‘All is Lost’ and not ‘Gravity’ should be in contention for Oscar glory
They are in many respects very similar films. Gravity and All is Lost both largely consist of solo performances from their leads: Sandra Bullock and Robert Redford respectively. They are about people who find themselves alone and adrift in a hostile environment after their craft is damaged.
A difference between the two is that Gravity has myriad Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actress. By contrast All is Lost’s only nomination is for sound editing. This is completely the wrong way round.
Gravity prodigiously deserves its technical nominations because its visuals are so amazing. If you didn’t know otherwise you might wonder if director Alfonso Cuaron actually took an IMAX camera into space. I could at a push be persuaded that Cuaron deserves his Best Director nomination for making a film that it feels worth paying extra to see in 3D: the space shrapnel coming at the camera feels real enough that I flinched several times.
The problem is that apart from this the film feels really artificial. The dialogue is corny, the acting is corny and the plot is ludicrous. Just about everything Clooney’s character says is cringeworthy. It feels contrived in the extreme to have Bullock constantly mumbling explanations of the plot to herself or worse still discussing her motivations with an imaginary person. The reveal that her character is grieving for her dead daughter feels like an admission of failure; an acknowledgement that they need to be beat emotional engagement out of the audience with a sentimental sledgehammer. Worst of all it’s really cliché cached: Clooney is on his last mission before retirement, Bullock at one point chooses what button to press by going eeny meeny miny mo, oh and her dad wanted a boy. It’s almost as if having created visuals that let you think you are actually in space, Cuaron decides to remind you are not by making the rest of the film so unconvincing.
By contrast, All is Lost is a superbly naturalistic endeavour. The result is a more engrossing and chilling film. We know next to no details about Redford’s character and he has only a couple of lines of dialogue. Yet such is the integrity of Redford’s performance we feel we know him and care about what happens to him. And that is the key point about the film’s realism. While the ultimate conclusion of Gravity is never really in doubt, we have an entirely realistic dread that the All is Lost’s protagonist won’t survive the film. So despite eschewing histrionics, it’s still one of the tensest films I have ever seen.
If as many people predict the Academy compounds the error of not nominating All is Lost for any major categories by giving Gravity – which is essentially a mediocre film with an amazing set – awards in those categories then as far as the credibility of the Academy goes: all is indeed lost.