Sandra Bullock: A close encounter of the Oscar kind?

Sandra Bullock: A close encounter of the Oscar kind?
Sandra Bullock could be experiencing the weightlessness of Oscar. (David Horsey / Los Angeles Times)

In a year when A-listers Will Smith, Matt Damon and Tom Cruise tried to rocket to the stars in big-budget science fiction movies, the actor who has achieved the most powerful liftoff is Sandra Bullock. Her film, “Gravity,” has been in sustained orbit as the top box office moneymaker for two weekends in a row.

Now topping $123 million in ticket sales, the Warner Bros. space thriller left Universal Studios’ Formula 1 racing pageant, “Rush,” stuck in traffic with about $22 million. And “Gravity” also stole the shimmer from the solid opening of Tom Hanks’ gritty Somali pirate escapade, “Captain Phillips,” by holding on to the No. 1 slot over the weekend.

In Smith’s “After Earth,” our planet has been long abandoned. The same goes for Cruise’s “Oblivion” --  sort of. In Damon’s “Elysium,” the problem is too many people crowding the place a century-or-so in the future.

But "Gravity" is set in the present day with the Earth we know in plain sight as two working astronauts face an emergency on the International Space Station.

It helps that those two astronauts are Bullock and costar George Clooney. But it also appears moviegoers are ready for a space story that is, well, a bit more down to earth, rather than a special effects-laden flight into the future.

Not that the special effects are lacking. The visuals in “Gravity” are so good, in fact, that reviewers are urging people to see the film in Imax 3-D. Times writer Glenn Whipp reports that Academy Awards voters filled the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills on Saturday night to see “Gravity” on the big screen rather than wait to catch it on DVD.

This bodes well for "Gravity's" Oscar prospects. It will be a strong contender in the visual and sound categories, obviously. And, since Bullock is alone onscreen for much of the movie, it cannot be denied that much of "Gravity's" success is due to her performance. Oscar No. 2 could be touching down on her mantel a few months from now.