Sandra Bullock's Wild Ride, and (Once) Improbable Oscar Coronation

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Chris Carlson / AP

Sandra Bullock accepts the Oscar for Best Actress at the 82nd Academy Awards in Los Angeles on March 7, 2010

Standing in front of an international audience clutching her Best Actress Oscar, Sandra Bullock was perhaps the only person at the Kodak Theatre willing to admit some level of surprise about her giddy ascension to the ranks of Meryl Streep and Dame Helen Mirren — two of the acting titans she sweetly steamrolled over for the acting honor.

"Did I really earn this?" she asked the assembled members of the Academy who had feted her with a rousing standing ovation, "or did I just wear y'all down?"

The answer would be a yes to both, but she might have added "charmed" to the equation. With her often outrageous sense of humor, self-deprecation and class throughout the long awards season, it has been easy to root for Bullock in her role as the outspoken matriarch Leigh Anne Tuohy in The Blind Side. "It just was such odd circumstances, and things came together in a way that I just didn't see coming," Bullock said backstage at the Oscars. "That no one saw coming. And I think that's what makes it so overwhelming and unexpected."

Actually, many people saw this as a sure-thing vote. At some point it simply became her time. Bullock had been the favorite for various Best Actress awards in the weeks — even months — leading up to the Oscars, and it's almost hard to remember a time when it was unthinkable to see the 45-year-old actress at a podium.

Before 2009, that would have been pretty easy. Though Bullock was part of the ensemble cast of Crash, which won a Best Picture Oscar in 2006, even she seemed content to have a career marked as a box-office champion, screen comedienne and shrewd producer of such hits as Miss Congeniality and Two Weeks Notice.

"I was very happy working, and this came out of left field," she said backstage. "I didn't aspire to this." Bullock had even said no to The Blind Side part, along with Julia Roberts, before she eventually changed her mind. But even after coming on board, she still struggled with the role, calling her first week on set the worst she had ever had. But somehow the role crystallized, and the family-friendly movie proved a major force at the 2009 box office. It was also the first female-led film to hit the $200 million mark.

While the movie was not overly appreciated by critics, Bullock's road to Oscar might have been cemented when she tied — literally tied — for the Critics' Choice Award for Best Actress with Meryl Streep. Onstage that night, Bullock showed the zany streak that endeared her to Oscar voters by mock-charging Streep when accepting her half of the award and then planting an openmouthed kiss onto a surprised but game Streep. "To the critics, I bet you never saw this coming," Bullock said of her victory in her speech. She ended it with, "I don't know what to say, but Meryl is a great kisser."

There was never a need for an onstage kiss again, because the ties were over as Bullock ran away with it from there, always keeping her sense of humor and humility. With her Screen Actors Guild victory, she showed her typical acceptance-speech excellence, hitting every mark — including sincerity — and wrapping up with thanks to her seated husband Jesse James. The famous tattooed tough guy and chopper enthusiast visibly choked up in front of the cameras as she spoke.

Bullock's personal acceptance of her two Razzie awards for the deplorable All About Steve the evening before the Oscars was just icing on the self-deprecation cake. Rather than view the Razzies, saluting the worst that Hollywood has to offer, as an embarrassment and praying people would ignore it, she embraced it. Instead of an obvious Oscar hindrance, her willingness to laugh about it pretty much sealed her deal.

Bullock pulled a wagon full of All About Steve DVDs onto the Golden Raspberry Awards stage for a money shot that was guaranteed to be seen around the world. "You know, nothing ever lets me get too full of myself," Bullock said after the Oscars. She promised to keep both her Razzie and Oscar trophies prominently displayed in her home. "They'll sit side by side on a nice little shelf somewhere," she said. "The Razzie maybe on a different shelf ... lower."

Backstage, Bullock happily recollected her award season's greatest moments, including kissing Streep ("No one has ever taken the bull by the horns before, but I did"), and hit another everywoman bull's-eye with her post-Oscar plans. There was no need for champagne or parties after her wild ride. "I just want a burger," she said. "I want to eat and not sweat it and not worry that the dress will bust open. That's all I can give you. And I'd like a nap."