Know your limits, get an Oscar

Posted by · 1:48 pm · January 4th, 2010

Sandra Bullock in The Blind SideVulture’s Bilge Ebiri has written a nice piece on the circumstances that have led to Sandra Bullock becoming the year’s unlikeliest Oscar contender, citing Bullock’s 2009 achievements as a “primer” for comic actors seeking serious Oscar consideration. And the key, it seems, is not taking the word “serious” too much to heart.

Last month, I wondered why Bullock was gathering Oscar traction this year for a relatively unprestigious film, when a credible dramatic turn in 2005’s Best Picture winner garnered her no awards attention whatsoever.

But while against-type casting can often reap Oscar benefits, Ebiri argues that actors like Bullock fare better when they don’t veer too far from their established screen persona. Her “Blind Side” character, he claims, does just the right level of tweaking:

Leigh Anne Tuohy may be a real person, but she’s not the kind of historical or ripped-from-the-headlines figure that usually attracts awards … After misfires like In Love and War, Bullock learned that maybe she wasn’t cut out to play these kinds of parts. So, in The Blind Side, she takes a character who displays some of the all-American spunk and energy of her own onscreen persona and gives it a more serious twist. She doesn’t try to “lose herself” in the part; moviegoers can recognize the Sandra Bullock they know and love in Leigh Anne.

There’s something to that. The obvious Oscar precedent, of course, is Julia Roberts: “Erin Brockovich” may have been a socially-conscious biopic, but it was immaculately tailored to it’s star’s trademark sass and humor. There was enough artifice in the character’s blue-collar affectations for voters to recognize it as Acting; but it still afforded them the opportunity to reward a beloved star for doing what she’s good at doing.

The difference, of course, is that “Erin Brockovich” was an acclaimed Best Picture nominee from a highly-regarded auteur, while Roberts had some critics’ awards under her belt. Bullock, on the other hand, has only her film’s considerable box-office muscle on her side.

For this reason, I think the pundits claiming Bullock can win (as Ebiri does) are getting a little over-excited. Only two actresses this decade have claimed the Oscar without notching at least one of the major critics’ awards (or at least the National Board of Review) along the way — and Nicole Kidman and Kate Winslet were both widely admired thesps in high-minded Best Picture nominees. I don’t think Meryl Streep and Carey Mulligan need to start looking over their shoulders just yet.

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28 responses so far

  • 1 1-04-2010 at 2:02 pm

    med said...

    The Blind Side i& Bullock performanc are total bore-a-thons. Soooo many actresses gave much richer performances. A nomination for Bullock, unforunately it will mostly likely come to pass. A win, would would turn Oscar into an MTV award.

  • 2 1-04-2010 at 2:03 pm

    m1 said...

    WHY has (500) Days of Summer vanished from the original screenplay sidebar prediction?

    As for Sandra Bullock, she will not win the Oscar. She’s not even a FRONTRUNNER to be NOMINATED!

  • 3 1-04-2010 at 2:08 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    m1: Because Kris is predicting “The Messenger” instead — which makes perfect sense, given its swell of Best Picture buzz.

  • 4 1-04-2010 at 2:15 pm

    /3rtfu11 said...

    I hope she’s nominated.

  • 5 1-04-2010 at 2:17 pm

    Yogsam said...

    i’m just curious to see if she’s really going to be nominated for “Best Actress”
    I really think she don’t deserve to be in it anyway

  • 6 1-04-2010 at 2:26 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    m1: What Guy said, plus, to be perfectly honest, it has always felt like a 40-Year-Old Virgin, Garden State, Knocked Up, Stranger Than Fiction, Bend It Like Beckham type, i.e, an original comedy that gets screenplay buzz, maybe even a guild nod, but just doesn’t have the juice or gravitas to get in with AMPAS.

  • 7 1-04-2010 at 2:28 pm

    SHAAAARK said...

    Ooooooh, I’d love if The Messenger got a Screenplay nod instead of (500) Days of Summer. The latter was amusing, though gimmicky, but the former was absolutely fantastic.

  • 8 1-04-2010 at 2:35 pm

    Ben said...

    “Because Kris is predicting “The Messenger” instead — which makes perfect sense, given its swell of Best Picture buzz.”

    I always say, when in doubt, follow the precursors.

    (So much more reliable than “the buzz”)

  • 9 1-04-2010 at 3:27 pm

    Nicolas Mancuso said...

    I’m about to say something controversial that will perhaps bring me nothing but embarrassment and vitriol on this site. Are you ready?

    I grudgingly went to see “The Blind Side” this weekend, only out of duty to Oscarwatching… and I liked it very, very much! I’m almost ashamed to say that. After all, it’s exactly the same as every other “inspirational sports movie” — I know exactly what was going to happen, and in precisely what order. But John Lee Hancock takes the formula and executes it better than usual. It’s far less schmaltzy, manipulative, and cheesy than most in the genre (though, good god, it is still all those things). All in all, it’s enormously entertaining and satisfying. It’s a film that hits all the notes you want it to.

    Though I would hardly classify Sandra Bullock’s performance as among the very best of the year, she was great, and I wouldn’t have a problem with her being nominated for it (in that Julia Roberts/Erin Brockovich sort of way Guy speaks of).

    All in all, it was absolutely delightful to sit down in a darkened theatre (a packed one, at that, and on Jan. 2!) and temporarily be one of the Muggles, to borrow a phrase from Sasha Stone. The theatregoers I was with loved it — and, god help me, I did too.


  • 10 1-04-2010 at 3:29 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    I still have no opinion on the matter, not having had a chance to see “The Blind Side.”

  • 11 1-04-2010 at 3:33 pm

    Sawyer said...

    I saw it, and it was a mediocre film at best. There have been other feel-good sports stories that were executed much better than this – Coach Carter immediately comes to mind. But Sandra was decent in the role, as was the young actor playing Michael Oher, and if she is nominated, which she most likely will be, it won’t be the travesty of justice some people will claim.

  • 12 1-04-2010 at 4:44 pm

    The Other James D. said...

    I’m surprised at how much I actually enjoyed The Blind Side (B-). And I don’t mind Sandra Bullock becoming Oscar nominee Sandra Bullock, though obviously Tilda Swinton being ignored is pitiful.

    Anyway, as for not winning anything yet–that should all change with the Globes. I doubt Mulligan will win there–it’s reminiscent of Penn last year: great lead performance, but snubbed in every.single.other.category, including Picture. One could argue the same for Bullock, except she’s a star/they’re starfuckers, and more importantly, she’s a dual nominee. They usually tend to win at least one award, although not always. Thus, I suspect that Bullock’s one win will be here.

  • 13 1-04-2010 at 4:49 pm

    The Other James D. said...

    Re: The Messenger: It makes perfect sense, actually, m1. And it begrudges me, as I really enjoyed (500) Days of Summer. And The Messenger is wholly deserving; now with the stock rising for Morton and Picture, I can’t imagine it being snubbed from Screenplay.

    However, I’d much rather “(500)” be snubbed than A Serious Man, which a few Oscar fanatics seem to speculate will happen due it being overlooked in various places. I should hope the Coens have enough pull =P.

    I’ve been wondering though, if it DOES get the shaft in favor of “(500)”/”Messenger”, will it become the “Grand Hotel”-type of nominee (not winner) of our generation? Hmmm….

  • 14 1-04-2010 at 4:52 pm

    Bia said...

    If she somehow wins the Globe and the SAG then she’ll be pretty unstoppable…but that’s a big IF. A nomination is certain, but a win is not…

  • 15 1-04-2010 at 4:55 pm

    Rafael said...

    Nicolas Mancuso, I couldn´t agree more! I really enjoyed the movie and I had a great experience watching it. I know it has flaws and everything, but I don´t care. I wish there were more films like The blind side making money and breaking boxoffice records and less Tranformers and other movies like that. Bullock is great in the movie and deserves a nomination. Not the win, but a nomination. I also loved Tilda Swinton in Julia. It would make me really happy to see her nominated.

  • 16 1-04-2010 at 5:35 pm

    SJG said...

    I haven’t seen the Blind Side and I’m not in any hurry to, but I have to agree with Rafael that at least we’re seeing a movie like this get SOME kind of attention… I’m getting sick of the only popularly acclaimed movies being mindless big-budget blockbusters and the only critically acclaimed ones being self-consciously “serious” and “artsy” fare that underperform financially.

    Maybe this Blind Side fervor will lead to genuinely high-quality “middle-of-the-road” type movies that combine the more traditional filmmaking and storytelling styles with broad popular appeal. I can imagine the success of this movie, as well as some awards attention for a major player in the production, might lead some unknown Frank Capra type to gain some attention in Hollywood, instead of just James Camerons and Steven Soderberghs.

    There seems to be an ever wider divide between popular successes and critical successes, and maybe the success of the Blind Side can start the process of bridging the gap a little…

  • 17 1-04-2010 at 5:48 pm

    Andrew said...

    @Guy Lodge
    Let me do you a favor and tell you not to see it.

    It was a big snooze and had nothing original in it at all.

    I was going to give Bullock a chance, but after seeing it I just didn’t think she was that good. She was the typical mother, disciplinarian that was “sassy” and didn’t care what the other mothers thought of her.

  • 18 1-04-2010 at 6:03 pm

    Zé said...

    People are more OK than usual praising this kind of movie due to the acclaim it’s getting for Bullock. It’s like “what a relief, she’s getting nominated, I can say good things about the movie”. It’s mediocre at best, movies like these are made every year and performances like Bullock’s are seen in almost any movie with non-terrible actors. Why oh why did this gain steam for her to get the freaking nomination she’s getting?

    Awards wise, I seriously doubt she’ll win anything. I still say Mulligan gets the Globe. She reminds me very much of Blanchett back in 1999 with Elizabeth. They even give off the same vibe if you think of it. Suffice to say, she has what it takes to make a classy speech and she’ll look great on the runway. Of course, runner-up is “Sandy” (I cringe at the name). I’m fighting hard to predict Bullock for the Globe but I’m gonna believe the globes still have a hint of taste and prestige and won’t go overboard with giving a soon-to-be washed-out star one of its awards.

  • 19 1-04-2010 at 6:10 pm

    KBJr. said...

    If George Clooney can be nominated for playing…George Clooney. Why can’t Sandra be nominated for playing Sandra?

    I thought “The Blind Side” was an entertaining movie (not very memorable)…I kept waiting for the moment when her performance would justify all the Oscar talk, but it never happened. I thought “Up In The Air” was disappointing (and not memorable)…and I kept waiting for Clooney to merit Oscar talk, and it never came…so it’s my opinion that if George can coast to a nomination for doing essentially what Sandra has done, what’s the big friggin’ deal?

    Either nominate them both, or none at all.

  • 20 1-04-2010 at 11:21 pm

    Encore Entertainment said...

    I am surprised at all this traction and love Bullock is getting, and I can’t help but resent the comparison’s to Julia’s Erin Brockovich. Tailored to her talents surely, but The Blind Side was just a misstep on all accounts for me. There is nothing in The Blind Side to equal some Julia’s poignant line readings and accurate character judgements. Of course in retrospect she can’t help but seem a villian for “stealing” Ellen Burstyn’s Oscar [whatever] but the quickness with which people have jumped on the Bullock bandwagon with Roberts as a citation is just a bit too unnerving. Hopefully she’s the Oscar surprise and gets left off the ballot.

    And to KBJ, that’s like justifying murder. Because one person kills, I’ll kill too. Sure, Clooney does the same thing much [don’t like him either] but A) they’re not even in the same categories and B) two wrongs don’t make a right. Not even close.

  • 21 1-05-2010 at 1:42 am

    the other mike said...

    the success of The Blind Side should be a lesson to all of us, people dont want to watch pretentious waffle that most critics salivate over, they want to watch real shit, that most critics condescend.

  • 22 1-05-2010 at 1:44 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    “they want to watch real shit”

    That could be read in two very different ways ;)

  • 23 1-05-2010 at 2:42 am

    lucy said...

    If Bullock gets nominated for Blind Side ahead of Cornish(who in my opinion gave the 3rd best performance of the year after Streep and Mirren), the Academy will lose credibility big time, Academy Awards are not MTV Video or Movie Awards, they are respected organization that should based on performance not on Box Office or popularity.

  • 24 1-05-2010 at 9:47 pm

    jake said...

    There is no actress who has had two films gross over 150 million dollars in one year, no female led film that has grossed over 200 million. Sandra Bullock is the female star of the year and gives the performance of the year — just compare her performance in the proposal and the blind side and you will see what a versatile actress she is and why she should win. She was excellent in Crash and I assume well loved in Hollywood. If Reese Witherspoon can win for a nothing performance (but previous great performances), Sandra Bullock can certainly win for giving a no holds barred performance that is also a true to life story.

  • 25 1-05-2010 at 9:49 pm

    james said...

    I’m sorry but does anyone else think that Cary Mulligan in An Education is such an overrated performance? I pick Sandra or Meryl for the win, a Mulligan win is just insane.

  • 26 1-06-2010 at 2:44 am

    lucy said...

    Academy Awards are not about Box Office it is about performance that truly worthy, If Bullock gets nominated meaning the Academy is already a big joke , there are about 5 women not even destined to get nominated that are way better than her performance in the most cliched film Blind Side.

  • 27 1-06-2010 at 7:01 am

    Luke said...

    You’re right it’s not about box office — it’s about performance and if you have seen the blind side as so many of us has — Sandra Bullock gives the performance of her career. Why is it a joke because she is primarily known as a comedic actor and comedy is not oscar worthy? That’s crazy talk.
    the joke nomination to me is Carey mulligan.

  • 28 1-06-2010 at 7:05 am

    Anna said...

    Sandra Bullock is amazing in both the blind side and the proposal and she should be nominated and she should win. She should have been nominated for Crash as well.