Sandra Bullock: Oscar Frontrunner for Gravity

As Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity” enters its second weekend of sold-out multiplexes across the country, it’s becoming the cinematic event of the year. The space epic may not break the same box office records that “Titanic” did in 1997, but in some ways it’s just as important to the movie business.

“Gravity” arrives at a time when TV is considered more groundbreaking than movies. but “Gravity” isn’t just a celebration of the movies — it’s also a celebration of Sandra Bullock, who has reinvented herself as a formidable dramatic actress. Likely to be nominated in most categories, including Best Picture and Best Director, “Gravity” will propel its star into a frontrunner in the Best Actress race.

Old-Fashioned Star

Like her co-star George Clooney, Bullock is an old-fashioned movie star. Her win for 2010’s “The Blind Side” came out of left field: she wasn’t in a typical Oscar-bait movie, she had never been nominated, and she defeated the great Meryl Streep, nominated for playing Julia Child in “Julie & Julia.” Streep won the award a year later for “The Iron Lady,” defeating favorite that year.

Given how much she’s universally loved by the industry, Bullock could easily win again.

Hollywood’s Most Bankable Actress

Bullock may not enjoy the prestige of Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchet abd Kate Winslet, but she is now the most bankable actress in Hollywood. Since 2009, she’s had four films with a domestic box office gross of more than $100 million (“The Proposal,” “The Blind Side,” “The Heat” and “Gravity”). That’s unprecedented for women. In the same time frame, Angelina Jolie had three hits of that scope (including animated movies), Natalie Portman had two, Meryl Streep had one, and Julia Roberts only had one.

Acting in and for the Future

Bullock’s performance represents the future of acting. The Academy has been nervous about awarding movies that suggest technology could replace actors on the bigscreen. In 2010, the year Bullock won for “The Blind Side,” “Avatar,” the biggest hit of all time, lost to “The Hurt Locker,” and Andy Serkis was not nominated for his motion capture turns in “The Lord of the Rings” or “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” But “Gravity” is different because of Bullock. If the Academy votes for her, the will be acknowledging the future as well as the strong need for movie stars.

Stars and New Technology

Bullock is an excellent spokesperson for the technology. Many voters still don’t understand the craft involved with a movie like “Gravity.” In interviews, Bullock made it clear that she had to act in circles to convince audiences she’s a seasoned astronaut. “It was my job, with all these constraints, to figure out how to be this person,” she said. There’s no denying that Bullock, and not technical wizards, built that character.

Second Oscar in Four Years?

Is being a recent Oscar winner a problem?

It has happened before. Moreover, this year’s best actress race is likely to include nominees who are all previous winners. Bullock will likely compete with Cate Blanchett (“Blue Jasmine”), Meryl Streep (“August: Osage County”), Judi Dench (“Philomena”), Emma Thompson (“Saving Mr. Banks”) and Kate Winslet (“Labor Day”).

Blanchett may be Bullock’s biggest competition with the raves she’s received for her performance in the Woody Allen dramedy.

Everything can change in the next two months, as the Oscar race swings into full gear. But right now, Sandra Bullock is the one to beat.