<p>Sandra Bullock in &quot;Gravity&quot;</p>

Sandra Bullock in "Gravity"

Credit: Warner Bros.

Six Sandra Bullock performances that are better than you remember

Lest you forget, the 'Gravity' star has had it all along

By now, you've surely heard -- or seen for yourself -- that Sandra Bullock is excellent in "Gravity." Critics who never much cared for the star in her signature romantic comedies, or her Oscar-winning dramatic turn in "The Blind Side," are now hailing her work as an imperiled astronaut adrift in space as a revelatory breakthrough. "Who knew?" they ask.

Well, hold up a minute. Some of us knew, and not just the Academy members who checked off her name in the 2009 Best Actress race. "Gravity" may be a better, more ambitious film than the vast majority of Sandra Bullock's output, but that doesn't mean it magically transformed her overnight into a gifted actress. She's always been this good, it's just that you've sometimes had to look past the films to see it. Even then, not always; for every shoddy B-movie of which she's been the saving grace, there's another exemplary genre piece in which she has equally excelled. Nobody was calling her immaculately timed comic turn in this summer's delightful action-comedy "The Heat" a revelation, for example, but I'd argue that it's every bit as strong a showcase for her abilities as "Gravity."

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<p>Cate Blanchett at her NYFF Gala Tribute.</p>

Cate Blanchett at her NYFF Gala Tribute.

Credit: AP Photo/Charles Sykes

NYFF pays tribute to Cate Blanchett... and so do we

The star's sixth Oscar nod is on the way, but her career goes deeper than that

Cate Blanchett, as you may have heard, received a Gala Tribute at the New York Film Festival last night. On the one hand, such events are opportunities for actors to bask in the warm glow of others' admiration, in return for doling out a few anecdotes and quotable (usually self-deprecating) reflections on their life and work. On the other, however, they can be key campaign stops for actors on the awards trail, and for Blanchett – the incumbent Best Actress frontrunner for her riveting comeback performance in Woody Allen's “Blue Jasmine” – this was her first significant PR opportunity of the season, considering how unassumingly the art house hit opened in the summer.

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<p>David Heyman (right) at the New York premiere of &quot;Gravity&quot; with Sandra Bullock and&nbsp;Alfonso Cuar&oacute;n</p>

David Heyman (right) at the New York premiere of "Gravity" with Sandra Bullock and Alfonso Cuarón

Credit: AP Photo

'Gravity' producer David Heyman: 'I would make the phone book with Alfonso Cuarón'

After 'The Prisoner of Azkaban' he was ready for whatever the journey would be

Producer David Heyman's relationship with Alfonso Cuarón actually began well before he tapped the filmmaker for a new direction in the "Harry Potter" franchise back in 2004. They were thinking of collaborating on an adaptation of William Sutcliffe's 1999 road trip novel "Are You Experienced?," but the project fell through. Cuarón went on to make "Y Tu Mamá También" and Heyman went on to shepherd the "Harry Potter" books to the screen. When it came time for a stylistic detour in that series, Cuarón was the first artist Heyman had in mind.

"There were several reasons I thought he was the perfect choice [for 'Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban']," Heyman says. "One, I loved 'A Little Princess' and I also liked his first film a lot. I felt that he had a really keen understanding of teenagers. 'Y Tu Mamá' was about the last moments of being a teenager and this third 'Harry Potter' was about the first moments of being a teenager. He was good at bringing sort of the truthfulness to the relationships."

For Heyman it was about cultivating a sense of modernity to an already wildly successful film franchise. The way to sustain the series was to reinvigorate it after director Chris Columbus had done such a definitive job of setting up the world. "Even though, funny enough, his film was the least successful of the eight financially, Alfonso sort of redirected the series in such a way that it allowed us to continue on to make eight films," Heyman says. "He allowed us to grow up."

Cut to five years later and Cuarón is out on a bit of a limb with a hugely challenging concept: "Gravity." Heyman didn't even need to read the script to know that he was in for whatever ride was in store. And as it would turn out, it would be quite the eventful ride indeed, both in front of and behind the camera.

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<p>Behind the scenes of &quot;12&nbsp;Years a Slave.&quot;&nbsp;Will this be our crafts category juggernaut this year?</p>

Behind the scenes of "12 Years a Slave." Will this be our crafts category juggernaut this year?

Credit: Fox Searchlight

Tech Support: Kicking off crafts coverage of the 2013-2014 Oscar season

'Gravity,' '12 Years a Slave' and 'The Monuments Men' look to be craft behemoths

Welcome back. It’s hard for me to truly appreciate that this is the eighth season of Tech Support here at In Contention (third in our association with HitFix). I’m pleased to say that this column has come a long way during this time, as has media coverage of below-the-line Oscar races as a whole.*

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<p>Tom Hanks</p>

Tom Hanks

Credit: AP Photo

Roundup: BAFTA hosts Tom Hanks' 'life in pictures'

Also: Tom Clancy in Hollywood, and who 2013's biggest films almost starred

Tom Hanks' two-pronged Oscar campaign this year seems to be going well enough on either side of the Atlantic, but the resurgent actor is really courting the British vote this year. He's the unofficial mascot of the BFI London Film Festival, appearing on the red carpet next Wednesday for the fest opener "Captain Phillips," and returning to close things out with the world premiere of "Saving Mr. Banks" on October 20. Before, then, meanwhile, he'll be the subject of a BAFTA 'Life in Pictures' tribute evening, where he'll discuss his career and his craft before a London audience. Previous luminaries to have been hosted in such a way include Martin Scorsese, Meryl Streep, Dustin Hoffman, Cate Blanchett and Helen Mirren. Hanks has never won a competitive BAFTA, though he accepted an honorary award at BAFTA Los Angeles' Britannia Awards a few years back. [BAFTA]

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<p>Jared Leto and Matthew McConaughey in &quot;The Dallas Buyer's Club.&quot; is this Focus Features last great movie for the foreseeable future?</p>

Jared Leto and Matthew McConaughey in "The Dallas Buyer's Club." is this Focus Features last great movie for the foreseeable future?

Credit: Focus Features

Contender Countdown: Turmoil in the Best Picture race?

Certainly not for 'Gravity,' '12 Years' or 'Captain Phillips'

Based on the events of the past week you'd think Tinseltown was on the edge of having some sort of dramatic breakdown. Let us count the ways...

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<p>&quot;Frances Ha&quot;</p>

"Frances Ha"

Credit: IFC Films

The Long Shot: Out but not down

Plus: my first predictions of the season

There's a Fiona Apple lyric I tend to think of -- and yes, I know it's not the first I've quoted in relation to the Oscar race -- at the outset of any awards season these days, a wistful description of a broken relationship that seems oddly applicable to the many films that are about to get tossed aside at various intervals over the next five months. "It ended bad," she croons with pained acceptance, "but I love where it started."

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<p>Some of the cream of Focus' crop.</p>

Some of the cream of Focus' crop.

Credit: Focus Features

As Focus Features evolves, an appreciation

Universal's specialty division gets a shake-up but the legacy lives on

Film is an art but it's also a business and the writing may well have been on the wall for Focus Features. It hurts, but it seems the rule is you don't get to crank out that kind of an art house run and live too long to tell the tale. Indie/dependent divisions have been shuttering left and right for years. We lost Paramount Vantage. We lost Warner Independent. Sony Classics is the success model, 20 years strong, having figured something out. Fox Searchlight continues to find pay dirt, too. But they're the exceptions. We should be so lucky that we got Focus for as long as we did.

But by the way, Focus Features isn't going away. It is simply, by necessity, shifting its reach and identity. Some are writing about it like the sky is falling, like folding in FilmDistrict product and putting Peter Schlessel in charge is an affront. But I think a mixture of specialty and wide releases is a smart approach and, at the end of the day, it might provide an even better opportunity for specialty product to find its way at Focus as some of the other product (in theory) proves more profitable. This is their path, and I'm personally more positive than some of my colleagues.

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<p>Michael B. Jordan in &quot;Fruitvale Station.&quot;</p>

Michael B. Jordan in "Fruitvale Station."

Credit: The Weinstein Company

Roundup: The illusion of diversity in the Oscar race

Also: Darren Aronofsky bows down to 'Gravity' and dark days at Paramount

There has already been a lot written about race in these initial stages of the Oscar season, and there will be plenty more to come -- even if early projections of an 80% black Best Actor field seem increasingly unlikely to pan out. Kia Makarechi writes that he's glad the likes of Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael B. Jordan, Idris Elba and Forest Whitaker are in the awards conversation, but believes the supposed diversity of this year's race is merely an illusion: "These roles have to be played by black actors ... we'll know when Hollywood casting directors and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences view people of color as deserving of equal opportunities to shine when a black man in the role of a fictional caring father, son, teacher, student, doctor, author or otherwise non-racially coded character is nominated for and wins Best Actor." [Huffington Post]

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Sandra Bullock and George Clooney take 'Gravity' to New York

Sandra Bullock and George Clooney take 'Gravity' to New York

Oh, and Emma Watson and Katie Holmes were invited too

Hey, boys and girls, it's time for another movie marketing lesson from your friends at HitFix.

What do you do when you have a film that mostly appeals to men, but you want to make sure you get the attention of younger women? It's really important those women go with their boyfriends on Friday and Saturday night, because that means their boyfriends will definitely go. Well, when your cast is limited to just two, cough, older, cough, actors, there isn't much you can do. Sure, rave reviews (97% on Rotten Tomatoes, 8 100 grades so far on Metacritic) and amazing footage are selling it pretty damn well, but it's opening week. The pressure is on! Someone in the studio is no doubt saying, "How can we liven things up a bit down the homestretch? I mean, yeah, the movie stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, but how do we make some noise on, y'know, those gossip sites (Sandra can't do this on her own!)?"*

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