Total Recall: Sandra Bullock's Best Movies
We run down the best-reviewed work of the Proposal star.
Her rise to fame in the mid '90s was followed by a box office drought so profound that it was hard not to wonder if she'd ever find her way out of it -- but the 21st century has been pretty good to Sandra Bullock so far, granting her successes both commercial (Miss Congeniality, Two Weeks Notice) and critical (Crash). To celebrate her resurgence, as well as the arrival of her latest romantic comedy (The Proposal, co-starring Ryan Reynolds) in theaters this weekend, we decided to devote this week's Total Recall to a look back at Ms. Bullock's 10 best-reviewed films!
As always, we spun the dials on the Tomatometer and allowed the world's finest film critics to do the work for us, lining up Bullock's films according to the amount of critical adulation they received. (Translation: Two if by Sea did not make the list.) With a long list of movies on her résumé, it's a safe bet that whether you enjoy Speed-style action or romantic comedies like While You Were Sleeping, our Sandra Bullock Total Recall will have something for you. Count down with us, and then visit her complete filmography for a closer look at her career!
The lack of high-quality roles for female actors in major Hollywood films isn't exactly a secret -- and it's precisely why any time a "woman's movie" comes along, you can pretty much count on a passel of A-list talent showing up for the casting call. Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood did not disappoint, enlisting Ellen Burstyn, Maggie Smith, Ashley Judd, and Sandra Bullock to help Callie Khouri bring Rebecca Wells' bestselling novel (adapted here by Mark Andrus) to the big screen. Though critics weren't overly impressed with the results -- the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw asked "What have we done to deserve this treacly, badly-acted nonsense? Whose children have we run over in a previous life?" -- Ya-Ya still managed to continue a limited career resurgence for Bullock, bridging the commercial success of 2000's Miss Congeniality with 2002's Two Weeks Notice. Many critics were also careful to make the distinction between the film's shortcomings and the cast's strengths; as Scott Nash of Three Movie Buffs wrote, "there are some truly great actresses in this movie, but nearly all of them are wasted playing caricatures." Ultimately, it was a movie that understood its target demographic and was willing to forsake broad appeal in order to reach it -- something noted by Rob Gonsalves of eFilmCritic, who wrote, "I heard something in the audience for Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood I don't hear often anymore: the sound of middle-aged women laughing."
After making a name for herself with Speed and While You Were Sleeping, Bullock seemed a little unsure of what she should do with it, and spent the remainder of the decade teetering from one misbegotten project to the next. This dark period included such infamous duds as The Net, Two If by Sea, and Speed 2: Cruise Control, and after awhile, it seemed like she was destined to fade into obscurity. Truth be told, 1999's Forces of Nature -- a romantic comedy which cast her as a vaguely punky, heavily mascaraed free spirit who fills a straight-laced Ben Affleck with doubts about his impending marriage to Maura Tierney -- didn't really do anything to reverse this skid; though it topped the box office during its opening weekend, Nature was released in the middle of March, when pickings are slim and moviegoers tend to show up for just about anything (example: Patch Adams and Message in a Bottle, which hit #1 earlier in the year). In addition to fading fast at the cineplex, Nature left most critics underwhelmed; responses ran the gamut from breezily dismissive (TV Guide's Maitland McDonagh called it "slackly paced") to downright hostile (Time's Richard Corliss deemed it "DreamWorks' first reprehensible fiasco"). Amidst all the slings and arrows, however, were some kind words for Bullock's work, which many writers enjoyed more than the movie itself. As Margaret C. McGurk of the Cincinnati Enquirer wrote, "her natural charm dances off the screen with giddy abandon. Unfortunately, the movie lets her down."
It was directed by Peter Bogdanovich and featured River Phoenix in one of his last roles, but neither of those things were enough to prevent The Thing Called Love from suffering a quick and ignominous defeat at the box office, grossing a little over $1 million against a paltry $14 million budget. Of course, commercial disappointments were nothing new for Bogdanovich -- in Channel 4 Film's review for The Thing Called Love, the reviewer noted that "his curse seems to be that his work will forever be unfashionable" -- but with a talented young cast and a plot that revolved around the lives of aspiring country musicians during a time when the genre was experiencing a Garth Brooks-fueled resurgence, this would have seemed a relatively safe bet, especially with cameos from country stars with both commercial clout (Trisha Yearwood, Pam Tillis) and artistic cred (K.T. Oslin, Kevin Welch). Most importantly (for the purposes of our list, anyway), Love features an early performance from an on-the-cusp Sandra Bullock, appearing as Linda Lue Linden, a Nashville hopeful who befriends the movie's central character, Miranda Presley (played by Samantha Mathis). As you might guess, it's a movie where nothing terribly earth-shattering happens, but it's still got its director's famous touch; as Geoff Andrew of Time Out wrote, "Bogdanovich's modest staging is occasionally awkward -- his kids still watch John Wayne movies at the drive-in -- but there's a convincing sense of what Nashville's like and how country music works."
With a cast that included Robert Duvall, Richard Harris, and Shirley MacLaine, Wrestling Ernest Hemingway should have been able to amass more than the paltry $278,000 it grossed during its theatrical run, and should have provided Sandra Bullock with a perfectly pleasant, down-to-earth dramatic counterweight to her appearance in Demolition Man earlier in the year. Alas, Hemingway never found its audience -- although it did earn a number of positive reviews from critics who appreciated the way Randa Haines' gentle look at a pair of lonely senior citizens (written by Steve Conrad) made the most of Duvall and Harris' considerable gifts. Here, Bullock fills the role typically assigned young actresses in movies about old men -- namely, that of the sweet and innocent muse (in this case, a waitress named Elaine) who is the unwitting object of a retiree's affection. Though understandably not the focus of the movie -- TV Guide's review described her simply as "pretty" -- Bullock made the most of an early opportunity to share screen time with some real heavyweights in a movie that, whatever its flaws, didn't allow its stars to hide behind adrenalized action sequences or special effects. As Scott Renshaw wrote in his review, "Wrestling Ernest Hemingway is melodramatic, and its pacing is rather slow, but it is also filled with fine acting and quirky but believable relationships, and ultimately proves quite satisfying."
The year before Speed turned her into a household name, Sandra Bullock scored a supporting role in Demolition Man, a future-set, Joel Silver-produced action extravaganza that pitted Sylvester Stallone against Wesley Snipes in a battle so big that even Sting showed up for the soundtrack. (Possibly just for the opportunity to repurpose an old Police tune as a solo track, but still.) As corrections officer Lenina Huxley, Bullock gave Stallone his most adorably diminutive co-star since Estelle Getty in Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot -- and her character's fascination with icky 20th-century culture helped inject a touch of relatability (and, let's face it, sex appeal) into what would otherwise have been just your garden-variety blockbuster about two impossibly built dudes blowing stuff up as they try to kill each other with the fate of the world hanging in the balance. While not a classic by any stretch, Demolition Man lived up to the mayhem implied in its title, increased Bullock's profile at the box office, and earned begrudging approval from critics like Chris Hicks of the Deseret News, who wrote, "with Snipes giving his role everything he's got -- a considerable amount by any measure -- and with some amusing bits tying together the action scenes, there is plenty of eye candy at work here, which should satisfy action fans."