Oscar Winners 2014: Cuarón's Gravity Comes Up Big, Misses Best Picture
Mexican-born Latino filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón's ultra-realistic space-thriller Gravity was nominated for a lot of Academy Awards, and was in serious Oscar contention in several categories - especially the technical ones. In total, Gravity tied for the most nominations with David O Russell's American Hustle, both arriving at the Oscars with 10 nominations each. Only Gravity would end up with the largest count of Oscar wins, though.
Besides Best Picture, which the film did not win, Gravity was in the running for Best Cinematography, Best Directing, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, Best Production Design, Best Sound mixing, and Best Visual Effects. Sandra Bullock was up for a Best Actress award for the film, as well.
Gravity's Wins and Losses
Gravity swept nearly every one of the technical awards it was nominated for. It won, in no surprise, for Best Visual Effects. It also won for Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Editing, unsurprisingly, as the film's sparse, intense -- and eerie -- use of sound effects drove much of the tension of the film.
Gravity also won the Academy Award for Film Editing -- which was officially Cuarón's first Oscar (which he shared with fellow editor Mark Sanger) -- and Best Original Score, while Best Production Design was the one major technical award that got away. Rounding out the technical Oscars that Gravity swept, the Best Cinematography award went to Cuarón's long-time filmmaking partner and fellow Mexico-born Latino, Emmanuel Lubezki.
The Big Prizes
While Gravity brought home the most Oscars, the three biggest prizes the film was up for were, of course, the Academy Awards for Best Actress (Sandra Bullock), Best Directing, and the top award of the night: Best Picture.
The biggest personal win of the night for Alfonso Cuarón was the award for Best Director, which he picked up as his second Oscar for the night, making an unintentional joke by thanking the "wise guys" of Warner Brothers, later correcting it to the "wise people" of that production company. Cuarón's Oscar nomination was a cause of both celebration and ambivalence in his native Mexico: the latter, as Fox News Latino reported, because Gravity, like most of his latest films, were not made in Mexico or with Latino themes. However, showing his roots, Cuarón ended his Best Director acceptance speech in Spanish.
While Sandra Bullock lost Best Actress to Cate Blanchett, and the Best Picture Oscar went to 12 Years a Slave, Gravity beat all of the other films nominated for Best Picture in a different way: worldwide box office gross.
Gravity garnered over $700 million around the world, making it the eighth highest-grossing film of 2013 and in the top 100 of all time. The next closest in the Best Picture category was American Hustle, which took home less than a third of Gravity's gross, at about $230 million. Sandra Bullock can take comfort in the fact that she got a $70 million paycheck.
Gravity's Technical Trajectory
The true stars of Gravity were, of course, the visual and audio effects. When director Alfonso Cuarón began the process of filming, a lot of the technology he needed to accomplish the film's breathtaking special effects hadn't been invented yet. Cuarón got help from Framestore, a visual effects (VFX) company in London, where he recruited a team of specialists and engineers that began the task of creating a weightless, cinematic, near-Earth environment.
All told, the film ended up being composed of approximately 80 percent digital shots -- each frame of which taking about 50 hours to render. That includes the new VFX created for Gravity, along with layers of computer generated imagery (CGI) and Motion Capture, the type of film technology used to create digital characters based on human movement for movies like Avatar, Beowulf, and the Hobbit movies.
Besides the millions of dollars to make the film's look, the human investment for Gravity was staggering: over 400 engineers from Framestore worked on the film for three whole years to create Gravity's otherworldly setting. "There was nowhere to hide -- everything they created had to be on full display, maybe for ten minutes at a time. It had to stand out under intense scrutiny," said Chris Lawrence, a VFX engineer who worked on the project.
Like the Life of Pi, Gravity won top honors at the Visual Effects Society (VES) Awards before going on to the Oscars. The six VES Awards given to Gravity included Outstanding Visual Effects-Driven Feature Motion Picture and the Visionary Award -- two awards often considered a predictor for later Oscar gold.
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