Early reviews for upcoming space thriller Gravity have been extremely positive, with critics hailing the movie as an event which restores faith in the art. The film, which has been in the making for over four years, depicts two astronauts (George Clooney and Sandra Bullock) who become lost in space after debris hits their shuttle, and is said to be both beautifully crafted and edge-of-your-seat intense. It’s a movie sure to cause a stir upon its release in October, but that shouldn’t be too surprising considering the quality of the film’s director.
Alfonso Cuarón has consistently proved himself to be one of the most interesting filmmakers working today; his films are tight, with impressive and well acted characters, and tend to contain complex camerawork; long unbroken takes framing increasingly elaborate action scenes. Like Kubrick and fellow contemporary director Ang Lee, Cuarón works within different genres and makes his films his own. Gravity, Cuarón’s most direct foray into science-fiction, is sure to be fantastic, and it’s worth looking back at the director’s filmography to understand just why critics are so excited for it.
Cuarón’s Harry Potter, the third in the series, is the best of the lot. Prior to Azkaban, the Harry Potter films had been tired, pedestrian pieces of filmmaking, which slavishly followed the the plot of the books without understanding that adaptation doesn’t only work on accuracy alone. Adaptation comes from tone and theme and Cuarón was the first director in the series to approach the material in this way. His Harry Potter isn’t tied down by the book, and as such, is able to exist on its own terms – Azkaban remains the only film in the series which works without context; you don’t need to be familiar with Harry Potter to enjoy this one.
The movie comes with stunning visuals, wonderful cinematography, and for the first time in the series, magic is made to feel magical. Cuarón isn’t afraid of the book’s scarier elements either and crafts some iconic scenes – the introduction of the Dementor for example, and the time-travelling climax. The third Harry Potter is a great example of what happens when the studio takes a step back and gives control to a quality director. Cuarón’s Harry Potter feels confident and closer in tone to the novels, filled with a wonderful sense of energy and working almost as a modern day fairytale fantasy.
Y Tu Mamá También is not only one of the best road-trip movies, it’s one of the best films of the 2000s. The movie, set in a politically turbulent modern Mexico, follows arrogant, over-sexed teenagers Tenoch and Julio (Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal) who convince an older cousin Luisa (Maribel Verdú) to accompany them on the road to the mysterious and possibly fictional Heaven’s Mouth, an apparently perfect beach. Cuarón gets stunning performances from his cast here, each of the main leads playing surprisingly detailed and subtle characters. Verdú deserves the most credit here – playing a confident older woman with a tragic inner turmoil, it’s only when you see the movie for a second time that you realise how amazing her performance is.
The direction is beautiful throughout and Cuarón manages to switch genre gears easily, naturally and at will – the film working as broad sex comedy one second, crushing personal drama the next; the ending is especially devastating and completely pulls the rug out from under the audience. It’s a movie refreshingly open in its sexuality and lust for life, but striking cinematic techniques – the blunt narration for example – serve to highlight the movie’s true, darker themes – that of death and growing old. The film doesn’t do much new in the road-trip genre, but the direction, acting, characters and execution are incredible; this is one of those movies that everyone needs to see.
Cuarón’s first venture into science-fiction – the bleak dystopian nightmare that is Children of Men – is up there with genre highlights 2001 and Blade Runner. It’s a modern day classic and one of the most impressive movies of recent times. The film depicts a future in which babies have stopped being born, and England has fallen into decay, with warring terrorist and government factions fighting in an increasingly oppressive hell of a world. Then Clive Owen’s character discovers a young pregnant girl named Kee and everything changes.
Children of Men is a hugely powerful movie, working on themes of hope in the face of overwhelming horror and despair, with strong performances throughout and shocking plot twists. Crucially we never find out why people stopped giving birth, or how Kee got pregnant: the why of the story isn’t the focus, we’re looking at how the characters react in the situation – we don’t need anything else – and the uncertainty and ambiguity give the film a great off-centre feel.
The cinematography and sense of world-building here are top notch, some of the strongest in recent memory, with the film working as a kind of anti-Blade Runner, a twisted version of modern times with little futuristic advances – rarely has the future felt this unpleasant, and this believable. The film’s most visceral moments come in its intensely elaborate long-takes, which are not only technically stunning (the car sequence and climactic attack are real, cinematic ‘wow’ moments) but also help the tone and story, the camera work highlighting the sense of impending chaos and inescapable horror. This is a bleak, serious and bold movie, and one of science-fiction’s most accomplished feats. Critics have rightfully hailed Children of Men as a masterpiece and it’s sure to be discussed for years to come.
Gravity is set to follow these movies – long, complex takes – this time sans gravity – bold themes, beautiful cinematography and a great sense of energy. Hopefully the film will be another cinematic highlight to add to Cuaron’s catalogue. He’s one of contemporary cinema’s most fascinating directors.