Apollo 13 (1995)
Director: Ron Howard
Writers: William Broyles Jr., Al Reinert (from Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger's book Lost Moon)
Notable Actors: Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Ed Harris, Bill Paxton
I really like films set in space; the comparison between the vast universe and the confines of the ships we puny humans travel in is a fertile scenario for stories. These stories allow us to examine our place in the Solar System (and the universe). Apollo 13, despite having few exterior shots of the ship and the universe behind it, manages to capture this feeling of being adrift in space. It is incredibly tense.
The actual incident of the failed Apollo 13 mission was ripe for storytelling: there are obstacles aplenty, with a clear goal for our characters that the audience completely understands: get back to Earth safely. Hanks, Bacon and Paxton were great at fleshing out characters with their own distinct storylines; Hanks as the main character who has to keep the crew together emotionally, and reconcile himself with not walking on the Moon; Bacon as the last minute member of the crew, who feels he has to defend his choices; and Paxton who becomes increasingly sick during the mission. Their performances are vital to immersing us in the environment of Apollo 13.
You know a film is good when, despite knowing how it ends, you are on the edge of your seat, hoping everything works out. I felt this watching the film: Howard handled the story pace well, giving us a decent amount of build-up to the mission's launch, waiting til Act Two to go into space. I thoroughly enjoyed this, and would recommend as part of a double bill with Cuaron's Gravity (which has greater visuals, but weaker characters and dialogue).