Grantland award-season columnist Mark Harris, who seems to file every three weeks or so, has embraced the popular view that Alfonso Cuaron‘s Gravity is a Best Picture lock as well as the admittedly popular but curious view that Sandra Bullock is all but guaranteed a Best Actress nomination. I accept the latter scenario but can’t understand what everyone is so excited about. Unless everyone is secretly embracing the Sasha Stone view that it’s a very significant thing for a 49 year-old actress to carry a huge film like Gravity and lend a certain emotional quality and obviously contribute to its success, and that a vote for Bullock is a vote for better, stronger roles for 45-and-older women, which I agree with. I just don’t get what’s so great about her performance. Because all I get from it are needles.
Agreement: “Like all effective Best Picture candidates, Gravity will get its nomination by pulling together diverse Academy factions,” Harris writes. “Like all real contenders, it’s a fusion candidate, the ideal nominee for what might now be called the Life of Pi coalition. It will attract L.A. types who like their spectacle flavored with a kind of benevolent nondenominational mysticism; craft-category voters who will likely power the film to nominations for sound mixing, sound editing, visual effects, editing, and cinematography; meat-and-potatoes folks who believe that the Academy should reward massive mainstream entertainment and not just whatever grim little tumbleweed happened to roll out of Sundance; techno-progressives who want to support a movie that does something new (or at least new enough); and directors who will respect the integrity and persistence of Cuaron’s vision. A nominee for writing Y Tu Mama Tambien and for writing and editing Children of Men, he should finally find himself in the Best Director race for this one.”
Head-scratcher: “Unless she is photographed making out with Ted Cruz, [Bullock] will likely coast to a second nomination for her showcasey, largely solo starring role in Gravity,” Harris notes. “It’s a part she has the good taste and shrewd instinct to underplay even when all she gets to use is her face; whatever is going on in the mind of the stranded astronaut she portrays, it doesn’t appear to be ‘This is a tour de force for me! What shall I wear on the red carpet?'” Underplay? As I’ve pointed out too often, Bullock uses a lot more than her face in Gravity. She uses her voice quite repetitively and annoyingly with 45 or 50 “aahh!” sounds during the first 20 minutes or so. “I’ve no patience with a central protagonist in a tough spot who won’t stop going ‘aahh!’ and who seems incapable of grabbing and holding onto anything,” I wrote on 10.7. “I can’t believe in a person like this. I want a hero who does his or her best to hold it in and concentrate on the task at hand so he/she can survive, dammit. I want stoic, gritty resolve.”
Sidenote: I like Harris’s equating the rudiments of Bullock and Clooney’s above-the-earth existence — weightless, airless, soundless, terrific views — with “benevolent nondenominational mysticism.” He’s indicating that a link between cosmic consciousness and space travel is more or less a given for any halfway sensitive astronaut or watcher of Gravity. It’s therefore interesting that between the two leads, George Clooney‘s Kowalski, a veteran of many orbital missions who exudes an almost blase attitude, is more touched and awestruck by the general visual splendor and above-the-earth serenity than Bullock’s Dr. Ryan Stone. Or he is, at least, during two poignant moments, the second and final just before his string runs out. Bullock’s basic mentality before the debris strikes and all hell breaks loose is “uhhm, yeah, okay, it’s beautiful up here but let’s get this technology replaced.” After the disaster her basic response is “aahh!” followed by “oh, no, woe is me!” and then “eenie-meeny-miney-moe.”
I want to hear this general subject kicked around in a chat between Harris and Nebraska director Alexander Payne, who recently described Gravity as “Sandra Bullock in the haunted house, but in space.”