Everyone has a year that they can look back on and say: “Oh yeah, that was a good year.” I would rate every year that I wasn’t in junior high school as a good year. I’m going to guess that Sandra Bullock’s banner year was 2009.
In 2009, Bullock was in three movies, two of which were huge, and one of those won her an Academy Award. 2009 was the year of The Proposal, All About Steve, and The Blind Side. Let’s just forget about All About Steve. It was one of the worst films of the year. The Proposal was a lot of fun, and then there was The Blind Side.
This film is based on a fascinating book of the same name by Michael Lewis—an author who has contributed almost as many movie ideas to Hollywood as the comic book industry. Three of his non-fiction books have been turned into outstanding movies, including The Blind Side, Moneyball (2011) and The Big Short (2015).
The story of The Blind Side is a fascinating example of how odd skills or unusual situations develop into highly valuable commodities. In the 1980s, the New York Giants had one of the best football players in history on their team—their ferocious right linebacker Lawrence Taylor. Taylor’s almost freakish combination of physical gifts (speed, strength, and size) made him a terror to NFL quarterbacks. He attacked from the defense’s right side (the offense’s left side). Since almost all quarterbacks are right-handed, that meant that when they throw, their left shoulder drops as they turn to throw. As a result, the left side becomes their blind side, and pow! There you are on the ground with Lawrence Taylor standing over you, laughing, and you’re not quite sure what happened to you.
The offensive player whose job it is to stop the right linebacker is the left tackle. Because the quarterback is the most valuable player on any team, that suddenly made the left tackle in many cases the second most valuable player on the offense. And indeed, left tackles frequently are among the best-paid players in the NFL. Which is kind of amusing because these guys don’t look like athletic gods. Left tackles look more like sumo wrestlers or the guy who ordered four cheeseburgers sitting next to you chomping away while you’re having an Egg McMuffin with egg whites only.
Lewis’ book focused in on one such left tackle, the Baltimore Ravens’ Michael Oher. It’s a dramatic and inspiring story of Oher’s journey to the NFL, and the movie does the story a fair amount of justice. Sandra Bullock was offered the lead role of Leigh Anne Tuohy, the wealthy suburban housewife who took Oher in to raise him as her own, helped him stabilize his life, and saw to it that he was able to go off to college. The role was originally offered to Julia Roberts, who turned it down. Bullock, in fact, also turned down the role three times, but changed her mind when she met Tuohy in person.
It’s a wonderful family movie. And it is also Bullock’s finest performance. Her steely Southern mom is believable, compassionate, and no-nonsense. She won the Academy Award for Best Actress, and, frankly, I think she genuinely deserved it.
Bullock has an innately likable screen presence. She comes across as the immensely fun and pretty neighbor who grew up across the street from you, or the girl you talked to in the cafeteria at lunchtime and then forgot to ask out. Likability is one of her greatest problems, however, in the movies. Bullock is too often cast in bad movies that you end up watching anyway because, well, heck, she’s just so darn likable. Bullock has made some real stinkers (Miss Congeniality 2 (2005), Speed 2: Cruise Control, Forces of Nature (1999)… oh, I could go on and on). And guess what? I watched every one of them because, well, like most of America, I like her.
She does have, however, a number of actually-good movies that are worth watching, sometimes if only because she rises so significantly above the rest of the film. Here are my favorites.
This science fiction comedy was Bullock’s breakthrough picture. Sylvester Stallone and Wesley Snipes are two cryogenically-unfrozen enemy combatants in a dystopian crime-ridden future, and Bullock is the sensible voice of reason and comic relief. The movie’s plot is silly almost beyond description, and Bullock gives the audience the wink it needs to know to not take it too seriously.
This is one of my favorite action movies of all time—right up there with Die Hard (1988). Here Bullock is the nice girl from Santa Monica who is just trying to get to work on the Big Blue Bus when she gets caught up in a bombing plot from an evil genius played by Dennis Hopper. Keanu Reeves shows up on the bus in an inventive way and saves the day with Bullock’s help. Spoiler alert: she doesn’t end up getting to work on time, but she does get to make out with Reeves in a subway construction site in Hollywood. Bravo!
If you haven’t seen this romantic comedy, you really need to ask yourself what better things you were doing on all those evenings when you could have popped this one into your DVD player. Bullock is a hard-charging publishing exec from Canada who needs to get married to stay in the US and continue her career of being mean to her assistants. Ryan Reynolds is charming as male lead. Betty White is the salty grandma. I worked with Betty on a long-forgotten sitcom in the late 1990s, and she was everything you would expect her to be and more: funny, professional and salty. Is this one of the great romantic comedies of all time? No. Absolutely not. But it is relentlessly charming and fun. It stands on top of Bullock’s romantic comedy work, and is better than even the very good Two Weeks Notice (2007) co-starring Hugh Grant.
I remember watching this gripping science fiction thriller from the magnificent Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron and thinking: “Ah hah! The job that Sandra Bullock was trying to get to in Speed was an astronaut training program!” Bullock’s character here, Dr. Ryan Stone, is forced to bring a spaceship back to earth after a catastrophic accident, and she comes across as the serious, grown-up version of the character she played in Speed. She is alone on the screen for much of the movie and turns in a brilliant performance. The cinematography in this film is spectacular and is by Cuaron’s fellow countryman Emmanuel Lubezki.
Oh, those Minions. They are so darn adorable and weird! Okay, so this isn’t a great movie. But it has Minions in it, and it’s pretty funny, and Bullock voiced the comically-evil Scarlet Overkill. Jon Hamm voices her husband, Herb Overkill. This is foolishness of the highest order. Look, it’s been a rough week. Order a pizza and sit on the couch and watch this movie, then go to bed early and get some sleep. You’ll feel so much better in the morning.
David Raether is a veteran TV writer and essayist. He worked for 12 years as a television sitcom writer/producer, including a 111-episode run on the ground-breaking ABC comedy “Roseanne.” His essays have been published by Salon.com, The Times of London, and Longforms.org, and have been lauded by The Atlantic Magazine and the BBC World Service. His memoir, Homeless: A Picaresque Memoir from Our Times, is awaiting publication.