“This Was Supposed To Be An Amusement Ride…”

Earlier today (Sunday, 12.8) Deadline posted an “Oscars q & a” between Pete Hammond and Gravity star Sandra Bullock, and out of this came a curious admission by Bullock. Without making a big deal out of it and with no prompting by Hammond, Bullock said that Gravity “was supposed to be an amusement ride for the viewer.”

This strikes me as a classic “obiter dicta” bomb, or words in passing that give the game away.

We all have different reasons for deciding that a given film deserves a Best Picture Oscar, but usually they have something to do with a presumption of serious (or at least semi-serious) artful intent on some level, as a reflection or condensation of life as we know it, rendered with a certain poignance or social resonance and particularly with the viewer being touched or moved or turned around by it.

Everyone agrees that Gravity is a technical-visual knockout (I called it a “ride movie” after I first saw it in Telluride), but I’m trying to remember the last time a Best Picture contender, much less a likely winner, was described by its lead actor as “an amusement ride.”

Hammond (a.k.a., Awards Line): “How do you handle the technical details and still focus on playing your character?”

Bullock: “You develop the character with the director, who she is and who she’s not. But in this case, I had to keep asking Alfonso, ‘What are you telling visually in this story that I don’t need to chew the scenery around? If I don’t have to speak and you’re doing something musically, visually or with sound that’s going to tell the story, let me know.’ And we didn’t want to tell too much of a story. This was supposed to be an amusement ride for the viewer. It’s almost like a book. When you read a book, you’re able to feel things and experience them in your own personal way that you don’t get to do too much in movies. That’s what we wanted this to be.”

  • http://jessecrall.wordpress.com/ Jesse Crall

    To me, GRAVITY & CAPTAIN PHILLIPS are really good “one-and-dones.” Movies that you see on the big screen, take in, feel blown away by the tension and scope, then go home without much in the way of lingering thoughts or needs to revisit. AVATAR was the ultimate one-and-done, sort of the opposite of, say, NEBRASKA or any other quality, meditative character study. The BEST movies blow you away once and then keep doing it again and again and again. IE, peak Scorsese or, this year, LLEWYN DAVIS.

    • Correcting Jeff

      Actually, I’d suggest Gravity isn’t one and done for one simple reason: it’ll be the “test Blu-Ray” for new 3-D televisions for a decade to come, up there with previous winners The 5th Element and Star Wars.

      You’ll see it playing in every Best Buy showroom for *years*, heh.

    • bastard in a basket

      I get your point but please don’t compare that piece of crap Avatar to Gravity and Captain Phillips.

      • http://2012diaries.blogspot.com/ tristan eldritch

        Avatar is less cartoonish than There Will Be Blood!

      • http://jessecrall.wordpress.com/ Jesse Crall

        AVATAR had a dumbass screenplay but it was a visual marvel worth seeing on the big screen even if I checked my watch 7 times.

  • Glenn Kenny

    Given that most of the “Oscar buzz” around this picture has dissipated, with possible exceptions Bullock and every effects category known to mankind, I don’t understand why you’re waxing so Robespierre about this.

    Oh wait, I do. it’s because you have to be a dick about everything. OK then, but if I were Cauron you would be right off my Christmas card list.

    • Tucker Dimpy

      What the hell are you talking about Glenn? Gravity is the frontrunner. It just won LA. And there’s resistance to 12 Years. If 12 Years can’t win NY or LA it will not win the Academy. And the Academy is certainly not going to give Picture to Her. So that leaves Gravity or Hustle.

      • Glenn Kenny

        Let’s chat after “Saving Mr. Banks” opens.

        • jesse

          Do you think Banks is going to do that well? I’ve heard others say as much, but it feels so slight even by middlebrow movies-about-movies Hollywood-old-timers standards. I understand why some people might be moved by it but it does pretty much amount to a corporate-achievement heartwarmer with some decent but low-impact acting. I hesitate to say it’s TOO mediocre to get nominated, but it does seem too mediocre to win. Right? Right???

          But I’m probably being foolish, betting on the voters having a modicum of taste.

          Also hilarious that Jeff “trust the tale, not the teller” Wells is insisting that a Bullock interview quote invalidates whatever anyone else thought or felt about the movie. It doesn’t matter if people who saw it found it moving beyond its qualities as a “ride”! Sandy said it was just a rollercoaster!! Game over!!!

          • Mechanical Shark

            It’s probably getting a nomination, but the people predicting it are just being pessimistic. We’re due for a more serious Picture winner after a weird run of crowdpleasers.

        • Steven Gaydos

          Agree completely that Banks is the real deal and super major Best Pic contender and more.

    • http://www.hollywood-elsewhere.com/ Jeffrey Wells

      I simply noted what Bullock said — what’s so terrible about that? It’s a fairly surprising thing to say in the context of awards season.

    • http://www.hollywood-elsewhere.com/ Jeffrey Wells

      I haven’t been studying each and every quote that Bullock and Cuaron and Clooney have said about Gravity, hoping that I’d find some minute flaw some unintended revelation. I don’t have a big case against Gravity. It is what it is. But Hammond’s Bullock quote just dropped into my lap yesterday. There it was. What was I supposed to do, pretend I didn’t read it?

    • Steven Gaydos

      Glenn: Oscar buzz for Gravity dissipated? In what bizarro universe? 6-8 Oscar noms including pic, director & actress all but guaranteed. Or were u being ironic?

      • Glenn Kenny

        Blame it on my insect antennae, Steven. With “Saving Mr. Banks” stage left, along with “Osage County,” not to mention Harvey not having given up on “Philomena” yet, I’m seeing “Gravity” go from ground-breaking front runner to genre pic that sweeps technical awards.

        • Vinci_Smetana

          The pendulum can always swing the other way like it did with Argo. Jeff was launching a preemptive strike. Makes sense if Wall Street is his wolf in this year’s race.

        • Steven Gaydos

          Which makes the frontrunner(s) which films? It’s been Slave-Gravity-Hustle per most observers for the past couple of weeks. Not saying that’s what I think, but what do you think? AND: is there a fourth contending title that has a shot at best pic?

      • Tucker Dimpy

        Actress all but guaranteed? Did Cate Blanchett get Disqualified?

  • @astro_lass

    Bullock uses “amusement” to mean viewers, who aren’t distracted by too much on-screen “Gravity” dialog, can control of the entire narrative in their own minds. Years ago, many critics said music videos would permanently affix images to songs, and this would drown out listeners’ personal visuals for the song. Bullock’s referencing books – “When you read a book, you’re able to feel things and experience them in your own personal way that you don’t get to do too much in movies. That’s what we wanted this to be” – gives the imagination process back to the viewer. Sounds like the best kind of “amusement” to me.

    • Circumvrent

      Bingo. She’s basically calling it “an experience” and God Forbid Oscar Voters go to movies to “experience” something instead of the usual reassurance of their upper middle-class lifestyle.

  • AstralWeeks666

    This article represents the downside to Jeff’s whole Oscar punditry. He feels the need to bad mouth good films in order to fly the flag for his personal favourites, it’s like a sports fan crapping on the enemy team. I was kind of shocked when I finally saw “The Artist” this year and found that it was a charming and very well crafted piece of cinema. After reading all of the hostile buzz here I was half expecting to witness a cinematic war crime. And the same goes for Lincoln and so on.

    I know that taking a stand is part of your samurai warrior poet buzz Jeff but it’s a shame when decent films get trampled on.

    • http://www.hollywood-elsewhere.com/ Jeffrey Wells

      “Gravity” is much more than just a decent film. It’s mindblowing. It’s new territory in a sense. But it’s a “ride” movie that has done very, very well so far. No harm in that, no dismissal. It is what it is. What’s noteworthy is that Bullock said what it is in so many words.

      • GigglesForGigli

        Every movie that follows traditional story structure, which includes every Best Picture winner, is a “ride” movie in some respect.

        • Glenn Kenny

          “No harm in that, no dismissal.” Says the guy who twenty minutes earlier invoked the “obiter dicta bomb” that “gave the game away.”

    • Guest

      They said this at the Telluride Q&A. “We wanted it to be a ride.” Nothing new or noteworthy.

      Are you just mad Cuaron wouldn’t show you the film pre-fest? Did he tell you to lose his email address or something?

  • DublinMovieFan

    I finally saw GRAVITY today and really enjoyed it. Particularly – and I don’t think this is particularly spoiler alert-ish – the scene where Sandra B is hallucinating a little – you know what I mean? – and above all else , the absolutely fantastic closing shots of the movie, particularly the quick cut between the last shot and the ‘directed by’ caption, which is very effective. It’s a fantastic film, hugely enjoyable, and Sandra Bullock is really a great actress, just wonderful, but I’m not convinced it’s a Best Picture movie. It’s just a really GOOD movie that you’d have to be crazy not to have a good time with. But should’t Best Picture go a little deeper? I remember when I first saw Unforgiven, Schindler’s List, No Country For Old Men, and – to be honest – The English Patient, and I felt this was why I buy tickets for movie theatres. I didn’t quite feel this with Gravity. But hey, good luck to it. It’s fantastic cinema.

  • Awardsdaily

    There always comes that time of year when a winner becomes an inevitability – and it can be a bummer if it’s not your own personal choice – but make no mistake, this is the movie Kris Tapley, Anne Thompson — and almost Scott Feinberg are saying will win Best Picture – they also believe that 12 Years can’t, and have believed that since they saw it in Telluride – whether their theory turns out to be true or not remains to be seen but the critics haven’t exactly rallied around 12 Years as they were expected to do – and everyone wants a party so they’re leaning towards films that have an emotional uptick – like Her and American Hustle, steering clear of the bummer movies that tell it like it is. Such is human nature and the Oscar race. I think we simply invest too much of our time caring about how it all turns out. The best you can hope for is that you call attention to movies no one might have seen otherwise, like All is Lost…by the way, loved Her myself.

    • Michael

      “I think we simply invest too much of our time caring about how it all turns out.”

      Really? And you figured this out already? All by yourself? You truly are incredibly perceptive….

      • Awardsdaily

        You know what I don’t get? Guys like you, and there are a lot of them on Twitter, using the only weapon you seem to have in your arsenal, time and time again, to insult in exactly the same way every time as if you just thought of it. Do they teach that to you in middle school? I see it so often, not just with me but with a lot of women online. The one thing Jeff Wells never does – though he often gets the label of being a sexist – he never pulls out this particular weapon, unlike many of his colleagues – with a few notable exceptions. I wonder what the equivalent for us girls would be to the whole “you’re stupid” refrain. I bet you have a tiny pencil for a dick?

        • Michael

          See, thats another of your problems: You think a comment like that is about you being a woman…but its not: It’s about people like you (and it doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman….) spending your life writing about silly award shows, complaining about the stupid choices, the change in movie culture and completely failing to realize that you are part of the problem….

          • DublinMovieFan

            To be fair, Michael, you’re responding to someone who writes about “silly award shows”, on a website which is very focussed towards “silly award shows”, and engaging in a discussion about “silly award shows” so you’re not that far removed from it either.

        • Mechanical Shark

          As a liberal/feminist/avowed anti-racist, I’d like to make it clear Sasha Stone is an extreme outlier. Just as not that many conservatives are as mean-spirited as Duluoz, not that many liberals are as eager to jump to the conclusion that everything is about sexism or racism no matter what.

        • Vinci_Smetana

          Sasha, “Guys like you,” “women online,” “label of being a sexist,” why are you bringing gender into this?

          And, by the way, Jeff was a fan of Blue Is the Warmest Color, and, earlier this year, you had some very dismissive things to say about people who loved the movie, as well as those who were looking forward to seeing it, that singled out gender and insinuated sexual objectification.

  • pizan܍amore

    This from the guy who thought Drive (“Ryan Gosling’s dazzling, sleek new thrill ride” – Salon.com) should have been nominated for Best Picture.

    We get it, Jeff didn’t understand Gravity.

    Meanwhile, Terence Winter, the writer of The Wolf of Wall Street, has this to say about his film:

    “It’s a very fast movie, it’s really a wild roller coaster ride.”

    • DublinMovieFan

      I could spend my whole life without hearing any movie being described as a “roller coaster ride” and be happy. How can a writer speak in such cliches?

    • http://www.hollywood-elsewhere.com/ Jeffrey Wells

      That’s a very smart thing to Winter to say. “Wolf” is that, of course, in a sense, but it’s much, much more than that.

      • pizan܍amore

        Gravity is that, of course, in a sense, but it’s much, much more than that.

  • CBJ

    I’d love to hear what, exactly, is “serious” about Best Picture winners like “The Artist”, “The King’s Speech”, or, why bother? “Serious” is a word pseuds, like Wells, and presumably much of Oscar voting body, like because of their insecurity about the “importance” of their chosen medium. And for that, good movies are usually only honored by accident.

    • Awardsdaily

      Bullock was doing what she always does – being humble in the face of acclaim. She was downplaying…

  • JoeS

    This discussion reminds me of an old quote I read from Director Arthur Hiller (LOVE STORY) about how blown away he was by STAR WARS but couldn’t vote for it for Best Picture because he couldn’t relate to that type of filmmaking. I think GRAVITY will fall into that category as well in the end whether because of the technology, the “ride”, the SF genre aspects or just the perceived lack of “meaning”.

    • Mechanical Shark

      Probably. I still don’t think the Academy’s at that stage where it’s willing to give a science fiction film Best Picture.

      • JoeS

        2001 losing to OLIVER! also comes to mind.

        • m_00_m

          Rarely has an exclamation point been so inadvertently appropriate.

  • roland1824

    This kind of hit piece where you have to twist a single phrase under a magnifying glass to make a minor point has a way of backfiring. (Same as in politics.)

    Keep trumping up the Important Moral Lesson angles of 12YAS and Wolf, and you will drive people straight into the arms of the simple beauty of Gravity.

    Or, if you insist, you may as well get your licks in now. There are few actors in town more liked than the leads of Gravity, so once those 2 really hit the campaign circuit, look out.

  • https://twitter.com/EddieMarsAttack Eddie Mars Attacks!

    Someone overheard “Obiter dicta” at a party or on a plane.

    • pizan܍amore

      Funny enough, it was actually Duluoz talking politics that he was overhearing.

  • m_00_m

    Forget about this article – what about Bullock’s appearance on “The Today Show” the other week where in describing her morning routine, said she “likes to wolf down breakfast” because she “prefers to hustle out the door” to start her day?

    See that? “Likes Wolf”! “Prefers Hustle”!! The hell with the L.A. “film” “critics” – the star of “The Heat” and “Speed 2″ truly Knows the Score about her movie’s Oscar validity.

  • joeybot

    And Silence of the Lambs was just a horror thriller, and Gladiator was a sword and sandals action picture, The Departed was a fun over the top cop action movie, Lord of the Rings was a fantasy flick. Not to say Gravity will win, but ride movies can do quite well.

  • Mr. F.

    So what, Wells? After all: this post, and the resulting comment thread, has proven to be an amusement ride for your readers.

  • Kristopher Tapley

    They said this at the Telluride Q&A. “We wanted it to be a ride.” Nothing new or noteworthy there.

    Are you just mad Cuaron wouldn’t show you the film pre-fest? Did he tell you to lose his email address or something?

  • Dakkar

    It was the only film I can think of that could induce claustrophobia, vertigo, and motion sickness simultaneously.