Finally. Finally a new release I was excited about actually lived up to — and surpassed — my expectations. And did well at the box office in the bargain. Gravity came out and blew the hatch off the airlock, notching the biggest October opening ever and pretty much cementing itself as a sure-fire Oscar contender in the process. Every now and then, America, you get it right. Not that this makes up for all those middling horror films you sent to #1, but baby steps. Gravity is going to loom large over this week’s releases, what with its strong word of mouth and fantastic reviews. Tom Hanks may be up to the challenge, but I’m not so sure about Danny Trejo.
I’m not so sure about Robert Rodriguez either. He seemed like one of independent cinema’s greatest hopes back in the 90s. Since then, he’s sort of happily settled into being this generation’s version of American International, churning out high-profile B-movies and the occasional Spy Kids installment. I guess he’s found his niche, and his films are generally so low-budget that they don’t have to be monsters to turn a profit, but it seemed like he might have been destined for bigger things. Not that Machete Kills looks small, especially with the size of the cast Rodriguez has managed to put together for it. Most likely it’ll double its meager budget, and turn into a cult favorite once it hits disc, meaning will likely be seeing Machete Kills Again or something similar in a couple of years. Pretty good for a character who got his start in a joke trailer in Grindhouse six years ago.
Captain Phillips is certainly aiming a little higher though. I hesitate to call it Oscar bait, since Tom Hanks and Paul Greengrass have done enough good work over the years to make anything they put their minds to at least some kind of awards contender. But they’re definitely swinging for the fences here. It’s a classic Hanks Everyman role, and between this and Saving Mr. Banks, Hanks could be in line for the rare double-whammy of nominations for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor in the same year (depending on how big his role as Walt Disney in latter film is and how Disney decides to push him come awards time). He’s really become our generation’s Jimmy Stewart, the reliable, comforting presence that rarely disappoints even if the material around him might. Except Stewart never played a guy dressed as a woman in a sitcom, so Hanks has him beat on that count.
But I really want to see Gravity again. Partly because I want to experience again, but also because I’m curious if a normal-sized presentation does anything to lessen the impact. I don’t think so — the film has enough going on story and performance-wise that I think it’ll reward repeat viewings — but if I have to go see it again just to make sure, so be it. It really does feel head and shoulders above anything I saw in theaters this year, and the remaining months of 2013 are going to be hard-pressed to come up with anything to top it. No matter how many people Machete kills.