It’s been a long seven-year wait since Alfonso Cuarón’s last film, the masterful Children of Men. So needless to say, there is a lot of excitement for Gravity among the film community, especially considering Curaón spent the last four-plus years working tirelessly on it.

However, the marketing of Gravity was a letdown, with the CG standing out as quite corny in places, so I was prepared to be a little disappointed going in. Thankfully, within the first few minutes those fears were quickly put to rest because, when taken in context on the big screen, the effects are nothing short of spellbinding.

With Gravity, Curaón has created a visual feast the likes of which have not been seen before. From the opening 17-minute shot, you immediately get the sense you’re watching something special unfold. I have no idea how they made it (I can’t wait to watch the extras!), but he renders space as realistic as anyone could possibly expect in a Hollywood production. There’s little doubt it’s the closest most people will ever come to actually being there or experiencing a zero-g environment. It’s the closest I personally ever want to get, that’s for sure.

All is for naught, however, if there aren’t strong characters or a good story. Sure, the story is as simple as it gets, and it only consists of two characters, but it’s always compelling and resonates on an emotional level. In a role several other A-list actresses passed on, looking foolish for them now, Sandra Bullock turns in the strongest work of her career, one in which will position her in the center of Oscar talk once again.

I’ve never been a huge Bullock fan before, but here, stripped of all charm or awkward attempts at humor, she is simply fighting for survival. She responds and is magnificent. Even when the backstory involving her son is brought into focus, which, let’s face it, was fairly manipulative and made the film’s themes blatantly obvious, she still makes it play and feel real.

George Clooney, as the other character, doesn’t have as much heavy lifting to do, but does exactly what is called for. He makes a few wisecracks to alleviate some of the tension, gets Bullock to where she needs to be (in more ways than one), and then brings it home with one of my favorite scenes towards the end.

Gravity has a few minor faults, but none I would deem serious or major. The dialogue, which has been called out by many, I didn’t have much of a problem with. I can understand why it has come under fire, and can’t deny the film likely would have improved if it had been even more silent than it was, but two other things stood out to me more.

Cuarón does a stellar job at avoiding clichés, but there’s one whopper of a scene where he fully embraces one of the oldest in the book midway through. You’ll know it when you see it. It could easily have been switched out for something less predictable, and it became all the more bothersome when I found out afterwards it wasn’t even scientifically accurate in the slightest. Oh, well.

The other quibble I have with is the ending, which I thought would have greatly benefited from some ambiguity, in much the same way Children of Men would have. It was a little too Hollywood for my tastes, which I’m sure a lot of people appreciated as a release after going through such an unconventionally rendered experience. But imagine the gut-punch it would have packed if it ended two minutes earlier.

Still, those complaints are essentially nitpicks when taken with the grand scale of things. Gravity is one of 2013’s finest achievements and will likely be looked back as one of the special effects pioneers of our day. It’s also on pace to becoming the most financially successful avant-garde film ever made and a global phenomenon, both equally as impressive. Gravity cements Curaón as one of the boldest visionaries in modern filmmaking. It’s a joy to watch the rest of the world finally catch on.