Yesterday Forbes published their annual list of the top-grossing actresses of the year. They figure in gross earnings and endorsement deals and everything. The list is as follows: 10. Kristen Stewart 9. Natalie Portman 8. Amy Adams 7. Scarlett Johansson 6. Cameron Diaz 5. Angelina Jolie 4. Gwyneth Paltrow 3. Jennifer Aniston 2. Jennifer Lawrence 1. Sandra Bullock. So here's Matthew Eng chasing our very tiny recent Sandra fest with this climactic love letter. - Nathaniel
I don’t particularly get people who don’t like Sandra Bullock.
Yes, the 82nd Best Actress statuette deserves to be sitting comfortably somewhere on Gabourey Sidibe’s mantelpiece and yes, The Blind Side is a pretty foul piece of limo-liberal fabling. Yes, she is a performer of some obvious limitations that are strikingly evident in even her strongest comedic performances. And yes, she has given us All About Steve and The Proposal and the Miss Congenialitys and Two Weeks Notice and all those other “duds” we love to roll our eyes at in public almost as much as we love to sheepishly watch them in private whenever they pop up on FX or Lifetime or HBO.
I’m more than happy to make couch potato time for Two Weeks Notice, a funny/frisky valentine to New York that’s patently flawed but genuinely sentimental, and even The Proposal, a ridiculous container of rom-com contrivances that would make Kate Hudson cringe, but which has plenty of good moments to spare. No, I haven’t yet laid an eye on All About Steve, which is likely for the better, but I do own While You Were Sleeping and Miss Congeniality, and I’ve sat through the latter’s sequel, um, three, maybe four times.
Why am I glued to these movies when I still have so many unseen Bergmans? [more...]
Why do I choose to endure Ryan Reynolds’ whingeing or the groan-inducing appearances of that ham-hocked scene-snatcher William Shatner, time and time again? Why am I sitting here, watching that bonkers drag performance of “Rollin’ on a River” from Miss Congeniality Part Deux for the twentieth time when I haven’t seen The Godfather: Part II even once?
The answer is always, and resoundingly, Sandra.
I love Sandra Bullock, but not in the way one necessarily loves a Meryl or even a Julia Roberts. Sandra has clear, commendable gifts as an actress, including an extraordinary playfulness with line readings, a sure and professional sense of scene-to-scene generosity with even the most dire of co-stars, and the way in which she can allow the subtlest, fleeting shade of sadness or disappointment or ruefulness to flicker across her face during a scene and hook you instantly into a lame character and an even lamer vehicle.
But for me, there’s something deeper about Sandra’s specific talents, something possibly even more worthy of praise than just plainly being “good” in one’s performance. She’s perhaps our savviest commercial actress, one who can easily locate the needs of her project, and adjust her performance accordingly. She has become a beacon of commercial entertainment for being so accommodating, for providing the right type of performance, and committing so fully yet unfussily to even the most backward of entertainments. To be even remotely watchable, these humdrum, middle-of-the-road movies all but require a performer of consistency and dedication, who’s not going to simply play along and wink-wink-nudge-nudge her way out of the affair, constantly reminding us of how much better she is than this script or that director, but who’s willing to devote herself to the character at-hand, to track and telegraph her goals, desires, emotions, and transformations, albeit not so earnestly so as to come off less serious than self-serious.
It’s a trickier task than we’re often willing to admit, and to say that Sandra pulls it off with reliable aplomb and an admirable nimbleness is only skimming the surface of her accomplishments. She’s so poignantly lonely and quietly, gorgeously desperate for closeness in While You Were Sleeping, but also able to balance prickliness, passion, and neuroticism with such deft comedic sensibility in Miss Congeniality and Two Weeks Notice, where her games of nasty-funny verbal badinage with co-star Hugh Grant in the latter are tart-tasting candy for rom-com apologists. She’s an excellent Straight Man to Melissa McCarthy’s wild card in The Heat, but rather than merely cede the entire movie over to her formidable partner, Bullock forces her to grapple for jokes and scenes, keeping the humor alive and kicking, but also strengthening the film’s punchy, fully-developed central relationship. She’s done the buddy cop routine before, to drastically lesser effect, in the Congeniality sequel, where she and the atrociously undervalued Regina King refuse to play down to the limp material at-hand but rather invest it with confident, jocular commitment. Not even Don Cheadle could rescue the fundamentally false character notes of Crash, but it’s hard not to respect Sandra for trying her damnedest in the first place, applying herself completely to flushed, all-consuming anger in a way that managed to be interesting in spite of its inexplicability precisely because we’d never seen her try it before. And if Dr. Ryan Stone, surely her most daring career choice to date, isn’t exactly the acting tour de force it could’ve been, Bullock is nonetheless supremely indispensable to our emotional investment in Gravity, since who wants to see Sandra, with her dogged spirit and supple on-screen emotionality, die a gruesome space death?
So where, we must ask, does Sandra go from here?
That rumored Heat sequel is surely just a put-on, and she’s publically expressed her disinterest in it anyway. Her next high-profile gig is a central supervillian role in the Despicable Me spin-off The Minions, which should at least give her the chance to do some animated, entertaining character work. And while the jury’s still out on Tate Taylor, I hope his biopic of pioneering Tupperware entrepreneur Brownie Wise, which Sandra’s attached to, allows her to stretch herself in an exciting, period-specific context. It gives me some honest-to-goodness joy to sit in a theater and see that badge of honor-cum-actor qualifier “Academy Award Winner” preceding her name during trailers. I’m glad that Oscar has enabled her to challenge herself with the type of higher-profile directors like Stephen Daldry and Alfonso Cuarón who would’ve never taken a chance on her during the untested first act of her career. Hopefully this ambitious streak continues during the second half of a career that’s teaming a new desire to experiment with a timeless talent for playing the classy, carefree crowd-pleaser we’ve known and loved for over twenty years.
I hope she does whatever the hell she wants to do. Because she deserves to. And we’ll be there.