeit one of the relatively restrained ones like La Dolce Vita. He also has a good find in Arena, a real life ex-gangster (Gomorrah depicted his kind) who makes his film debut here and serves as an actual protagonist. Even when he starts to go a little mad, he’s magnetic and sympathetic enough to hold your attention. It’s less clear how effectively Garrone satirizes a television genre that’s arguably already beyond lampooning, but then again, Reality is less about how Big Brother makes one a celebrity and more about how it skews our own perceptions of celebrity and aspirations on becoming one.

Also seen:
Like most Baz Luhrmann pictures, The Great Gatsby is all sensory-overload fabulousness in its first hour and a snoozefest thereafter. DiCaprio and Maguire are well-cast, and Mulligan at least looks the part though her Daisy is a bit of a blank; again, why did this adaptation have to be made, and is Luhrmann’s anachronism-shtick finally starting to get old? … 20+ years on, Slacker continues to age tremendously well, a definitive record of a subculture that anticipates mumblecore while still resembling nothing else … All That Jazz, on the other hand, feels a tad dated and retains less spontaneity and thrills than it did on my last viewing a decade ago; that doesn’t mean it’s not an enjoyable, carefully controlled mess. One revelation: Ryan Gosling could be Roy Scheider circa this film come 2025 … celebrated the Halloween season with Young Frankenstein (first viewing in a theater) and Rosemary’s Baby (second) on the Coolidge’s big screen; they remain two all-time greats that I can’t imagine ever tiring of (if I don’t view them every single year, that is).

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