Here is a question that is ambiguous and difficult to parse: “You wanna watch a Sandra Bullock movie?”
What I mean is: If I ask you whether you want to watch a Liam Neeson movie, then probably what I’m really asking you is, “Hey, do you wanna watch a movie where a guy has to kill a bunch of people because something bad was done to someone in his family?” Or if I ask you whether you want to watch a Jennifer Aniston movie, then probably what I’m really asking you is, “Hey, do you wanna watch a movie where a woman is in a relationship with a man and some funny stuff happens and also some less funny stuff happens?” Or if I ask you whether you want to watch a Morris Chestnut movie, then probably what I’m asking you is, “Hey, do you wanna watch a movie where a very handsome man has to deal with the reverb of being a very handsome man?”
Now, there are certainly movies in each of those actors’ filmographies that stand as exceptions to those categorizations, but, as a general statement, the sentiment rings true and feels true.
That’s not the case with Sandra Bullock, though. If I ask you whether you want to watch a Sandra Bullock movie, the only thing guaranteed by the phrase “a Sandra Bullock movie” is that Sandra Bullock will be in it. Beyond that, basically everything is open. She has done so many different things, and played so many different roles, in so many different, opposing ways. To wit:
She plays a cool, unflappable, stylish ex-felon in the new Ocean’s 8 movie, which comes out on Friday, so there’s that kind of Sandra Bullock movie now. But she also played the exact opposite of that role (an uncool, rigid, only-wears-turtlenecks homicide detective) in Murder by Numbers in 2002, so there’s that kind of Sandra Bullock movie, too. (Murder by Numbers is a fun movie that, despite being mostly forgotten and also mostly derided by critics, has enough neat little moments in it to give it a very high rewatchability factor.) (Ryan Gosling is one of the bad guys in it, for one.) (And there’s a twist ending, for two.) (And Bullock, who otherwise possesses an ocean’s worth of charisma, leans the whole other way in it. It’s one of the rare times when she decides to be anticharismatic as an actor, which, oddly enough, ends up making her feel even more charismatic as a human.)
She played the white savior role in 2009’s The Blind Side, in which she and her husband befriend a black high school student (Michael) and eventually become his legal guardians, so there’s that kind of Sandra Bullock movie. But she also played a wealthy socialite who was afraid of people of color and began to actively discriminate against them in 2004’s Crash, so there’s that kind of Sandra Bullock movie, too. (Let me point out three contrasting things here:  In The Blind Side, Bullock’s character has a very molasses-mouth Southern accent. In Crash, her character has a very crisply enunciated Northern accent.  In The Blind Side, there’s a scene in which she finds Michael walking alone late one night and decides that she wants him to sleep at her family’s house. In Crash, there’s a scene in which, after a company sends a Latino man to change the locks in her home, she demands that her husband have the locks changed again, and this time tell the locksmith company not to send a “gang member” to her house.  Crash is probably a bad movie, but Bullock’s performance in it is first class. She was exactly the right amount of entitled, exactly the right amount of rude, and exactly the right amount of prejudiced. All told, it made for a movie character who was excessively unlikable, but in a way that only the most talented kind of actor or actress can pull off. It was all the opposite of The Blind Side, in which there was no nuance or gradation; it felt like you were watching someone tell a story about how great of a person they are. Bullock’s character there felt more likable than her Crash character, but acting that way hinted at zero percent of Bullock’s skill.)
She was in a movie where she played a heart-eyes’d law enforcement person who wanted to be tougher than she was (1993’s Demolition Man), so there’s that kind of Sandra Bullock movie. And she was in a movie where she played a gun-eye’d law enforcement person who wanted to be more delicate than she was (2000’s Miss Congeniality and 2005’s Miss Congeniality 2: Armed & Fabulous), so there’s that kind of Sandra Bullock movie, too.
She was in a movie where someone tries to make a thing sink (1997’s Speed 2: Cruise Control), so there’s that kind of Sandra Bullock movie. And she was in a movie where someone tries to make a thing float (1998’s Hope Floats), so there’s that kind of Sandra Bullock movie, too.
She was in a movie where she felt like her boss was taking advantage of her and making her do things that were not part of her job (2002’s Two Weeks Notice), so there’s that kind of Sandra Bullock movie. And she was in a movie where she was the boss and was making her assistant (Ryan Reynolds) do things that were not part of his job (2009’s The Proposal). (Three contrasting things here that are interesting:  In Two Weeks Notice, Hugh Grant, who plays the guy who eventually becomes Bullock’s boss, wiggles his way into hiring her by offering her a salary of $250,000. In The Proposal, Bullock pressures her assistant into marrying her so that she can stay working in the United States and not get deported back to Canada. She finds out later that, in addition to potential prison time, there’s also a $250,000 fine if you’re caught faking a marriage for citizenship purposes.  In both Two Weeks Notice and The Proposal, Sandy falls in love with the men opposite her. In The Proposal, though, the man is handsome, while in Two Weeks Notice, the man is not.  “Two weeks notice” is a phrase that signals the end of something. “The proposal” is a phrase that signals the beginning of something.)
She was in a movie where she tried to navigate the time side of the space-time continuum (2006’s The Lake House, where she mailed letters back and forth through time to Keanu Reeves), so there’s that kind of Sandra Bullock movie. And she was in a movie where she tried to navigate the space side of the space-time continuum (2013’s Gravity), so there’s that kind of Sandra Bullock movie, too.
A quick note about The Lake House: I am, in nearly all instances, a fan of romance movies. The Lake House is no different. It is confusing and it is befuddling and there are, I would guess, something like 200,000 holes in it. That said, Sandra is great in it and Keanu is great in it.
Another quick note, except this one’s about Keanu: Sandra is obviously great in romantic comedies, and those roles in her career should always be celebrated. But so, too, surprisingly, is Keanu Reeves. And I don’t mean to say that The Lake House is a romantic comedy, because it absolutely is not—one of the core pieces of the movie is that Keanu is already dead when Sandra falls in love with him, and Keanu being dead is neither romantic nor comedic. But he’s in Something’s Gotta Give, a definite romantic comedy, and he’s excellent in that. And also he has a new one coming out with Winona Ryder that looks like it’s going to be wonderful, if for no other reason than because he speaks with the same pacing and timbre and delivery that he’s had in the John Wick movies.
One last note: Gravity is, indisputably, Sandra Bullock’s greatest performance. She is left abandoned in the vastness of space and asked to carry an entire $100 million movie—one where she’s not asked to be funny, and not asked to be sassy, and not asked to be clever, and not asked to be dark, and not asked to be harrowing, and not asked to be biting, and not asked to be endearing, and not asked to be eager, and not asked to be hapless or helpless, and not asked to be cool. She’s only asked to be profound, which is possibly the biggest thing you can be asked to be. And she’s pitch perfect in it.
Watch that Sandra Bullock movie, certainly.
Watch any Sandra Bullock movie, really.