An essay by A.O. Scott called “The Big Picture Strikes Back,” appearing in the 12.1 Sunday N.Y. Times Magazine, discusses evidence of “directorial presence” in the not-entirely-corporatized art form known as movies, and in so doing praises J.C. Chandor‘s All Is Lost, Alfonso Cuaron‘s Gravity and Richard Linklater‘s Before Midnight.

Near the end of the piece Scott mentions “the audacity of Gravity, with its big budget, big movie stars and huge box office, and the even greater boldness of All Is Lost, which blithely ignores some of the most basic axioms of moviemaking. The cast consists of one person, who utters a few dozen words and whose story is told with virtually no exposition. We don’t know his name, his profession, his back story or anything else. Nothing has been done to make him relatable or representative or universal, even as he becomes all of those things.

All Is Lost may bear a thematic kinship with Gravity and other chronicles of survival, but its more interesting counterpart in the cinema of 2013 is Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight, [in which] the words are as relentless and remarkable as the silence that shrouds All Is Lost. The dialogue does not enhance the action; it is the action. It doesn’t reveal the characters; it creates them and creates the illusion that what happens between them is spontaneous, unpredictable and real.

“Once you start to notice it, movieness is everywhere. In the black-and-white rural landscapes and patient, elliptical comic movements of Alexander Payne’s Nebraska; in the black-and-white cityscapes and New Wave rhythms of Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha; in the artfully faked home movies that turn Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell from a personal documentary into something much weirder; in the improbable collision of styles (camp, melodrama, realism both magic and kitchen sink) that propels Lee Daniels’ The Butler.

“You might end up watching these at a theater, on a tablet or in your den, courtesy of Netflix or BitTorrent or your local cable provider. But you will not be able to mistake them for anything but movies. What is cinema? You know it when you see it.”