Toronto: 'Gravity' wows, propelling Sandra Bullock toward a second Oscar nomination

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Spiraling into oblivion really helps you see things from a different perspective.

At Sunday night’s premiere of Gravity, Sandra Bullock said she felt she didn’t deserve the Oscar when she won it for 2009′s The Blind Side  — and now her performance as an astronaut stranded in orbit when space debris demolishes her shuttle could win her another one.

The survival drama, out Oct. 4, got an intense reaction as the Toronto International Film Festival’s opening weekend drew to a close, with many marveling at both the technical and emotional achievements of director Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.)

Expect Gravity to be a major player at the Academy Awards this year in all the top categories. It should easily win in the visual effects category, and will be a heavy-duty competitor in the others. Bullock is also a near certain Best Actress nominee, although she said her 2010 win still hasn’t sunk in.

“I think most people have that out-of-body experience when they win the Oscar. I had a little newborn at home, so my body was already out of itself,” Bullock said in response to a question about awards season during the post-screening Q&A with festival-goers. “I still haven’t gotten around to having my moment with it yet. Maybe one day it will come.”

She’ll face formidable opponents in the race. Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine, Kate Winslet in Labor Day, and Emma Thompson from Saving Mr. Banks are among the potential nominees generating voter buzz.

Bullock said awards talk is just part of the fun of festivals, and tried to put the coveted prize in a more grounded context. “What it does do is make you realize how hard you have to work to earn it,” she said. “I didn’t feel worthy of it when I got it. So I thought, okay, I’m going to spend the rest of my life hopefully earning it –- but having a really good time in the process, as well.”

Except the making Gravity was … anything but fun.

Since the film is set in orbit,  she was often strung up on wires, or locked in a device that spun her wildly in different directions while multiple cameras shot close ups of her face. That footage was later woven into photo-real animation of her and George Clooney in jeopardy, floating far above the Earth.

“It was painful, I remember. Not for me – but for you,” Cuarón said.

Bullock didn’t hesitate to agree. “Jess,” she said, imitating his accent as she explained to the crowd: “That’s ‘yes.’”

Whenever she got frustrated, she would mock his Spanish accent, Cuarón said.

“It was frustrating, it was painful, and it was isolating. But how lucky am I that I got to have all those frustrations, you know, built in?” Bullock told the crowd.  That’s something people who are in the position these characters are in [would be] experiencing a thousand-fold.”

That didn’t mean she let Cuarón or David Heyman (producer of the Harry Potter films) escape a little of the agony.

“After a while you just used it. And you wanted to kill David and Alfonso regularly, and I used that as well,” she joked. “Just all your hate, and anger, and rage – you just give forth in your work, and hope it translates on the screen.”

Clooney didn’t attend the screening (he’s on the other side of Canada shooting director Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland in Vancouver.) But most of the movie is focused on Bullock’s character anyway, with Clooney in a supporting turn as the captain of the space shuttle.

Turning serious, Bullock said there was one part of the role that was particularly special to her.

“It was an amazing experience to do as an actor, but I think more importantly as a woman,” she said, thanking Cuaron, who wrote the script with his son, Jonás . “It could have very easily [become] the role of a man.

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