More serious than People’s Sexiest Man Alive, less prestigious than Time’s Person of the Year, Entertainment Weekly’s annual selection for Entertainer of the Year is one of those oddly intangible magazine-cover accolades — not quite an award, not quite a personal tribute — that may not mean much individually, but is usually indicative of a larger wave of audience and industry appreciation. On the one hand, it congratulates the recipient on a very good year; on the other, it anticipates still better things to come.
EW’s Entertainer of the Year 2013, then? Sandra Bullock. Well, of course.
As it so often is, the choice seemed something of a no-brainer this year. At an age (49, unbelievable as that sounds) when all too many of her female contemporaries are sent packing either too television or marginal mom roles by the industry, Bullock has headlined two of the year’s top 13 highest grossers; between them, “Gravity” and “The Heat” have raked in over $405 million (and counting, of course) Stateside. More impressively still, she connected with the public in two films that couldn’t be more opposed in terms of style and genre — knockabout star comedy and auteur-driven space thriller — and has essentially secured herself an Oscar nomination for one of them. Bam.
If that’s pretty much a textbook formula for Entertainer of the Year status, it’s not the first time Bullock has followed it. The actress is now the first person ever to be tapped twice for the honor by EW in its 24-year history. The first time, of course, was in 2009, when a mid-career resurgence in a high-grossing comedy (“The Proposal”) and even higher-grossing drama (“The Blind Side”) made her the obvious choice. It was an auspicious selection: three months later, Bullock held up her first Best Actress Oscar.
Could history repeat itself? As far as EW’s honor goes, Bullock is an even stronger candidate than she was in 2009. If that was a year in which she pluckily reinforced her star stature by rising above two rather mediocre vehicles, 2013 delivered a one-two of better films and better performances. Buoyed by its snappy screenplay and her lightning chemistry with Melissa McCarthy, “The Heat” is exemplary studio comedy; her delightful work in it has inevitably been dwarfed by “Gravity,” a risky blockbuster art film, unlike anything else on its star’s CV, that has grown into a bona fide phenomenon.
In doing so, it’s converted a lot of skeptics to Bullock’s fan club. Her 2009 Oscar win was wholly a gesture of industry affection, a rare case of the Academy acting without the backing of even middlebrow critical approval. This time, the critics’ backing of “Gravity” gives her extra clout: unlike “The Blind Side” (a rare case of a film that scored a Best Picture nod on its star’s coattails, rather than vice versa), it’s set to be a major presence in the awards season.
With all that in mind, should the presumptive Best Actress frontrunner, Cate Blanchett in “Blue Jasmine,” be looking over her shoulder at Bullock? Probably. Both actresses, of course, are previous Oscar winners, though Blanchett’s case for a second is more compelling than Bullock’s. The five-time nominee is a greater technician and a more adventurous artist, whose supporting win for a deft Katharine Hepburn impression in “The Aviator” doesn’t seem particularly representative of her career; whatever your feelings about “The Blind Side” and her work in it, Bullock won for a charismatic star turn that marked a genuine high point (if not an artistic pinnacle) in her career.
But Oscar voters don’t always break things down that way: they vote impulsively for the people they like in the films they like, with posterity often a secondary consideration. Many Academy members would probably agree than Blanchett deserves two Oscars before Bullock does; then again, many Academy members would have agreed in 2004 that Annette Bening and Kate Winslet were more urgent candidates for a first Oscar than Hilary Swank was for a second. Word is that “Gravity” really resonates with many voters; coupled with Bullock’s fine, physically demanding work in it, and her vast popularity in the industry, that could do the trick. Then again, it’s not as if “Blue Jasmine” wants for peer admiration; nor does Blanchett. This is a compelling race.
If Bullock pulls it off, she’ll be the seventh of EW’s Entertainer of the Year picks to win an Oscar immediately afterward: Jodie Foster did it in 1991 for “The Silence of the Lambs,” Steven Spielberg in 1993 for “Schindler’s List,” Tom Hanks in 1994 for “Forrest Gump,” Russell Crowe in 2000 for “Gladiator,” Bullock in 2009 for “The Blind Side” and, last year, Ben Affleck for “Argo.” (Some might count Nicole Kidman, whom EW tapped for her breakout “Moulin Rouge!”/”The Others” year in 2001, to which her 2002 Oscar win for “The Hours” was effectively a delayed reaction.)
The critics’ award deluge in December will surely be more generous to Blanchett than it will be to her; of course, Bullock only started her winning streak for “The Blind Side” when the Golden Globes and SAG weighed in later. That second Oscar is a long way off still. But by cementing the narrative of her remarkable, career-crowning 2013, EW has set the tone for Bullock’s campaign.