After wowing festival audiences in Telluride and Venice, Sunday's gala premiere of Alfonso Cuaron's stunning space survival story, "Gravity," became the hot ticket at the Toronto International Film Festival. That will happen when no less than James Cameron calls your movie the "best space film ever done."
Filmmaker Guillermo del Toro was there at the beautiful Princess of Wales Theatre, settling in, fidgeting with his 3-D glasses. Jason Bateman was there. Canadian astronaut legend Chris Hadfield showed up, as did Canada's first female astronaut, Roberta Bondar. "Two astronauts in the audience," Cuaron joked before the lights went down. "A little pressure for me."
He needn't have worried. Following the film, Hadfield gave "Gravity" an enthusiastic thumbs-up, telling Cuaron that the "visuals were spectacularly good" and that he didn't know how he achieved the film's elegant, immersive and stunning depiction of what it's like to be in outer space.
"If I ever fly in space again, I want to fly with Sandra," Hadfield said to loud applause, referring to "Gravity" star Sandra Bullock.
The question now is how Warner Bros. will convince academy voters, historically not sci-fi enthusiasts, to hitch their votes to "Gravity." The movie is a tense, tight (90 minutes) survival story of two astronauts (Bullock and George Clooney) dealing with the aftermath of a space disaster that threatens their chances of returning to Earth.
Cuaron, in a post-screening Q&A with Bullock, producer David Heyman, co-writer and son Jonas Cuaron ("cheap labor," dad joked), was careful to hit upon the movie's themes of connection, re-engagement and survival. But those elements aren't pushed, and "Gravity's" straightforward storytelling, virtuosic as it is, may not strike some voters as important enough (there's not a moment of pretension or self-seriousness here) to make it a best picture nominee.
Tim Webber's landmark visual effects work should be guaranteed not just a nomination, but a victory. (That's one Oscar we feel fine calling at this early juncture.) Nominations in both sound categories seem assured. And certainly, production designer Andy Nicholson and the brilliant cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki should be rewarded as well.
Bullock's work represents a career-best effort, something the actress herself seemed to acknowledge after the screening.
"I didn't feel worthy of it when I got it," she said of winning the lead actress Oscar for "The Blind Side" in 2010. "So I thought, 'OK, I'm going to spend the rest of my life hopefully earning it –- but having a really good time in the process, as well.'"
How much the 49-year-old actress enjoyed herself during the demanding "Gravity" shoot depends on how you parse the word. ("All your hate and your anger and your rage, you just give forth in your work, and hope it translates on the screen," Bullock joked, referring to the physical demands Cuaron and the movie imposed on her.) But her acting, which holds and engages the viewer's attention during the film's long stretches where she's alone, is brilliant, always fully present and alive.
"It's the best performance of your career," one audience member told Bullock during the post-screening Q&A.
"I can't see you, but I love you," Bullock answered back.