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Sandra Bullock campaigns while Meryl Streep takes the fifth

Steven Zeitchik
Los Angeles Times (MCT)

With the ballots cast, Sandra Bullock's tour de force performance as Southern spitfire Leigh Anne Tuohy in "The Blind Side" continues to carry weight with voters; an informal poll of Oscar strategists has her winning the lead actress award on Sunday.

It's hard to disagree. Bullock's Southern mother character is a great role, and she executes it perfectly. It doesn't hurt that she's in nearly every scene — as opposed to her primary competitor, Meryl Streep, who has only half of the scenes in "Julie & Julia" — and that she's made an effort to be out among the voters and tastemakers — also unlike Streep.

While Bullock has made award-season stops practically everywhere — late-night talk shows, morning TV and radio, and a host of intimate events for "The Blind Side" at such places as Il Cielo in Los Angeles and the trendy Monkey Bar in New York — Streep has barely made appearances on the award circuit and infrequently addressed the media when she did.

Bullock has benefited from Streep's absence, specifically from the faux rivalry she created with the queen of serene, like the time she claimed to Tavis Smiley she would throw her shoe at Streep if Streep won the comedy actress Golden Globe. Or the dead flowers Bullock says Streep sent her after Bullock won a Globe for drama actress. And let's not get into that kiss at the Critics' Choice Movie Awards.

It's been a savvy tack for Bullock and publicist Cheryl Maisel, simultaneously keeping the actress in the public eye while also subtly painting her as the underdog. Bullock's decision to play ball with award voters has resonated with them, even if it's spelled a kind of Sandra-Bullock-is-stalking-me ubiquity that's reminiscent of Mickey Rourke's omnipresence last year on the award circuit.

Which may be why Bullock's taking her foot off the pedal now — at the Oscar nominees luncheon, she suddenly proclaimed any continuation of the Bullock-Streep follies would be "just plain annoying." She's no longer the underdog, and reminding voters too often of her performance at this point could come off as confidence, not humility. Besides, the mostly silent response from Streep has given the whole enterprise a lopsided feeling.

Streep has done herself no favors with her silence. Her approach feels like the campaign two years ago for "Away From Her" star Julie Christie, who stayed quiet and out of town for long stretches of the season while fellow nominee Marion Cotillard worked the circuit — and won the trophy.

Her absence also hasn't gotten the message out that Streep, for all the Oscar nomination love she's received, has been a bridesmaid for decades. She hasn't won since 1982, when she took home the statuette for "Sophie's Choice." She's been nominated 11 times since but has not won again.

That could have been a prime play for the Streep camp and those running her campaign at 42West (who did not reply to an inquiry for this story): Make it seem as if this is finally her year, as was done brilliantly for Martin Scorsese with "The Departed" in 2006.

Instead, they didn't really get the word out — or any word out. And without that — and with the Bullock campaign going so well — we'll likely see the former Miss Congeniality take the stage on Sunday, giving her one more playful-heartfelt moment. Just don't ask her about Meryl Streep.

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