Films like "Gravity" are the reason cinema was invented.
Utterly original, beautifully acted, fiercely exciting, thoughtful, humane, stunningly gorgeous - it's the best new movie I've seen this year.
Directed by Alfonso Cuaron ("Children of Men"), the outer-space thriller stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as shuttle workers whose mission becomes a 300-mile-high fight for survival when their craft is destroyed by high-speed debris.
Sandra Bullock stars in “Gravity”?as a medical engineer who must survive in space after her space craft is destroyed.
And that's just the start of a plot so gripping, so brilliant and breathless - and yet so simple and straightforward - that you wonder why nobody thought of it before.
Bullock has a lot of screen time to herself - she and Clooney are essentially the only actors, though Ed Harris does some instantly recognizable voice work from Houston.
As the film floats through jaw-dropping weightless scenes - often several minutes long - Bullock ably conveys clamped-down nausea (her character is new to space), then blazing panic, terror, grief, despair and eventually hope.
I can't imagine how she achieved all that while strapped in to the massive and complex machinery Cuaron and crew designed to simulate zero-G.
Besides Bullock and Clooney - who is also excellent - the film's chief assets are ferocious suspense and dazzling visuals.
With something going awry every few minutes - all of it life-threatening, yet also tied to the same debris mishap - "Gravity" is the space-mayhem film that "Armageddon" only wanted to be. I literally cannot recall the last time I squirmed and groaned so constantly and fearfully in my seat.
Particularly agonizing are scenes in which astronauts in free-fall must catch hold of something or be flung headlong into space - which actually happens more than once.
The grueling tension is greatly aided by seamless special effects: space stations, explosions, floating shrapnel, plus one unforgettable shot of an astronaut killed by debris that went clean through his helmet - and his head.
Yet at the same time, "Gravity" offers painterly frames of breath-taking beauty high above the cloud-coated, blue-white globe of earth: sunsets, star-scapes, glittering spacecraft, rust-and-green continents far below - and lacey networks of glowing terrestrial cities.
There are a few notable holes in the plot; but when a film is sufficiently well written, edited, photographed and performed - as "Gravity" is - these things fade to insignificance. Purists might be best to think of this as grand, old-fashioned adventure in the fast-and-loose vein of "North by Northwest" or "Flight of the Phoenix."
And though it is indeed a crackerjack thriller, it also radiates transcendent hope, with the title force - or lack thereof - serving as an effective symbol for Bullock's character, who is drifting untethered in the wake of her daughter's death.
Late in the film, when she begins addressing this long-lost loved one, I was thinking, "They gave this actress an Oscar for the wrong movie."
But then, she might win again this year anyway.
And don't count "Gravity" out for Best Picture.