Friday, March 03, 2006

Just when you thought we were done....OSCARS


'Brokeback Mountain' No Love Story for Its Animal Actors
DENVER, March 1 /U.S. Newswire/ --
In a letter today to "Brokeback Mountain" director Ang Lee, the American Humane Association -- the authority behind the "No Animals Were Harmed"(r) End Credit Disclaimer on film and television productions -- expressed dismay over reports that animal care and protection guidelines were violated during the Oscar-nominated movie's filming in Canada.

Citing numerous public inquiries to American Humane's Film & Television Unit, President and CEO Marie Belew Wheatley said, "The excessively rough handling of the sheep and horses leaves viewers questioning whether anyone was looking out for the safety of those animals. And many also wonder how the filmmakers got the elk to lose its footing and crumple to the ground 'on cue' after being shot. They ask if our safety protocols were in place to protect the animals during filming. The answer is: They were not." EDITOR'S NOTE: OK, I LIKED THE MOVIE. BUT IF WE ARE TALKING LAMBIE ABUSE, I AM GOING TO HAVE TO ROOT FOR ANOTHER BEST PIC NOM. (BAAAAAAAD, VERY BAAAAAAD).


Wheatley said she recently learned that anesthesia was reportedly used on an elk to portray a hunting scene. The practice of anesthetizing animals solely for the purpose of entertainment violates the American Humane Association's "Guidelines for the Safe Use of Animals in Filmed Media," which is the standard for animal handling practices in the film and television industry.

"Using anesthesia to facilitate filming has been prohibited since 1997 after causing several animal deaths during a production," said Karen Rosa, EDITOR'S NOTE: KAREN ROSA!? (A DISTANT COUSIN, OR SOMETHING?) director of American Humane's Film & TV Unit. "Regardless of how it's administered, anesthesia endangers an animal's life and health. That's why we require production companies to find alternatives -- like humane training or digital enhancement -- that create the same effect without jeopardizing the animal's safety."

American Humane contends that, by not adhering to established animal care guidelines, "Brokeback Mountain" sends a dangerous and wrong message: That the film industry and the viewing public condone animal endangerment for entertainment's sake.

The American Humane Association's Film & TV Unit is the only organization authorized to monitor animal safety on the set of domestically filmed Screen Actors Guild productions.

Because "Brokeback Mountain" was produced in Canada, the production company was able to circumvent use of the Guidelines and oversight by the American Humane Association. "Filming abroad may be a cost-cutting measure, but the animals shouldn't have to pay the price," Rosa said.

About the American Humane Association
Founded in 1877, the American Humane Association is the oldest national organization dedicated to protecting both children and animals.

Through a network of child and animal protection agencies and individuals, the American Humane Association develops policies, legislation, curricula, and training programs to protect children and animals from abuse, neglect, and exploitation.

The nonprofit membership organization, headquartered in Denver, raises awareness about The Link(r) between animal abuse and other forms of violence, as well as the benefits derived from the human-animal bond. American Humane's regional office in Los Angeles is the authority behind the "No Animals Were Harmed"(r) End Credit Disclaimer on TV and film productions, and American Humane's office in Washington is an advocate for child and animal protection at the state and federal levels. Visit to learn more.

Oscar night focus on serious subjects
A not-so-funny thing happened on the way to the 78th Annual Academy Awards. Hollywood got serious -- really, really serious.

It's not just that the five films nominated for best picture are a uniformly somber lot -- though to be sure there is barely a rueful chuckle among them. It's also that the inevitable hoopla surrounding any Oscar race was kept carefully curtailed.

After years in which the Academy wagged its finger about excess campaigning, the contenders in this year's showdowns almost appeared to have borrowed a page from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, all vowing to place "principles before personalities."

As a consequence, there wasn't a nasty brouhaha over dirty campaigning like the one that surrounded "A Beautiful Mind" in 2002.

And there was no dramatic standoff between the specialty film labels and their parent companies like the one that occurred during the great screener war leading up to the 2004 awards -- this year, the first screener, Sony Pictures Classics' "Junebug," was issued in September and nobody blinked. Instead, this year's focus remained quite firmly on the films itself. EDITOR'S NOTE: AND SO, WHEN THE RATINGS TANK, ALL THE DECORUM AND CLASSY BEHAVIOR WILL BE HELD TO BLAME, AND NEXT YEAR WE CAN GO BACK TO CRASS AND BOORISH BUSINESS AS USUAL?


'Crash' Producers Clash Loudly Over Credit and Payment
LOS ANGELES, March 1 — On the eve of this weekend's Academy Awards, a bare-knuckled fight has broken out among the producers of one of the leading Oscar-nominated movies, "Crash," over two of the things Hollywood cares about most: money and credit.

Even as the last Oscar ballots were being cast late Tuesday, Cathy Schulman, a producer of "Crash," filed a lawsuit that accused Bob Yari, her fellow producer and former partner, of acting from "greed and ego" EDITOR'S NOTE: GREED AND EGO? IN HOLLYWOOD!!??? (NAH.....) in failing to pay at least $2 million in producing fees to her and her partner, the film's executive producer Tom Nunan. Mr. Yari had earlier sued the pair, claiming in January that they had taken funds owed to their joint production company, Bull's Eye Entertainment.

On Wednesday morning, Mr. Yari, who put together the $7 million in financing for "Crash," took out full-page advertisements in Hollywood's trade papers with a ringing call to uphold justice and due process — or at least a show business version — by abolishing the secret panels that award credit for best picture.

Mr. Yari was denied a producer credit in an arbitration by the Producers Guild of America in December, and denied again after appeals to both the guild and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which awards the Oscars. As a result, he will not take home a statue if "Crash" is named best picture on March 5.

Ms. Schulman and Paul Haggis, a co-writer and the director of "Crash," are the only producers eligible for the prize, though the film has six producers in its credits.

Tuesday's legal complaint by Ms. Schulman and Mr. Nunan used strongly personal language with regard to Mr. Yari. It denounced what it called the "squalor of Yari's ugly behavior" EIDTOR'S NOTE: 'SQUALOR' IS ONE OF MY FAVORITE WORDS. IT ALWAYS GIVES ME A GIGGLE. BUT CAN BEHAVIOR BE SQUALOR'ISH? (JUST ASKIN....)and claimed that the producer, a former successful real estate developer who created a Hollywood company in recent years, acted like "an impetuous child" EDITOR'S NOTE: OOO...ZING! toward Ms. Schulman after being denied producer credit. The complaint said Mr. Yari's lawsuit was, in effect, retaliation for losing the producer credit in arbitration.

Mr. Yari responded, "This lawsuit is a shameful misrepresentation of the facts concerning my partnership with Ms. Schulman and Mr. Nunan." He said the lawsuit reinforced a pattern by Ms. Schulman of "deceitful and litigious behavior." EDITOR'S NOTE: CALLING SOMEONE IN HOLLYWOOD 'LITIGIOUS' IS KINDA LIKE SAYING THEY BREATHE AIR, ISN'T IT?

A lawyer for Mr. Yari, Neil Sacker, who is also a defendant in Ms. Schulman's lawsuit, denied that Mr. Yari's suit was retaliation.

Because the budget on "Crash" was so small, many of the principal people involved — including the producers, the writers and the director — took no money during the production of the film, deferring fees until the film saw a profit. As is often the case with low-budget films, the principals also had deals to participate in the profits.

Although "Crash" was filmed two years ago and has taken in $83 million at the box office worldwide plus millions more in home video and DVD sales, the lawsuit alleges that Mr. Yari has not shown Ms. Schulman or Mr. Nunan any profit-and-loss statements and has not paid basic producing fees or profit participation.

But Mr. Sacker said that Ms. Schulman and Mr. Nunan had both been paid salaries as partners in Bull's Eye Entertainment, and that their fees for producing "Crash" were not meant to be paid until all the overhead costs for Bull's Eye had been recouped.

"Most producers are not paid a salary," Mr. Sacker said. "She was being paid a salary. Her fees were paid against her salary and overhead."

Melvin Avanzado, the lawyer for Ms. Schulman, disputed that. "He's recouped everything several times over," he said. "There's been four movies on which there has been financing in which he has recouped. We just can't tell how many times he's recouped because he hasn't given us an accounting."

Other producers on the film declined to comment on the dispute, or on the question of their being paid by Mr. Yari.

" 'Crash' has been a great thing in my life, and I expect everyone to act honorably," said Robert Moresco, a co-writer with Mr. Haggis who is nominated for the best-screenplay Oscar. Mr. Haggis could not be reached for comment.

"Crash," a multicharacter story about racial tension in Los Angeles told through varying car incidents, is nominated for six Academy Awards: best picture, director, screenplay, supporting actor (Matt Dillon), original music and editing. The film, which was made independently and acquired for domestic distribution by Lionsgate, became an unexpected hit and has been showered with nominations throughout the Hollywood awards season.

In his open letter to the academy, published in both The Hollywood Reporter and Daily Variety on Wednesday, Mr. Yari compared his speaking out against the arbitration process to Edward R. Murrow's standing up to Senator Joseph R. McCarthy's authoritarianism, as depicted in one of the other best-picture nominees, "Good Night, and Good Luck." EDITOR'S NOTE: GIVEN THAT THE TWO THINGS ARE NOT AT ALL ALIKE, AND GIVEN THAT ONE IS ABOUT PRINCIPLE (AS IN IDEALISM) AND THE OTHER ABOUT PRINCIPLE (AS IN CASH), I'D SAY MR. YARI NEEDS TO GET A GRIP AND A CLUE?

"Murrow reported on and exposed a dark period in our country's history, when accusations and hearsay alone were enough to condemn," Mr. Yari wrote. "Unfortunately, the lessons learned then seem to be forgotten now." EDITOR'S NOTE: NOW YOU NEED TO WRAP YOURSELF IN THE FLAG AND CALL THE OTHER SIDE TRAITORS OR TERRORISTS, AND YOU SHOULD HAVE IT JUST ABOUT COVERED.

The lawsuits have cast a pall over celebrations scheduled for the next several days, including a gala dinner given by Lionsgate on Friday and the Independent Spirit Awards on Saturday.

And there was a fitting, if unfortunate, footnote to the dramatic tension rising around the film: in the midst of it all, Mr. Yari's publicist, Lynda Dorf, was involved in a minor car crash on Wednesday. There were no reported injuries.


'Crash' suits revive credits debate

Is the traditional definition of a "producer" outmoded given the financial complexities of getting a film made in today's global market?

Whatever else it might do, the legal wrangling between Bob Yari, Cathy Schulman and the Producers Guild of America is sure to raise important questions about the issue.

At a time when so many projects are cobbled together through financing sources outside the studio system, some argue that the PGA and AMPAS should acknowledge what so-called money men like Yari bring to the table when they agree to back a film.

After months of posturing and threats, Yari sued the guild and the Academy on Wednesday, claiming that he was unfairly stripped of his producer's credit on best picture nominee "Crash."

On Tuesday, Schulman and Tom Nunan filed suit against Yari, alleging that he withheld millions in profits, damaged their reputations and used their joint venture, Bulls Eye Entertainment, to promote his other interests EDITORS' NOTE: GIRLS, GIRLS...YOU'RE BOTH LOVELY!

Coke to use Oscars as ad backdrop
Small screen fizz: New products to be promoted on an evening of glamour that tends to draw women viewers.
As evening falls Sunday, women across America will gather in front of televisions to critique Reese Witherspoon's gown, swoon over George Clooney, cringe at Joan Rivers' commentary and, oh, yeah, find out who wins what at the Academy Awards. EDITOR'S NOTE: GOSH, THAT'S NOT SEXIST OR OVER-GENERALIZING, HUH?

Following on the heels of the Super Bowl and the Olympics, Oscars night is the latest blockbuster television event in a tightly packed winter season. Marketers pay big bucks and introduce new commercials in hopes of capturing the attention of a captive audience. The hook with the Oscars is that it tends to draw significantly more women than men.

Atlanta-based Coca-Cola is debuting commercials for new products Tab Energy and Coca-Cola Blak, as well as for Diet Coke.

The company uses major events to launch new products and campaigns because the events provide "a lot of eyeballs to kick-start those activities," said Alison Lewis, senior vice president for integrated marketing at Coke's North America unit. EDITOR'S NOTE: DUH?

All three Coke spots have themes that fit with the Oscars.

The commercial for Coca-Cola Blak, a coffee-cola drink set to roll out in the United States this spring, will air during the pre-show red carpet extravaganza. In the ad, a bottle of Blak appears in a spotlight, followed by the flashes of cameras and shouts of the paparazzi.

The Diet Coke commercial features a couple leaving a movie theater on their first date. The man, at first shy, is emboldened after drinking a Diet Coke and runs after the woman, kissing her passionately. EDITOR'S NOTE: I'M STOCKING MY TRUNCK WITH DIET COKE!

The commercial for Tab Energy, a new energy drink aimed at women, features women getting dressed up and living the glamorous life.

The tagline is "Fuel to be fabulous."

The Olympics this year delivered less-than-stellar ratings, thanks in part to disappointing performances by American star athletes, and some marketing experts predict this year's Oscars could also be a snooze. None of the best picture nominees are blockbusters and many, such as "Good Night, and Good Luck" and "Syriana," deal with serious topics that might not have broad appeal.

Lewis said she doesn't stress about ratings predictions because the actual show is just part of the promotion.

The company also is giving away prizes with Oscars themes, such as tickets to sit in the bleachers and watch the red carpet next year.

"We don't look at these events as one-night only," she said.

"We look at them as broader opportunities." EDITORS' NOTE: SMART.

AN OSCAR Quiz show
Everything you always wanted to know about this year's Oscar nominees but were afraid to ask.
By Stephen Galloway

1. One would think this acting nominee might have chosen a different profession, perhaps baseball. Who, and why?
Paul Giamatti's late father was former Major League Baseball commissioner Bart Giamatti.

2. A screenwriting nominee was once "engaged" to Calista Flockhart. Explain.
During his "other" career as an actor, "Capote" scribe Dan Futterman played Flockhart's fiance in 1996's "The Birdcage."

3. David Strathairn was not the first choice to play Edward R. Murrow in Warner Independent Pictures' "Good Night, and Good Luck." Who was?
"Good Night" director George Clooney thought of playing his longtime hero before deciding that he wasn't quite right for the part.

4. "Capote" co-star Catherine Keener will be very much on Sandra Bullock's mind later this year. Why?
Bullock will play author Harper Lee, best friend of Truman Capote and the character Keener plays in "Capote," in Warner Independent's Capote biopic "Infamous," a planned fall release.

5. Fernando Meirelles was a last-minute choice to replace another director on Focus Features' "The Constant Gardener." Who was that helmer, and what happened?
Mike Newell was set to go on "Gardener" before he was chosen by Warner Bros. Pictures to helm "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire."

6. This writer-director nearly pulled out of his film midway through the shoot. Who, and what went wrong?
Paul Haggis was rushed to the emergency room after suffering a heart attack while shooting Lionsgate's "Crash." A few days later, though, he was back on the job.

7. It's not unusual for co-stars to fall in love while making a movie, but one 2005 affair put a new twist on that old theme. Explain.
While playing a homosexual cowboy who cheats on his wife (with a cowboy named Jack Twist), Heath Ledger fell in love with Michelle Williams on the set of Focus' "Brokeback Mountain." The couple now has a baby.

8. This drama about the murder of a twentysomething woman in London originally was conceived as the murder of a thirtysomething woman in the Hamptons. Name the movie.
Woody Allen conceived of DreamWorks' "Match Point" as a New York story, set in the upscale Hamptons. He rewrote the script when funding became available in the U.K., then changed it again for star Scarlett Johansson.

9. This period piece started life as a biographical TV movie. Its writer put the script in a drawer and reconceived it years later. Which nominated movie is it?
While starring in NBC's "ER," Clooney tackled Murrow as the subject of a telefilm biopic. Years later, he mentioned it to Grant Heslov, and the two reworked the script, focusing on Murrow's confrontations with former Wisconsin Sen. Joe McCarthy.

10. The star of this film with an Oscar-nominated screenplay modeled his role on a real-life character -- with uncomfortable consequences when that model showed up on the set during filming. Which film, and who was the model?
The father figure played by Jeff Daniels in Samuel Goldwyn Films' "The Squid and the Whale" is based on writer-director Noah Baumbach's actual father. At one point, Jonathan Baumbach visited the set and protested that aspects of the character were heavily fictionalized.

11. This Oscar nominee moonlights as a bookstore owner in Texas. Who is he?
Veteran novelist and screenwriter Larry McMurtry ("Brokeback") owns the bookstore Booked Up in Archer City, Texas.

12. While doing research for this Oscar-nominated drama, its screenwriter was nearly abducted by terrorists. Name the picture and the writer.
Stephen Gaghan (Warners' "Syriana") stepped off a plane in Beirut, Lebanon, and found himself thrust into a car at gunpoint, whisked away to meet with the spiritual leader of the terrorist movement Hezbollah. After a bit of questioning, he was allowed to go free.

13. A famous French filmmaker offered to fully fund a low-budget period piece on one condition, but its American helmer turned the offer down flat. Who, and why?
Luc Besson offered to pay for "Good Night," a $7.5 million production, but insisted that Clooney shoot the film in an anamorphic (widescreen) format. Clooney declined. EDITOR'S NOTE: SO WHY WOULD BESSON CARE ABOUT THAT, AND WHY WOULD CLOONEY SAY NO?

14. If this veteran actress had appeared in this 2005 movie as planned, she would have been the only performer to star in the original and a remake of the same film -- more than 70 years apart. Name the actress and the movie.
Fay Wray was set to play a cameo in Universal's "King Kong" but fell ill. She died Aug. 8, 2004.

15. The director of this biopic was amazed to discover that its subject's favorite movie was 1931's "Frankenstein." Name the film and its subject.
Johnny Cash told James Mangold, director of Fox's "Walk the Line," that his favorite movie was "Frankenstein." He even acted it out, screaming: "It's alive! It's alive!"

16. One nominated actress received free acting tips from past Oscar nominee William H. Macy. Why?
Felicity Huffman (the Weinstein Co.'s "Transamerica") is married to Macy.

17. Rob Marshall was the producers' second choice to helm Sony's "Memoirs of a Geisha." Who was their first?
Steven Spielberg signed on to direct "Memoirs" after reading Arthur Golden's novel. Years later, he chose to be an executive producer instead.

18. This Oscar nominee and occasional professor recently completed his Ph.D. thesis about the late, austere Danish filmmaker Carl Theodor Dreyer. Name him.
James Schamus not only writes and produces films such as "Brokeback" and 2000's "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" but also teaches film history at Columbia University -- while moonlighting as co-president of Focus Features. He earned a doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley, in 2003. EDITOR'S NOTE: SEE, IF PEOPLE LIKE THIS GUY WOULD JUST STICK TO ONE JOB, IT WOULD MAKE IT EASIER FOR THOSE OF US WHO ARE UNDER-EMPLOYED!

19. What does the word "Syriana" mean in the title of the Warner Bros. Pictures film?
"Syriana" is a term used in Washington to refer to a mythical, redrawn Middle East. It is not to be confused with the nation of Syria.

20. Actor David Strathairn nearly pursued another profession. What was it?
After Strathairn left college, he attended a clown school in Florida and began his career in the circus.

21. This actor made only $60,000 during the year in which he shot his Oscar-nominated role -- despite shooting six other movies that same year. Name him.
Astonishingly, Terrence Howard appeared in seven movies or telefilms in 2004, including "Crash" and Paramount Classics' "Hustle & Flow." He was paid $12,000 for the latter and less than $10,000 for the former.

22. Ang Lee passed when initially asked to direct Focus' "Brokeback Mountain," opting to make another movie instead. Which movie was it, and which director came aboard to replace him?
When Lee opted to make 2003's "The Hulk," Gus Van Sant stepped in on "Brokeback" -- but its producers could not find financing. EDITOR'S NOTE: I SHUDDER TO THINK WHAT VAN SANT WOULD HAVE DONE WITH THIS MATERIAL. (I'M BETTING IT WOULDN'T BE ANYWHERE NEAR THE LYRICAL, SEMI-MAINSTREAM MOVIE WE HAVE TODAY).

23. Among this year's Academy Award nominees, who has received the most career Oscar nominations?
"Memoirs" composer John Williams has earned 45 Oscar noms and has won five statuettes to date. EDITOR'S NOTE: GO JOHNNY, GO! (AND THIS WAS THE BEST SCORE BY FAR THIS YEAR!)

24. Who plays former Wisconsin Sen. Joe McCarthy in "Good Night," and what is unusual about his performance?
No one does -- the real-life McCarthy is seen entirely in newsreel footage. Some preview audiences complained that "the actor who played McCarthy" was over-the-top.

25. Which nominee was named after a character in a famous 19th century romantic novel?
Heath Ledger was named after Heathcliff, the brooding hero of Emily Bronte's "Wuthering Heights."

26. Keira Knightley, nominated for Focus' adaptation of Jane Austen's "Pride & Prejudice," has what connection to another Austen novel, "Emma"?
Mr. Knightley is the hero in "Emma."

27. What is the most obvious connection between Mel Gibson and Colin Farrell, star of New Line's Oscar-nominated "The New World"?
Gibson and Farrell have both played Capt. John Smith -- the former as a voice in 1995's "Pocahontas," the latter in "New World."

28. French foreign-language Oscar nominee "Joyeux Noel" (Merry Christmas) tells the story of what real-life incident?
During World War I, the sides brokered a Christmas Day truce that extended for hundreds of miles along the front. In addition to singing carols together, some soldiers played soccer before going back to their guns.

29. This Oscar-nominated actor had to be airlifted out of Morocco and hospitalized in the U.S. after suffering an accident during filming. Name the actor and the movie.
Clooney got carried away while shooting the interrogation scene in "Syriana." After knocking his head during a fall, spinal fluid came out of his nose.

30. Which Oscar-nominated movie opened with a 160-minute running time, then was rereleased at 135 minutes less than two weeks later?
"New World." After releasing the longer version Dec. 25 in New York and Los Angeles in order to qualify for the Oscars, director Terrence Malick pulled it Jan. 2 and replaced it with the shorter cut.


President Bush signed a federal law that makes it a felony to use a camcorder in a movie theater.

The Top 8 Movie Industry Crimes
8> Popcorn that costs more than the movie ticket.
7> Offering to arm wrestle with Russell Crowe.
6> Replacing explosions with more dialogue.
5> Telling the truth about your age or number of facelifts.
4> Guys dressing up as Jedi for Star Wars flicks: Misdemeanor. Dressing up as Padme or Leia: Throw the book at 'em.
3> Apparently, portraying Catholics in a positive light.
2> Use of that unholy butter-flavored synthetic lubricant without a certified HazMat team in place.
and the Number 1 Movie Industry Crime...
1> Suggesting that the MPAA is getting Nazi-like in their copyright-infringement zealousness.

And just a WEE bit more HODGEPODGE'ing



Weinsteins trek with 'Arthur'
NEW YORK -- Madonna, Snoop Dogg and David Bowie are among the voices featured in "Arthur and the Minimoys," a live-action/CGI fantasy feature in production based on multihyphenate Luc Besson's popular French children's book.

The Weinstein Co. nabbed rights to the project in English-speaking territories, the company said Thursday.

Besson adapted his book for the screen and is directing the EuropaCorp.-produced feature, which centers on 10-year-old Arthur (Freddie Highmore of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory"), who tries to save the home of his grandmother (Mia Farrow) by seeking out his grandfather's treasure in the land of the tiny Minimoys. There he encounters Princess Selenia (Madonna) and Max (Snoop Dogg), who travel with him to a city ruled by the nefarious Malthazar (Bowie). EDITOR'S NOTE: WOW. WITH THE EXCEPTION OF HIGHMORE, I DON'T WANT TO SEE ANY OF THESE PEOPLE IN A MOVIE.

Confidential movie budgets show how those millions are spent
FEBRUARY 28--Faced with decreasing box office receipts, fewer blockbusters, and a reduced production roster, the motion picture industry is facing several daunting challenges as it gathers this Sunday for the 78th Academy Awards ceremony.

But, really, who wants to focus on all that negative stuff when we can celebrate the lofty salaries, outlandish perks, and assorted other benefits of being a movie star?

The Smoking Gun has obtained internal budget documents detailing where the money was allocated on an assortment of big-budget Tinseltown productions. The records provide a line-by-line account of spending on each movie up to its completion, but do not reveal what the studio paid after that point for marketing and advertising (that secondary sum usually adds tens of millions to a movie's total cost).

Since this is our first posting of such Hollywood records, TSG has decided to initially focus on a quartet of movies by the same director (M. Night Shyamalan) and which were distributed by the same studio (Disney's Touchstone).

In each case, the financial documents were circulated up the ranks at Disney, where a succession of top executives had to sign off on Shyamalan's $70 million-plus budgets. One memo marked "confidential" shows that a dozen Disney officials, including the chairman and CFO of Walt Disney Studios, had to approve a film's total expenditures.

The budgets each run a minimum of 80 pages, so we've chosen to excerpt from three of the documents and reproduce one in its entirety.

The individual budget lines are divided into two categories: "above the line" and "below the line" expenses.

In the "above," or ATL, category, you'll find costs associated with a film's cast, writer, producer, director, stunts, and story rights. The remaining expenses--set design, camera rentals, special effects, film, editing, etc.--are categorized as BTL, or below the line.

Shyamalan is one of the movie industry's most bankable directors, with his four major films--"The Sixth Sense," "Unbreakable," "Signs," and "The Village"--achieving an average domestic gross of $160 million, which compares favorably to numbers rolled up by Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson, and the Wachowski brothers. In terms of revenue, Shyamalan far outpaces better-known contemporaries like Quentin Tarantino, Tim Burton, Cameron Crowe, Kevin Smith, and the Farrelly brothers.

His films have featured actors from a revolving troupe drawn from all Hollywood strata: A-listers (Mel Gibson, Bruce Willis); children (Haley Joel Osment, Rory Culkin); young stars (Joaquin Phoenix, Adrien Brody, Bryce Dallas Howard); veterans (William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver); a Tony winner (Cherry Jones); and Samuel L. Jackson (Samuel L. Jackson). EDITOR'S NOTE: MR. JACKSON IS APPARRENTLY IN HIS OWN CATEGORY? His next film, "Lady in the Water" is scheduled for a July release and stars Paul Giamatti and Howard. And like his prior movies, it was filmed in Pennsylvania, where Shyamalan lives.

The budget records track the progression of Shyamalan's paydays following the runaway success of "The Sixth Sense," for which he was paid about $2.6 million to write and direct.

With nearly $300 million in domestic ticket sales, "The Sixth Sense" ranks 22nd in terms of all-time box office receipts ("Signs" is at 48 on that list, with nearly $228 million in ticket sales).

In his subsequent three productions, Shyamalan earned between $10 and $13 million per film.

But what the internal documents do not show is if Shyamalan received a share of any film's "back end," which is often customary for major directors and stars. Depending on a movie's success, such "points" can put millions--perhaps tens of millions--in a principal's pocket.

Records show that while Bruce Willis made $14 million for "The Sixth Sense," the film's other star, 10-year-old Haley Joel Osment, was a major bargain. Osment played "Cole Sear," a boy who saw dead people and was the psychological drama's emotional core. And one that only cost $150,000.

By comparison, Willis's private jet tab alone was $450,000 and an unspecified "other allowance" for him was budgeted at $339,492. Actress Toni Collette, who played Osment's mother, earned $1 million. For a small role, actress Mischa Barton (later of the Fox TV hit "The O.C.") was paid $26,050, records show.

Shyamalan's followup, "Unbreakable," carried a $73.2 million budget, though its U.S. gross ended up just shy of $100 million. However, overseas receipts and video/DVD sales surely landed the film in the black. Half the film's cost was attributable to paychecks for Willis ($20 million), Shyamalan ($10 million), and Jackson ($7 million). Actress Robin Wright Penn earned $2.5 million for her role as Willis's wife.

But the "Unbreakable" budget is more noteworthy (or entertaining, at least) for Willis's $1.5 million perk package.

While that figure covered on-set staples like a costumer and makeup artist, the actor, who portrayed morose security guard David Dunn, also got a personal assistant, masseuse, mobile gym, trainer, bodyguard, and other "personal perks," including a $500,000 allowance for private jet charters.

By comparison, the perk package for Jackson--who played comic art enthusiast Elijah Price--was relatively paltry. Jackson only rated first class airfares to Philadelphia from Los Angeles and a $200 per diem. But his gym and golf club memberships and his trainer's tab were footed by the production.

The $70.2 million budget for "Signs" was dominated by the whopping $25 million Mel Gibson was paid for his role as "Graham Ness," a widowed ex-minister bedeviled by crop circles and an alien. In addition, the actor's entourage expenses totaled nearly $1 million, with $300,000 of that figure earmarked for the star's "jet allowance" and another $57,000 for a "chiropractor/masseuse."

Gibson also received in excess of $1000 a day in per diem payments (the average daily "walking around" money provided for other on-location employees was $65).

Phoenix, who played "Merrill Hess," Gibson's brother, was paid $1 million, while Culkin earned $100,000 in the role of Gibson's son, "Morgan Hess." Shyamalan made $12.5 million for writing, directing, and co-producing the film.

The success of "Signs," which recorded a domestic gross of about $228 million, surely resulted in a salary spike for Phoenix, who was paid $5 million for portraying the male lead, "Lucius Hunt," in 2004's "The Village." The $71.6 million film also starred Brody as "Noah Percy," Weaver as "Alice Hunt," Howard as "Ivy Walker," and Hurt as "Edward Walker."

Though his part was originally budgeted for $3 million, Brody was paid $2.75 million for "The Village," which he began filming a few months after being awarded the Best Actor Oscar for "The Pianist." Weaver got $2 million, Hurt $1.25 million, and Howard just $150,000, according to financial records. EDITOR'S NOTE: I WAS FEELING BAD ABOUT SOMEONE ONLY GETTING 150K. AND THEN I REALIZED THAT THAT'S HOW MANY YEARS'-WORTH OF SALARIES FOR NORMAL PEOPLE? (AND HOW MANY YEARS'- WORTH FOR ACTORS IN THE TRENCHES?)!

While "The Village" earned about $115 million domestically (and another $140 worldwide), the film bowed to lukewarm reviews. In Slate, Michael Agger wrote that Shyamalan was continuing to make treacly and formulaic "sealed-off movies that fell apart when exposed to outside logic." Shyamalan "may have wanted to be Spielberg," Agger noted, "but money would be the measure of his success."

Whether or not that's the metric EDITOR'S NOTE: OOO...DEMERITS FOR USING THE WORD 'METRIC'. SHAME SHAME....which guides Shyamalan, the director earned his usual fat salary for "The Village." The components of his $10.7 million payday were: story rights ($7.2 million); writing services ($300,000); producing ($3 million); and directing ($221,000).

Hedda Gabler
By Alexis Greene

Bottom line: In her U.S. stage debut, film star Cate Blanchett gives a mesmerizing performance in Ibsen's classic drama.

Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York Through March 26

As Hedda Gabler, that Ibsen heroine who is both cold as ice and full of untapped passions, blond, sinewy Cate Blanchett paces the stage like an anguished animal imprisoned in a cage.

In her U.S. stage debut with Australia's Sydney Theatre Company, the film star ("The Aviator") gives a dynamic, complex performance to prove that she is as riveting in the theater as she is onscreen.

Written by Henrik Ibsen in 1890, "Hedda Gabler" always has challenged actresses, who have played her as everything from neurotic to sexually frigid to sexually voracious.

Under the astute direction of Robyn Nevin, Sydney Theatre Company's artistic director and CEO, Blanchett acts Hedda as a complicated woman who can't manage her conflicting emotions.

This Hedda is alternately impulsive and calculating, angry and seductive.

Newly married to the boring academic Jorgen Tesman (Anthony Weigh), she wriggles away from him whenever he touches her, but when lying on a chaise or cadging a forbidden cigarette from prurient family friend Judge Brack (Hugo Weaving, of "The Lord of the Rings"), the suggestive movement of Blanchett's hips and shoulders hints at a woman who is more sexual than she knows. Only in the brief scenes with the romantic intellectual Ejlert Lovborg (Aden Young) does Blanchett become still, momentarily enthralled by the man's sexual presence.

Blanchett's Hedda is humorous -- she's a woman who enjoys making sardonic comments. And there's a bit of Lady Macbeth in this Hedda, too, as she connives with her husband at the expense of the more imaginative Lovborg. Indeed, one of the production's revelations is that, for all of Hedda's disgust with her husband, they are well-matched: Both worry about status, both fear what people will think of them.

At BAM's Harvey theater, you look down on the curving, slightly thrust stage as though you were in an ancient Greek theater, and it is a good vantage point for this production. Designer Fiona Crombie has created an enormous room dotted sparsely with furniture and backed by a high glass wall. The few men and women in Hedda's life leave this room for the outside world, but Hedda hardly ever departs. She prowls in circles, from chair to chaise and back again, as penned up by her physical environment as she is by her personal limitations.

The production has drawbacks. The slow-paced first act struggles to get past Ibsen's exposition, and Julie Hamilton plays Tesman's fussbudget of an aunt as a high-pitched caricature.

But by the second half, Nevin sees to it that the characters and the action draw us in, and the staging holds us through Hedda's final, awful moments. And of course there's Blanchett, mesmerizing us with Hedda's graceful venom and tragically unfulfilled yearnings.

As Serenity hits DVD shelves across the land, we caught up with the mighty Joss Whedon for a little chat about the continuing adventures of our favourite Firefly-class vessel, his future plans, and his love of a certain Abba anthem.

But beware, ahead be BIG spoilers suitable only for those who have already seen Serenity. If you haven't scroll slowly and stop right after the words "a great boon". You have been warned!

Last time we saw you was at the Serenity premiere party, cutting some rug to Dancing Queen.It gets me on the floor every time! So you were obviously pretty pleased with the film at that point – looking back, are you happy with how it’s gone?
Oh, I feel exactly the same way about the film as I did then, which is that I loathe every shot, I made 4 billion mistakes – and I quite like it.

Was it a big difference between TV and film? Did it feel different going in to work every day?
It didn’t feel different but it was different. But because I had such continuity with the cast, because I had Jack Green who, apart from acting like you’ve known him your whole life, lights faster than most TV DPs [Director of Photography]; because I had Rich Sickler, my Assistant Director from Angel; and because I knew what I wanted so much, there was a huge amount of continuity. And every now and again somebody’d be like, “Oh, that’s so TV” and I’d be like, “What…when I cut to the two-shot?” People just, because you worked in TV, have to hold it against you. I suppose if I’d come from music video they’d have said, “That’s so music video!” What, the cut to the two-shot? You sort of can’t win.

But the differences were there, in the size of the thing and the fluidity. Not the size of the screen, although we did have one shot that nobody saw in dailies on in the AVID (editing process) and it wasn’t until a preview screening that someone noticed that the camera pulled back to reveal a grip sitting in the corner. An entire man was in the frame. OK, so that’s the sort of thing we can’t get away with. But when I talk about the size of the thing, it’s the giant amorphous beast that is the story and how every little scene that you shoot in one day affects the other 60 days of shooting, and trying to keep hold of that and understand how much momentum you need and how high you need to be and where the energy is and what you’re leading to. That’s different. You don’t have as much leeway, especially in an action movie, for the bizarre meandering that I am perhaps known for.

Given that this was the arc that was meant to end the series when it was so cruelly cut short, did you have to kill lots of your babies to get it down to two hours?
Oh God! You cannot imagine how many things I had to lose – and if I made five sequels I’d still not get all the stuff that I had in there. EDITOR'S NOTE: MAKE 5 SEQUELS. PLLLLLLEEEEEAAAASE! (HECK. MAKE 6).

It’s different, it’s completely different. But it’s the devil’s bargain, and it’s a hell of a bargain. You get to make a big movie, and you get to watch your beloved friends and heroes up on the screen – but at the same time you can’t delve into the nuance of every character’s internal life because there just isn’t time. The fact is that Kaylee and Inara are best friends – but they do not speak to each other for the entire film. It was just one of those things that fell by the wayside because it had to get shorter and shorter. I had them close together, I’d have them touch – do whatever I could to indicate that they were close, but they literally don’t speak to each other.

So you have to trust the alchemy between the characters to somehow convey that?
Well, luckily they’re so dialled in that they can feel it. They brought so much of that, so much of themselves to it. I said to Jewel once, “Take that piece of metal and toss it out,” when Adam was tossing metal into the airlock. She picked it up and she’s like, “This? This is useful! This is gorgeous! We’ll need this!” It was pure Kaylee. I was like, “Yeah, OK” so in the scene you can see her pick it up and start playing with it. I love that. She’s not a Method person who has to be in character, she’s Jewel until the cameras roll – but this time, she looked genuinely shocked – “How can you say that? Why would you throw this away?”

At the risk of sounding very fangirlish for a moment, I thought the flashback scene at the beginning of the film was a brilliant piece of writing – you managed to give the non-fans some history, give something new to those who had seen the series, and bring us up to date.
Thank you very much. You know, it’s the hardest thing in the world to make this movie about nine people who have all already met. So I developed the idea of, “Oh, wait a minute – I should show River and Simon breaking out.” Then I was like, “But it has to be a year later” and then everything fell into place and I realised I could do something that would not only introduce everything but reflect her state of mind. I had a great feeling when I got that; it felt like the right way to tell the story, even though traditionally, like in Stagecoach, you’d meet all these people as they met each other. Because I wasn’t doing that, to have that prologue was a great boon.

So was it one of those, "Nailed that - now get me a drink" moments?
Yes. There was a drink involved.

Have you any apologies to the fans for killing Wash in such a spectacular fashion?
Not at all. I never apologise. The fact of the matter is that it was necessary to do so for many reasons – the most important being that if somebody doesn’t die at the very beginning of that final battle you spend the whole battle going, “This is cool. Look! They’re shooting.” EDITOR'S NOTE: SNIFFLE....

True – after that we thought you might kill everyone.
Exactly. After that, I could do a Wild Bunch on your asses. And that’s what I needed people to feel. And then, I could cheat insanely. “Oh, looks like Mal’s dead! Looks like Simon’s dead! Looks like River’s dead! – Oh, they’re all OK!” The stakes were raised, so it had to be done. So I make no apologies for it, even though I’ve had some genuinely frightening angry fans.

Oh, I’ve had a couple. They weren’t even large – it was just the intensity in their eyes, I was backing away. It was a test screening so the executives were all there and I was hiding behind them. But it was the right thing to do and everybody knew it. The only person who wasn’t bothered at all by it was Alan, who was hilarious. He kept saying, “Um, my script ends at page 105. Everybody else’s seems longer.”

“No, that’s the end – you land the ship, the credits roll.”

“Oh, OK. It just seems like everyone else has more pages.”

“No! It’s an optical illusion.”

“Oh, OK. And every time I go in the cockpit I get this funny feeling in my chest. It itches, I don’t know why…”

So is there any hope for a Serenity sequel, or another series?
You know, we didn’t exactly set the box office aflame. The DVD is doing quite well. Nobody’s said anything. I don’t rule it out, I’d love to do it, but I’m focusing on whatever’s next, as are my actors. If anybody ever calls for us to come back together, that would be a great joy, but the fact that we got to make this film is, in itself, a bit of a miracle, so you don’t ask for another one for a while.

How about Goners and Wonder Woman? Can you tell us more about those?
Not a whole lot. I am still writing Wonder Woman. It is very awesome but incredibly unfinished, but I should be finishing that in a little while and then I’ll have a better idea of which film is actually going into production. But I can tell you that the film will be about introducing you to Wonder Woman. She'll be wearing the outfit and there will be the bracelets, the golden lasso and Greek gods. She comes from a civilisation where she's rather perfect, so she's the opposite to Buffy in many ways, but she's going through an adolescent rite of passage because she's new to the world.

But how about the Buffyverse? You mentioned in the webchat you guys did with us when the film came out that you were hoping to return to that soon.
We are trying to put together a Spike movie – I don’t know if it’s financially feasible. That’s what I’ve been working towards for the past several months, and I should know fairly soon whether or not something’s going to happen with that.

Sneaking in a NON-Oscar post....Odd-Bob's Corner


Staff Top 10 Top Ten Most Welcome Movie Deaths
By: Chris Flynn
Sometimes it comes down to characterization that is so misjudged we cannot wait for them to cash in their chips.

On other occasions it is the actor in question to blame, perhaps their skills as a thespian (or lack thereof) grating on the nerves, their blatant inability to play anything other than a thinly-veiled version of their off-screen persona exasperating us to the point of meltdown.


In any event, the following top ten highlights the most worthy, most deserving, most welcome deaths in the movies.

10. Julia Roberts in Steel Magnolias.
Too populist to die nowadays, Roberts’s early career exit is a moment to savour, only lessened by the fact histrionic mother Sally Field does not join her.

09. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio in The Abyss.
In a movie full of annoying characters, we are briefly rewarded when Mastrantonio drowns in front of her ex-husband. Unfortunately the fool magically brings her back, whilst twitchy villain Michael Biehn is disappointingly blown up. EDITOR'S NOTE: YEAH, SEE I HAD COMPLETELY FORGOTTEN THE TEMP DEATH THING. I JUST KNEW IT ALL WORKED OUT IN THE END. (UNLESS, YOU WERE HOPING FOR AN INTELLIGIBLE PLOT, OR CHARACTERS YOU CARED ABOUT).

08. Paris Hilton in House of Wax. EDITOR'S NOTE: PARIS HILTON. IN ANYTHING.
They knew we all wanted her dead. They even printed T-shirts. Does she realize how much the world despises her?

You know a movie is in trouble when we are wishing for a cancer patient’s death sooner rather than later.

Like a fantasy come true, the warrior monk plummets to his death. Even then, he couldn’t muster a different expression. Also appears on Top Ten Unexpected Movie Deaths.

05. Shelly Winters in The Poseidon Adventure. EDITOR'S NOTE: GIGGLE. THAT'S ALL. GIGGLE.
In a film that manages to make ever-dependable Gene Hackman irritating, none of the survivors deserve to live, but Winters stakes her claim as most exasperating character in a disaster movie EVER. Let’s hope they’ve learned from this in the remake (although Josh Hartnett is easily the worst male lead around today and Wolfgang Petersen the worst big budget director, so we’re already in stormy waters). EDITOR'S NOTE: JOSH HARTNETT IS IN THE NEW ONE? DRAT. HE'S LIKE THE NEW KEANU, ISN'T HE?

04. Macaulay Culkin in My Girl.
In a shrewd move, director Zieff cashes in on the Home Alone star’s unpopularity; adults rejoice as the despicable moppet gets stung to death by bees. Hooray!

No, he’s not Jesus, he’s just a very annoying kung fu version of Ted Theodore Logan. This comes only after six hours of Matrix-related nonsense, i.e. not nearly soon enough.

02. Leonardo diCaprio in Titanic.
Despite acting like a plank of wood, he still can’t float. EDITOR'S NOTE: SNICKER. BUT MUCH MUCH PRETTIER THAN MOST WOOD, YES? Only misses the number one spot because Celine Dion doesn’t go down with the ship too. EDITOR'S NOTE: LOL! (COLD...AND WET.....BUT STILL LAUGHING).

01. Bruce Willis in Armageddon.
All those people are not breathing a sigh of relief that Earth has been saved, you know. It’s because crustacean Willis finally cops it. Now if only he hadn’t taken the place of Affleck…EDITOR'S NOTE: I WAS KINDA ROOTING FOR THE ASTEROID. (AND YES, HIS DEATH WAS LONG OVER-DUE, BUT THEN WE GOT THAT MUSHY MONTAGE AT THE END. FOR THE TWO UNDER-MEDICATED OUT-PATIENTS WHO WERE ACTUALLY SAD ABOUT THE CHARACTER'S DEMISE, I GUESS).

Sneaking in a NON-Oscar post...this-and-that

School district urges kids to kick the TV habit
ESCANABA, Mich. -- Principal Mike Smajda was horrified to learn that one of his first-grade pupils at Lemmer Elementary School had watched "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre."

Not long afterward, the boy was playing in a leaf pile with a girl when he suddenly began kicking her in the head. EDITOR'S NOTE: NICE.

The incident prompted a program challenging students to do without TV and all other screen entertainment for 10 days, then limit themselves to just seven hours a week. Administrators and teachers say short-term results were striking: less aggressive behavior and, in some cases, better standardized test scores. EDITOR'S NOTE: NOT TO MENTION, I BET LESS JUNK FOOD CONSUMPTION?


Sony sets date for rollout of next-generation DVDs
NEW YORK, Feb 28 (Reuters) - Sony Pictures on Tuesday said it aims to deliver its new Blu-ray DVD format to U.S. stores on May 23 to coincide with the entry of compatible disc players, a new step in an industry war for control of home movie viewing.

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment and MGM Home Entertainment will first release eight Blu-ray titles, followed by another eight in mid-June. The first movie titles include "50 First Dates," "The Fifth Element," "Hitch" and "House of Flying Daggers."

Blu-ray is locked in a multibillion-dollar standards war against a rival DVD format known as HD DVD. The technology companies supporting HD DVD, championed by Toshiba Corp., plan to start rolling out movie titles and disc players in March.

Each side hopes to reignite a sagging $24 billion home video market with new players and discs that offer greater capacity and interactive features.

Sony Pictures, a division of Japan's Sony Corp., earlier this month disclosed pricing for Blu-ray format discs which amounts to a premium of about 15 percent to 20 percent to the current DVD standard.

The company said on Tuesday that its target delivery date would coincide with the launch that day of the first commercially available Blu-ray disc player by Samsung Electronics Co. Other Blu-ray disc players are scheduled for release to market from Sony and Pioneer.

In Sony's Stumble, the Ghost of Betamax
AT first glance, Amir Majidimehr does not look like a game-changer in the battle to develop the next generation of DVD players and discs. As the vice president for Windows digital media at Microsoft, he neither steers a Hollywood studio nor controls one of the many consumer electronics giants that are betting billions of dollars on one of the two new formats that promise to play high-definition movies and television shows.

Yet when he and his team in Redmond, Wash., decided last September to abandon their neutral stance and to support Toshiba and its HD-DVD standard over the Blu-ray format led by Sony, the unexpected change of heart reverberated through the technology industry.

Suddenly, Toshiba's seemingly quixotic defense of its format had new life. Intel joined Microsoft in backing HD-DVD. Hewlett-Packard withdrew its exclusive support of Blu-ray. This month, another member of the Blu-ray camp, LG Electronics, hedged its bets, too, signing a deal to license Toshiba's technology.

And earlier this month, one of the main reasons underpinning Microsoft's move to shuck its neutrality — the complexity of producing Blu-ray technology — led to Sony's acknowledgment that it might delay this spring's scheduled release of its PlayStation 3 game console partly because the needed technology was still being worked out.

The possible delay and the Blu-ray group's loss of its once-commanding lead are not encouraging developments for Sony in its attempt to revive its electronics group after a series of bungles. PlayStation 3 is crucial to Sony's future, and not only because the latest version of its gaming consoles could generate billions in revenue; the new machines will include disc drives that will turn them into Blu-ray DVD players as well.

"The PlayStation is more than a game system to them; it's one of their attempts to own the digital living room," said Robert Heiblim, a consultant to electronics companies. "Blu-ray is also critically important to get right. They don't want to be weak in an area they feel they can dominate."

A DECADE ago, a prospective death match between competing first-generation DVD players was averted when Sony and Philips agreed to back down and join the Toshiba/Warner Brothers side, in exchange for a share of royalties that all DVD player producers pay to the format's creator. Now, no truce seems near, as neither side wants to settle for a small piece of what could be a big electronics success. EDITOR'S NOTE: I OBVIOUSLY MISSED A CHAPTER IN THIS SAGA, SINCE I THOUGHT THEY HAD COME TO SOME SORT OF COMPROMISE?

So consumers and retailers may be in for a reprise of the confusing VHS-Betamax showdown of the early 1980's, with Toshiba replacing Matsushita as Sony's adversary. But Sony hopes to have a happier resolution this time. Sony lost the battle two decades ago when its highly regarded Betamax technology was defeated by VHS, a more widely accepted alternative.

Once again, the differences between the two technologies are not huge. And a growing chorus of critics, including some studio chiefs eager to sell new products as quickly as possible, call the Blu-ray format unnecessarily elaborate and expensive.

The first HD-DVD machines from Toshiba and the competing Blu-ray players from Sony, Samsung and the other Blu-ray companies will all play movies with crisper pictures, enhanced sound and a bevy of interactive features like pictures within pictures and links to the Internet. The machines will also play older DVD's.

Technophiles got a preview of the HD-DVD technology on Wednesday at an electronics store on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. As Jessica Simpson and Johnny Knoxville cavorted in the movie "The Dukes of Hazzard," prospective buyers were able to see the difference between a plain old DVD and the high-definition kind. EDITOR'S NOTE: OH DEAR HEAVEN, THIS IS WHAT THEY USED TO DEMONSTRATE THE TECHNOLOGY? I MEAN, DO WE REALLY WANT TO SEE "THE DUKES OF HAZZARD" MORE CLEARLY? (EEK)!

But the main feature was the price. Toshiba will sell two players starting in March; one will cost just $499, half the price of the cheapest Blu-ray machines, the first of which will hit the stores this spring. Samsung's first machine will cost $1,000, while Pioneer's Blu-ray player will run $1,800.

Toshiba executives have said that because more high-definition movies will be distributed over the Internet in coming years, they have essentially upgraded existing DVD technology to keep prices down. Blu-ray discs, however, include an architecture that Sir Howard Stringer, Sony's chairman, calls "revolutionary, not evolutionary."

The Blu-ray camp is trying to create a brand-new technology that will accommodate features that are still to be created. In preparation for that future, Blu-ray discs will store 25 gigabytes of data, compared with the 15 gigabytes on comparable Toshiba discs and 4.7 gigabytes on today's DVD's.

The first batch of high-definition DVD's from the studios' vaults will highlight rich graphics, vivid scenery and fast-moving action. The films include "Rambo," science fiction thrillers like "The Matrix" and "Dune" and animated features like "Ice Age." The DVD's are generally expected to cost $19 to $25.

But movies are only one front in the format war. In throwing its weight behind Toshiba, Microsoft has expanded the fight into the computer and game industries. Later this year, Microsoft will start selling an external drive for its Xbox game that will play HD-DVD discs, countering Sony's effort to turn PlayStation into a high-definition DVD player by adding Blu-ray technology. Microsoft and its ally Intel have also convinced Hewlett-Packard to consider making HD-DVD drives for computers. This would give Toshiba an answer to Dell, which remains committed to the Blu-ray format.

"The pendulum is swinging back to the HD-DVD camp," said John Freeman, who runs a technology research firm, Strategic Marketing Decisions, which last year declared Blu-ray the front-runner. "It will be interesting to see if the Blu-ray group can recover. It's only a matter of time before people start backing out of the Blu-ray camp."

Still, even with Microsoft on board, Toshiba may have only closed the gap, not overtaken the Blu-ray group. With Samsung, Panasonic and others siding with Sony, consumers will see more Blu-ray machines in the stores. And Blu-ray has more studios in its camp, which means more choice in movies. Every major studio except Universal plans to release Blu-ray DVD's, while Toshiba has commitments from only Universal, Warner Brothers and Paramount. EDITOR'S NOTE: SO..AHEM...NOT FOX?

But one thing is clear: given Microsoft's growing power and scope in the entertainment realm — thanks to its Xbox machines, its media player software and forays into Internet television — its support of HD-DVD has deepened, and has probably prolonged, the format battle. That means consumers must figure out each format's advantages and risk being stuck with obsolete machines if one camp backs down.

This is giving retailers fits, not only because they have to carry twice as many machines and discs, but also because they have to train their employees to explain the differences between the standards.

"Both sides are digging in their heels and stupidity has prevailed," said Joe McGuire, the chief executive of Tweeter, a high-end electronics chain. Mr. McGuire called the failure of the two camps to agree on a single format "criminal" and said he would have a hard time advising consumers. "The answer to which is better is: 'We don't know,' " he said. "I'm tempted not to sell anyone these machines." EDITOR'S NOTE: JUST AS WE ARE TEMPTED....MORE THAN TEMPTED...NOT TO BUY THEM YET.

But sell they will, because retailers — and studios — need something new to throw at consumers now that DVD players are in 82 percent of American homes. Sales of DVD players are "pretty dead," said John LaRegina, a senior buyer at P.C. Richards, which has 49 stores in the New York area.

But Mr. LaRegina said format battles confused consumers and gave them an excuse not to buy. The uncertainty over who may win also forces film studios and electronics companies to hedge their bets.

Warner Brothers and Paramount, which were originally committed only to HD-DVD, decided last fall to make movies in both formats.

"It was very, very clear that Sony was not going to back down from Blu-ray, and they are basically betting their company on it," said Kevin Tsujihara, the president of Warner Brothers Home Entertainment Group. But, he added, Toshiba has mounted "something of a comeback" by winning endorsements from Microsoft and Intel.

Some Blu-ray companies are also waiting to see how the market develops before jumping in with machines of their own. If the PlayStation 3 is priced below Toshiba's $500 player, it could double as the poor man's Blu-Ray player and undercut Sony's partners. (It will also cost Sony dearly; Merrill Lynch issued a report on Feb. 17 estimating that the first PlayStation 3 players would cost about $900 to produce. If so, Sony could end up with substantial losses on those machines if they are priced around $299, as analysts expect, to compete with the Xbox 360, which has been out since November.)

"It's too early to move into this market," said Katsuhiko Machida, the president of Sharp, a Blu-ray company that has not released details for its players in the United States. "Blu-Ray won't be a big business until probably 2008," he said, so "we can watch and see what happens." EDITOR'S NOTE: GOOD. THAT GIVES ME TIME TO (KNOCK WOOD) GET A REAL JOB!! (SIGH....)

Those doubts are a far cry from Blu-ray's bravado last summer and fall, when it won endorsements from Fox, Lions Gate, Warner Brothers and Paramount. Those agreements, coupled with the presumed sway of the PlayStation 3, led industry analysts at Forrester and elsewhere to predict that Blu-ray would ultimately win the format war.

But two unexpected and little-noticed decisions by the Blu-ray group last spring managed to alienate Microsoft and ultimately revive Toshiba's sagging fortunes.

First, Sony and the Blu-ray group adopted a Java program for interactive features. Microsoft favored a rival called iHD because, among other things, it would work better with its new Vista operating system. The Blu-ray group's board also approved an encryption technology called BD+, which Mr. Majidimehr, Microsoft's vice president for Windows digital media, deemed superfluous. EDITOR'S NOTE: OK. THIS PARAGRAPH JUST MADE MY BRAIN SIMULATE AN ICE CREAM FREEZE. OUCH.

THESE decisions led Mr. Majidimehr to take a deeper look at the Blu-ray format and whether it would be more expensive to produce, as Toshiba had long contended. Mr. Majidimehr and his deputy, Jordi Ribas, spent the next few months on the phones and flying to Asia to meet with Sony, Panasonic and the other Blu-ray companies.

"We asked them if they are serious, and they told us they were," Mr. Majidimehr said, referring to the added software. Microsoft also received more data that showed that the Blu-ray group was not meeting its targets for producing discs and optical drives. "We were getting a lot of data saying the HD-DVD format was a walk in the park and Blu-ray was having trouble developing theirs," Mr. Majidimehr said. EDITOR'S NOTE: OF COURSE, ISN'T THIS IN PART BECAUSE HD-DVD IS ONLY A BABY STEP FORWARD, AND BLU-RAY WILL BE A LEAP? IS THE RACE ALWAYS TO THE SWIFTEST?

Microsoft's announcement last September raised alarm bells at Hewlett-Packard, which was coming to similar conclusions. Hewlett-Packard worried that the software included in the Blu-ray format would cost so much in royalties that H-P would be unable to add affordable DVD drives to its computers.

Blu-ray drives cost up to 75 percent more than HD-DVD drives, according to Maureen Weber, the general manager of the personal storage group at Hewlett-Packard and a former spokeswoman for the Blu-ray coalition. "There's not a lot of elbow room," she said of the thin profit margins on computers. "The economics of HD-DVD make a lot more sense for us. I'm starting to wonder about the manufacturing ability of Blu-ray."

A Blu-ray spokesman, Andy Parsons, says his group's royalties, which have not yet been set, will be far lower than critics expect. He also disputed the idea that Toshiba had any advantage because Microsoft or Hewlett-Packard might promote the use of HD-DVD in computers.
"DVD's are about movies and people watch them in their living rooms," he said. "How many people actually use their computer drives to sit and watch movies?"

He added that the price of Blu-ray machines and discs was bound to fall as volume rose.EDITOR'S NOTE: YES. EXACTLY. AS IS ALWAYS THE WAY. Besides, he said, Toshiba is missing the point by selling cheaper machines, because the first people who buy new technologies typically care less about cost and more about the technology. EDITOR'S NOTE: THE HD-DVD PEOPLE ARE ACTING LIKE WHATEVER THEY COME UP WITH WILL BE THE LAST UPGRADE PEOPLE EVER MAKE. HOW ABOUT MAKE IT RIGHT, AND THEN MOVE ONTO THE NEXT THING, INSTEAD OF TRYING TO CARVE THE WHOLE THING IN STONE UPFRONT.

There are other industry analysts who contend that Microsoft is simply propping up Toshiba to further its own aims, like countering the PlayStation and combating the spread of Sun's Java software. Nonetheless, Toshiba is happy for the backing, given that the format was written off for dead just a few months ago.

"There's no doubt that everyone has various agendas," said Mark Knox, an adviser to the Toshiba promotion group. "But whatever their agenda, Microsoft's support has been a huge boon to HD-DVD."

For Sony, a fortified rival spells trouble. Not only does it make it harder for Blu-ray to catch on, but it raises questions about Sony's approach of trying to create new formats when consumers turn out to be content with something less ambitious.

That is the lesson Sony learned the hard way in the 1980's with Betamax, and more recently when Apple outdid the Walkman with the iPod. Now it is Toshiba's and Microsoft's turn to challenge Sony's strategy.


The Sunday Times
Plenty to shout about
As provocative orphan and pouting pole dancer, Natalie Portman was a wow — but will she seduce in a lead role?

By Jasper Rees
In the closing scene of the recent film Closer, a girl strides towards the camera through a throng of commuters on New York’s Times Square. Slavering males turn to gawp at this miraculous vision, pink hair aflame, a private smile rippling faintly across her porcelain-doll face.

This, the shot says in sleazy slow motion, is how a man’s world looks at beautiful young girls.

Film actresses are in the profession of being looked at, and none has been looked at in that way from a younger age than the one on the Manhattan sidewalk in Closer.

Natalie Portman is now twice the age of Matilda, the 12-year-old orphan who melted the heart of a pitiless hit man in Luc Besson’s Léon. Far more than any of her contemporaries who started early — Christina Ricci, Claire Danes, Scarlett Johansson — she never had a period of grace when her screen persona was not complicated by sexuality.

A concierge in Léon asks about Mathilda’s relationship with the father figure she’s rooming with. “He’s my lover,” she confides darkly.

A year later, Ted Demme made an underrated movie about a high-school reunion, Beautiful Girls. Though the cast also included Mira Sorvino and Uma Thurman, most men left the cinema thinking disturbing thoughts about the beautiful 13-year-old girl with the brown-owl eyes who, over the picket fence, confesses her love for Timothy Hutton. No child actress ever opened her innings with a more precocious display.

Since then, Portman has been through three chapters of Star Wars and three years of

Now, for the first time, she stars in a big-budget adventure of her own.

V for Vendetta, adapted from an early-1980s anti-Thatcherite graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Lloyd, is set in a dystopian England where a Mosleyite despot governs a cowed populace with an iron fist. The script is by the Wachowski brothers, who wrote and directed the Matrix films. In a cast consisting largely of British and Irish character actors, she is recognisably the lead (unless you count Hugo Weaving, who, as the lone resistance fighter V, acts throughout behind a joke-shop Guy Fawkes mask).

To get her accent up to snuff, she was given Barbara Berkery, the dialectologist who sculpted Gwyneth Paltrow’s impeccably English glottal stops.

Normally, the blandishments offered up by stars lauding their latest vehicle are just so much blah. But read between these lines. “It was just an exciting thing for me to see a movie on this scale,” says Portman, “a big studio movie that was about something really interesting and had ideas in it, and strong character relationships — and a great story and complicated characters, too.”

Nobody is ever going to get Queen Padmé Naberrie Amidala to say in as many words that the Star Wars trilogy had none of the above. Yet, clearly, she knows. She can’t possibly not know, armed with a psychology degree that, she says, “raises the bar for projects I want to work on. It has to be something that’s going to be as interesting as school was for me”. EDITOR'S NOTE: FINE. FINE. WHATEVER. BUT LET'S SEE WHAT STANDS THE TEST OF TIME, EH? THE DRUNKEN WEIRDO WACHOWSKI BROTHERS, OR UNCLE GEORGE. (AND STAR WARS DOES HAVE THOSE THINGS....HARUMPH...BY THE WAY...SNORT).

Nowadays, when Portman is preparing for a part such as her enchanting epileptic in Garden State, or the artist’s muse in Milos Forman’s forthcoming Goya’s Ghosts, Harvard offers a unique resource. “I call a professor from school and say, ‘This is what the character went through. What kind of symptomology would they display?’ And they’ll write me an e-mail back: ‘This is a video, and this is an article you might want to read.’” She even had her own reading list for the Wachowskis and her director, James McTeigue — David Mitchell’s novel Cloud Atlas — to get them all thinking about justifiable violence. George Lucas was lucky to get to Portman when the bar was lower. EDITOR'S NOTE: OH BITE ME. (BY THE BY, I FIND WHAT ALSO WORKS IS SAYING THE LINES AND NOT RUNNING INTO THE FURNITURE. THAT LAST BIT, IS THE HARD PART).

The professor must have had a field day with V for Vendetta. Portman plays Evey, the orphaned daughter of dissidents, who is rescued from a police mugging by a masked avenger bent on toppling the regime. She goes on the run, fights the system, has her head shaved in prison. (Which Portman rather enjoyed: “I had to really concentrate hard on being in the character.”) In the spectacular climax, she even succeeds where Guy Fawkes fluffed it. In short, Portman finally gets to play the adult protagonist. Yet the script also casts a backward glance at the vapour trail of smut that attached itself to Léon. V sets a honeytrap for a paedophile archbishop by sending him Evey in pigtails and a pink baby-doll outfit — and, before your eyes, Portman morphs right back into that 12-year-old minx.

That echo was not intentional,” she says. “It was part of the novel. But I think every actor holds within them a series of echoes of prior work they’ve done. Also, the fact that I don’t really look much older than I did 12 years ago probably can be taken advantage of.”

She says this, and much else, with a light touch, being neither guarded nor determinedly serious.

She is on the diminutive side — “Five three,” she says. “I think it’s exaggerated because I’m physically small, too” — even in the steep heels worn for a day of smiling sweetly for the world’s film hacks in the Beverly Hills Hotel. “I actually am starting to feel I should start a revolution against heels, even though that wouldn’t be a dramatic revolution. Everyone around me says, ‘You have to wear heels.’ It’s based on some silly concept that longer legs are more beautiful.”

Portman “can still look like a kid”, in her words, but what got her noticed was knowing how to impersonate an old head on young shoulders. “Being an only child, I spent so much time around adults, because my parents always took me with them, so I knew how to talk to grown-ups and pretend to be grown-up. But I wasn’t. I had a strong awareness of how to flirt and how to be shocking, as little girls do.”

She was born in Jerusalem, where her Israeli father was a fertility doctor. Her parents brought her to America, the land of her mother, at three. Growing up on Long Island, she watched all the other kids from dance class go off to acting auditions in New York and, “after a lot of begging and screaming”, she wore down her mother’s resistance. The one she ended up in was for Besson, the director of Subway and Nikita. Thus, though her debut was shot in New York, it had that French sensibility that celebrates female intelligence as well as beauty. Portman’s early experience of acting was much closer in spirit to Emmanuelle Béart’s than, say, Drew Barrymore’s.

It was kind of amazing,” says Portman. “Especially as, at that point, I probably would have done a toothpaste commercial. I haven’t been as lucky with things after that. It’s really been the film, so far, that people still come up to me about — even though every movie I’ve done since then has made more money.”

Her parents did their damnedest to keep her feet on the ground through roles in Heat, Mars Attacks!, Everyone Says I Love You and a stage debut on Broadway, aged 16, as Anne Frank. Her life took on a duality not dissimilar to that of Alice (whose secret name is Anna) in Closer.

Portman assumed her grandmother’s maiden name and carried on at school as Natalie Hershlag. “It was a practical decision, because we couldn’t get my name out of the phone book. I guess it is a form of inventing yourself, being able to say, ‘This is who I am.’ But I went through school feeling just like any other kid.” Only when she left did yearbooks with her face in turn up on eBay. “I felt sort of violated, just because classmates and their families were making money off me, none of whom needed to make money.”

Would she do childhood stardom again? “I don’t know if I’d recommend it to other people. I can handle all of the ups and downs because I have this other world I can reside in, which weighs me down. I don’t float away or get caught up in stuff that doesn’t matter. I haven’t had negative Hollywood experiences.” It may be worth mentioning that, while she weeps beautifully for the camera, she claims: “I never cry in real life.”

Her other world includes a charity she fronts that supplies small loans to women in developing countries; studying at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem for several months; and going out to bat for John Kerry. Although Portman has grown up off screen, on screen it has been harder.

“After I’d done all the Star Wars movies, a lot of people were not thinking of giving me the dramatic challenges I was ready for.” When she took a punt on Garden State, written and directed by Zach Braff, the young star of Scrubs, it was because, “to be honest, I wasn’t getting a lot of parts. I mean no offence at all to Zach, but I wanted to work so badly”.

Then came Closer, which she accepted partly because there wasn’t the faintest whiff of the child-woman in Alice the lap dancer and partly because of the reassuring presence of Mike Nichols, who directed her in a stage production of The Seagull in 2001. Closer was the film that finally made it legitimate (not to mention legal) for all those fans of Beautiful Girls to see Portman as a beautiful woman: to be the object of lust in that closing shot. Did she think her character was objectified?

I think you’re objectified whether you want to be or not — as a public female. The magazine rankings of women, like they’re cars or something — if I could extricate myself from those, I would in a second. I guess some people would say, ‘Oh, she should be honoured. Maybe she’s disgruntled. Maybe she wants to be No 1 and not No 25.’ Not only that, I would be happy to do nudity in a film that was appropriate. But because it’ll end up on a porn site, that’s what keeps me from doing it. If a character goes through something that a woman goes through, then I’ll play it.”

In V for Vendetta, there is no love story. Indeed, her relationship with the ultraviolent male lead has a freaky symmetry with that of Mathilda and Léon.

“I didn’t think about it while doing it, but when I watched it I got these really strong echoes. Sometimes you think they might be lovers, sometimes you think they might be father-daughter, sometimes you think they’re mentor-pupil.”

Perhaps the mentors and father figures who make films are not quite ready to fall for Portman as a woman after all. Sooner or later, though, she’s going to make it happen. “I don’t know anything other than being in my skin,” she says. “But the ideas and thoughts I want to convey on film are older. You want to look it, too. You don’t always want to look like a kid.”

V for Vendetta opens on March 17

OSCARS......(approx.) 2 days and counting (a hodgepodge)

Take our Academy Awards challenge
The 78th Academy Awards take place in Hollywood on Sunday, 5 March with Brokeback Mountain expected to walk away with the big prizes.

The Oscars is the most glamorous night of the film world calendar but how much do you know about the event?

Test your knowledge of Oscars past and present with our interactive quiz.

It all comes down to the perfect gown
By Donna Freydkin, USA TODAY
The red carpet is all about the "wow" factor for a star, which could mean "whoa" for the designer. Renee Zellweger's friendship with Carolina Herrera seals red carpet opportunities for the designer. Still, some dressmakers have yet to meet those wearing their gowns.

USA TODAY talks with three designers about dressing stars for the big night.

"Celebrities are the gods for our culture," says Zac Posen, who counts Claire Danes and Natalie Portman among his fans and adds he'd love to dress Reese Witherspoon. "They are a form of religion in the media, and they're who girls relate to. It's a wider form of exposure." EDITOR'S NOTE: DONCHA LOVE THE WAY DESIGNERS TALK? SO PRETENTIOUS...AND YET, MEANINGLESS!

If your dress ends up on an A-lister, that is. In the end, says designer Monique Lhuillier, "it's a chance that you take. You have to be willing to play the game."

The year she won her best supporting actress for playing a scruffy painter in 2000's Pollock, Marcia Gay Harden wore a gown by Randolph Duke. "She came to me and said she wanted to look like a movie star on her big night," Duke recalls. "We had little walking lessons. We had little train-kicking lessons. We had little sitting lessons. More goes into it than making the dress and putting it on somebody."

Not always. Before she wore Posen's figure-hugging coral gown to the 2006 National Board of Review gala in January, Huffman had never met the designer.

Posen wasn't even sure Huffman would wear his creation until the Transamerica star stepped on the carpet. Same went for Jennifer Garner, who wore a curve-hugging Posen dress to the 2004 Golden Globes.

For some A-listers attending a major event, Posen will create a one-of-a-kind gown that goes through the sketch and draping process, then moves into muslin and fabric fittings, taking up to four months to complete.

"But you don't know what a celebrity is wearing until she walks out the door," Posen says. "It's the job of the stylist to have as many options and pick the best piece possible, and that often depends on the weather and the light."

Usually, Lhuillier says, a star will have two options she loves but doesn't pick the winner until the morning of the event.

Hilary Swank shocked the entertainment world last year when at the Oscars she did not wear Calvin Klein, in whose ads she had been appearing. Instead, she chose a blue, back-baring number by Guy Laroche.

Duke, who dressed Swank when she won the Oscar for 1999's Boys Don't Cry, knows that sometimes it's just luck. "Hilary's original dress for that year didn't work out. I was standing in the wings," says the designer. "She put the dress on and her husband had a reaction to it, and that was the dress."

Still, the designer says, the red carpet is getting a bit drab. Actresses are afraid to be criticized, he says, and avoid "more dangerous, edgy dresses."

Free press, free dress
Designer Randolph Duke affirms that Oscar and Globes gowns are always gifts. "It's unspoken," he says. "Other awards shows, you generally do get them back. But you'll never be able to have anybody wear that dress again. I don't even do a dress in another color. "

Designers say they retire high-profile gowns so stars can be confident they aren't going to experience what Reese Witherspoon did after this year's Globes, when 2003 photos of Kirsten Dunst in the same Chanel frock surfaced.

If an A-lister dons one of Monique Lhuillier's designs, like the frothy black concoction worn by Ziyi Zhang to the 2005 Oscars, "it's done. For me, something like that garners so much press. You have to put it away and archive it."

If a star loves the dress she has worn, she might hang on to it, says designer Zac Posen. Or she might ask that it be given to charity. Actress Jane Kaczmarek founded Clothes Off Our Back with that in mind; gowns are auctioned off at to raise money for children's charities. EDITOR'S NOTE: TAKING SOMETHING RIDICULOUS AND FRIVOLOUS AND MAKING SOME GOOD COME OUT OF IT. BRAVA!

Oscar needs a high-tech remake
By David Thomson
Film historian and critic David Thomson is the author, most recently, of "The Whole Equation: A History of Hollywood."
IF YOU HAVE made it to 78 in our world, then your future is rosier than you might think: Chances are you'll see 85, even if you may not like it altogether.

Still, I worry about the future of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which conducts its 78th annual awards celebration this year.

You see, I love the academy. I love the footage of Bob Hope in 1940, saying this must be a "benefit night" for David O. Selznick as "Gone With the Wind's" tide came in. I treasure those "moments" like Norman Maine tottering on to Vicki Lester's stage in "A Star Is Born." I even admire that weird deadpan guy, Oscar, the world's most famous bit of sculpture.

I have friends at the academy — not least Sid Ganis, the producer who recently became the new president, and Frank Pierson, his predecessor. (Just like Louis B. Mayer, I have presidents for friends.EDITOR'S NOTE: WELL, TOUCH YOU!) And I absolutely revere and would defend to the death the academy's film and research library.

But I worry about the academy, and if I'm guessing right about Ganis, I suspect he worries too. I can't bear the thought that Oscar night could be revealed as no more necessary than the Golden Globes or the Grammys, as just a noisy, prolonged bore that demonstrates how far we the audience and many of the onstage performers are from what the academy was meant to represent. I worry that the night might not be able to compete with some future "American Idol," and that the ratings will slide and keep on going — as if they were attendance figures at movie theaters.

No, I'm not talking about last year's 6% drop at theaters. I'm talking about the way, once upon a time — in 1948, to be precise — 90 million movie tickets were sold each week in the U.S. And now, with nearly twice the population, it's almost a quarter that number. EDITOR'S NOTE: THE WORLD IS A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT PLACE THAN IT WAS IN 1948. AND THERE'S ABSOLUTELY NO POINT IN WISHING IT BACK IN TIME.

Of course, I'm repeating a big white lie in my effort to convey alarm: I'm trying to convince myself (as well as you) that the academy came into being as a natural result of a heartfelt search for quality. It wasn't so, and in thinking about how to reform the academy, it's important that we recall the real history.

Mayer and his fellow first academicians were afraid of the scandals (sex, murder, drugs — the same old stuff) then underway in Hollywood, afraid that they might draw national ire and federal intervention. So they wanted to put up a classy set for themselves — and prizes for virtue and art and science were a natural part of that. They were also afraid that unionization (if it came to pass, especially for actors, writers and directors) would steal too much of their loot, and they had a blithe hope that this new academy they were creating would serve as a forum for all grievances (but controlled by the bosses).

In other words, it was humbug and flimflam from the start, and so it has always been. EDITOR'S NOTE: THEN AGAIN, SOME THINGS NEVER CHANGE.

The first awards were given out in 1929 at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, but in the steadfast search for quality that followed, there was never a directing Oscar for Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks, Ernst Lubitsch, Preston Sturges, Orson Welles, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton or Robert Altman.

Yes, the academy acquired the grace along the way to make some amends by awarding honorary Oscars, often the most touching and meaningful part of the evening. And, yes, this year the honorary Oscar goes to Altman (thank God). But I noticed with interest that another of this year's extra Oscars, the Gordon E. Sawyer Award for "technological contributions," goes to Gary Demos. I'm sure that many people, even in this town, don't know who Demos is.

I found myself thinking: Altman and Demos — there's an odd pair. For most of his long life, with famous ups and downs, Robert Altman has been struggling to put life up there on our screens, as much of it as possible. Real life, real light, real movement, real sound, real muddle, real beauty. It hasn't always worked, but at other times it has given us "M*A*S*H," "The Long Goodbye," "McCabe and Mrs. Miller," "Nashville" and "Short Cuts." When I talk about light and life, I suppose I mean something called art, some arrangement of imagery, story, people and feeling that will stay with us forever.

And Gary Demos? Well, as far as I can see, he is a pioneering genius who did much of the theoretical work in computer-generated imagery, which now thrives on its ability to put a copy of life, light, etc. on our screens. I'm not knocking Demos, even if I generally dislike the victory of digital imagery over photography. He received his award on Feb. 18, but I would have handed it out on the real Oscar night, and I would have explained in detail what he has done because — for good or ill — that's where the mind of our movies is today.

But to reform the academy, that's just a start. I'd also throw out the awards for sound, costume and art direction, the dire songs, the shorts and the documentaries and the foreign films.

OK, throw your bricks this way — but I think the night of the Oscars has to restore the last few bonds of reality between film and the public. This is hard because the movies are not exactly a mass medium anymore. They belong to a few of us. But the academy will last only if we believe that movies can sweep us all up — movies such as "It Happened One Night," "Casablanca," "From Here to Eternity," "The Apartment."

So I'd push the technical awards and the science that has already changed the movies, because I think that's what "movie" means to kids now, and I believe that's the future we're headed for.

I'd treat Demos as a very important man — which he is. I'd also give Oscars for the best deal, the best promotion campaign, the most outrageous agent of the year.

I'd give a chutzpah award — while the term chutzpah is still understood. All because people are in love with the business more than the story.

I'd cut the show in half. I'd make it a dinner party again, instead of an awkward theatrical event.

These days, some of the better films being made in the United States are more like novels than like old-fashioned movies. They have the same weightiness, the same seriousness of intention (not to mention the same limited audience range). I rejoice in much of that, but I insist on saying that they are not quite movies. They are worthy, interesting, respectable. Movies need to be wild, sensational, visceral, overwhelming.

Otherwise, one day the audience is going to wake up and say, "Dad, why do we have the Academy Awards? Shouldn't they be in a home somewhere?" EDITOR'S NOTE: WOW. UNIVERSALLY DUMB IDEAS. MAYBE THE AUTHOR SHOULD BE IN A HOME SOMEWHERE?

Oscar singers share the stage
By Anthony Breznican, USA TODAY

Terrence Howard says Oscar night will be nothing for him to sing about, at least in the literal sense.

The catchy rap song It's Hard Out Here For a Pimp, from his movie Hustle & Flow, has a nomination for best original song. And although Howard delivers the rhymes in the film and on the soundtrack album, the best-actor nominee says he has been out of practice too long to perform it on stage in front of tens of millions of TV viewers on Oscar night March 5.

"No, we don't have time in the schedule to work all that stuff out. It took me seven months to find DJay and find that voice," Howard says of his screen character, a pimp who aspires to be a musician. "I don't think I could give it the full service that I gave it in the film."

Select lyrics from the three Oscar-nominated songs:
It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp From Hustle & Flow
Music and lyric by Jordan Houston, Cedric Coleman and Paul Beauregard

You know it's hard out here for a pimp (you ain't knowin')
When he tryin' to get this money for the rent (you ain't knowin')
For the Cadillacs and gas money spent (you ain't knowin')

In the Deep From Crash
Music by Kathleen "Bird" York and Michael Becker; lyric by Kathleen "Bird" York

Thought you had all the answers
to rest your heart upon but something happens
don't see it coming now
you can't stop yourself now
you're out there swimming in the deep
Life keeps tumbling your heart in circles till you let go
till you shed your pride
and you climb to heaven
and you throw yourself off
now you're out there spinning in the deep

Travelin' Thru From Transamerica
Music and lyric by Dolly Parton

Well I can't tell you where I'm going
I'm not sure of where I've been
But I know I must keep travelin
'till my road comes to an end
I'm out here on my journey,trying to make the most of it
I'm a puzzle, I must figure out where all my pieces fit
Like a poor wayfaring stranger
that they speak about in song
I'm just a weary pilgrim
trying to find what feels like home Where that is no one can tell me,
a m I doomed to ever roam
I'm just travelin', travelin', travelin', I'm just travelin' on

Instead, Pimp will be performed by the Memphis-based trio Three 6 Mafia — Jordan Houston (Juicy J), Cedric Coleman (Crunchy Black) EDITOR'S NOTE: CRUNCHY? HIS STREET/RAP NAME IS CRUNCHY? and Paul Beauregard (DJ Paul) — who wrote it for the movie. They're causing a stir among rap fans as the first hip-hop group to perform their own song in the Oscars' 78-year history. EDITOR'S NOTE: AND I THINK WE CAN HEAR SELZNICK OR MAYER SPINNING IN THEIR GRAVE.

The question of who should perform the best-song nominees during the annual worldwide telecast has occasionally been problematic for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Last year, Beyoncé performed on three of the five nominated songs, though she didn't sing them in the films.

Uruguayan singer Jorge Drexler won for his Al Otro Lado Del Rio from The Motorcycle Diaries, and during his acceptance speech, he crooned a few bars — because producers chose actor Antonio Banderas over him to sing it during the broadcast.

Two years before that, Eminem refused to show up to perform Lose Yourself from 8 Mile. His song went on to win the Oscar.

This year, just as Howard was allowed to beg off, the artists who want to perform their own songs will be allowed to do so instead of being replaced.

Dolly Parton, the biggest celebrity in the category this time, has agreed to sing her ballad Travelin' Thru from Transamerica. Actress/singer Bird York will perform her ethereal In the Deep from Crash.

Parton didn't perform live when she was previously nominated in 1981. Instead, she says producers just played a snippet of her nominated title song, Nine to Five.

"I'll be a winner either way, just getting to be onstage with that great group of people," Parton says of this time. "I better look good and do good."

She's curious about her Pimp competitor. "I played a madam in a whorehouse once. They should let me perform that one!" giggled Parton, who co-starred in 1982's The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.

The broadcast will mean big exposure for the music of York, a character actress who has had recurring roles on The West Wing and The O.C. She just shot a music video for In the Deep, and her first major-label album, Wicked Little High, makes its debut Tuesday.

"If you've got the performer gene in your bones, it doesn't get any better than this," says York, who had to submit a performance reel before producers gave her the go-ahead.

"It's a triumph for any independent artist. I worked so long and hard on my music when there was absolutely no light at the end of the tunnel."


Parton's plea for tolerance
By Peter Cooper, USA TODAY

NASHVILLE — Dolly Parton has no trouble relating to outsiders. "I've always been a weird, out-there freak myself," she says.

Growing up in the mountains of East Tennessee, she was used to not being accepted. "My grandfather was a Pentecostal preacher. It was a sin to even pluck your eyebrows, and they thought it was a sin for me to be there looking like Jezebel."

Her ability to identify with outcasts helped her to an Oscar nomination for Travelin' Thru, a song she wrote for the movie Transamerica. The main character is a pre-operative transsexual (played by Felicity Huffman) traveling the country with his son.

"Some things are strange to me, and some things are odd," says Parton, 60. "But I don't condemn. If you can accept me, I can accept you." EDITOR'S NOTE: DOLLY IS 60?! (WELL...PARTS OF HER ARE 60?)

The ceremony March 5 won't be Parton's first Oscar experience; her 9 to 5 was nominated in 1980. But this time, she gets to perform.

She'll walk the red carpet in a Robert Behar-designed dress with Duncan Tucker, Transamerica's producer and director. (Of her husband of 40 years, Carl Dean, she says, "I can't even get him to go for a Big Mac, much less the Oscars.")

Tucker was instrumental in offering Parton direction for the song. "He wanted the song to be about redemption and about people's feelings," Parton says.

She struggled until one morning on her tour bus she had the idea for a spiritual theme and a gospel feel. She wrote: "God made me for a reason, and nothing is in vain/Redemption comes in many shapes with many kinds of pain." She finished in a day.

Parton is considering putting the song on a gospel album and doing a dance club version.

"Having a big gay following, I get hate mail and threats," she says. "Some people are blind or ignorant, and you can't be that prejudiced and hateful and go through this world and still be happy. One thing about this movie is that I think art can change minds. It's all right to be who you are." EDITOR'S NOTE: RIGHT ON, SISTER WOMAN!

On March 5, the stars will come out in force and the red carpet will unroll once again. It’s Oscar® time in Hollywood and once again, Disney will be there.

The Disney Insider thought this would be the perfect time to look back at the illustrious history of Disney and the Academy Awards®, as we prepare to break out the popcorn and watch the fun on Oscar Night® on ABC. We spoke to Don Hahn, producer of "Beauty and the Beast" - the only animated film to be nominated for Best Picture in the history of the Oscars! And we also dug up some little-known facts about Disney and the Oscars, from Walt’s first statuette on.

Did you know that:
Walt Disney is the individual that has been awarded the most total Oscars with 32 Academy Awards over his lifetime.

MGM art director Cedric Gibbons is second with 11.

Costume designer Edith Head and composer Alan Menken are third with 8 apiece - Alan has won all of his for Disney films, from "The Little Mermaid" to "Pocahontas."

In 1932, Walt Disney was given a special Oscar® for the creation of Mickey Mouse.

In 1939, Walt Disney was given a special Oscar that consisted of one regular-size award and seven miniature ones to honor the creation of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," the first animated feature film. EDITOR'S NOTE: LOL! OSCAR HAS A SENSE OF HUMOR! (WHO KNEW!?)

In 1942, Walt Disney was given the annual Irving Thalberg Memorial Award for "the most consistent high quality of production achievement by an individual producer."

In 1988, Mickey appeared on stage with Tom Selleck. But that’s not all -- Minnie, Donald, and Daisy were seated in the audience and seconds before the commercial break, a "seat filler" came in too early and "sat" on Donald and Minnie.

There have been many shining occasions over the years, but one of the proudest Disney moments at the Oscars has to have been the history-making nomination of "Beauty and the Beast" for Best Picture of 1991. It remains the only animated film ever to be nominated for Best Picture honors - and now that the Academy has added a separate "Best Animated Feature" category, that record is likely to stand. EDITOR'S NOTE: I DON'T KNOW. IF ANY OF THE CURRENT CROP OF ANIMATED FILMS WERE AS GOOD AS "BEAUTY AND THE BEAST" I THINK THEY COULD MAKE THE LEAP TO BEST PICTURE.

"Beauty" producer Don Hahn remembers the experience vividly, from the moment he learned of the nomination.

"The nominations are announced early in the morning, so I got up and made some hot cocoa and turned on the TV. When they announced that ‘Beauty’ had been nominated, I spilled my cocoa and started to cry, in that order!" he tells us. "Then the phone started to ring with calls from insomniacs and well wishers."

Although the Academy singles out producers for Best Picture nominations and honors, Don stresses that many people earned it.

"Animation is such a team sport that all you can really think about is the great team that got the film to this moment in time."

The experience of a lifetime culminated for Don on Oscar Night.

"Our seats were great, about four rows back from the front, right behind Sylvester Stallone. There is a pervasive feeling of nausea at the thought that you might have to get up in front of a billion people on a moment’s notice and give a speech. I was really nervous beforehand and got dehydrated so I drank about 17 bottles of water in the limo on the way to the awards. About an hour into the awards, I was full of regret and fluid and had to excuse myself through rows of celebrities.

"The thrill of the evening, though, was having Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman read my name and call out "Beauty and the Beast" as a Best Picture nominee along with the other great films that year. The night ends with great relief, standing in the valet line with Paula Abdul and Quincy Jones, and a feeling that, at least once, animation was invited to be Cinderella at the ball!"

On March 5, we’ll be watching on ABC along with the rest of the nation as another crop of nominees feels those butterflies in the stomach - including the makers of "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," which has been nominated for three awards. We wish them, and all the nominees, the best!

By David GermainAssociated Press

Bad Academy Awards puns are flying. There's the "Brokeback backlash" ... the little film that "crashed" the party ... the one about "Brokeback Mountain" peaking too early.

While the cowboy love story "Brokeback Mountain" has been established as a solid favorite for the best-picture Oscar, the ensemble drama "Crash" has an ardent following and some late-season momentum that could make it a surprise winner.

When there's a clear Oscar front-runner, that film almost always goes home with the big trophy, but upsets do happen and late-surging films have pulled off come-from-behind wins.

Just look back to the 1998 awards season.

"The year of ' Saving Private Ryan,' everybody was certain it was a lock," said film historian Leonard Maltin. "People thought it was a sure thing to win best picture given the subject matter (D-Day heroics) and the people behind it (Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks), until the middle of December."

That's when a little film called "Shakespeare in Love" showed up. Oscar voters, along with everyone else, fell in love with it, and while Spielberg won best director, "Shakespeare in Love" grabbed the top prize.

The previous 77 Oscar ceremonies have had their share of unexpected twists, mostly in the acting categories. The best-picture announcement often has proven an anticlimactic no-brainer at the end of the evening, yet a handful of unanticipated winners have shaken things up:

— For best picture of 1948, the poignant drama "Johnny Belinda," a homegrown Hollywood production, seemed to have the edge, only to lose to a British upstart, Laurence Olivier's "Hamlet."

— Three years later, the song-and-dance romance "An American in Paris" pulled off a best-picture stunner over dramatic heavyweights "A Place in the Sun" and "A Streetcar Named Desire."

— The next year, Gary Cooper's Western "High Noon" looked as though it would ride into the winner's circle, but the splashy circus tale "The Greatest Show on Earth" came out on top. EDITOR'S NOTE: OOPS. NOT OSCAR'S FINEST HOUR.

— The 1968 best-picture award went the musical route again as "Oliver!" became an upset winner over the more popular musical "Funny Girl" and the palace-intrigue saga "The Lion in Winter."

— And one of Oscar's biggest underdogs, the Olympics tale "Chariots of Fire," ran off with best picture for 1981 over the historical drama "Reds" and the family story "On Golden Pond."

This time around, most signs point to "Brokeback Mountain" — Ang Lee's tale of two rugged Western men (Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal) in a doomed love affair — as the likely best-picture champ.

Since it debuted in December, "Brokeback Mountain" has swept through awards season, winning best drama at the Golden Globes, snagging honors from top critics groups and earning prizes from guilds representing directors, writers and producers.

The film leads the Oscars with eight nominations, positioning it as the one to beat come March 5.
"Brokeback Mountain" has followed the same release pattern as 2004's Oscar champ, "Million Dollar Baby," starting in a handful of theaters and gradually expanding into wide release and box-office success on the strength of its awards buzz.

But "Crash" grabbed the prize for best overall cast performance at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, surprising some Oscar forecasters. Because of its supposed momentum, "Brokeback Mountain" had been considered a favorite there, too.

After the fact, though, the SAG honor made sense for "Crash" -- its huge cast and multiple story lines are the virtual definition of an ensemble film. Directed by Paul Haggis, a 2004 Oscar nominee for the screenplay of "Million Dollar Baby," "Crash" features Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Brendan Fraser, Terrence Howard, Thandie Newton and supporting-actor nominee Matt Dillon among dozens of characters whose lives intersect over a chaotic 36-hour stretch in Los Angeles.

"The reason we believe we have a great chance of actually winning the best-picture Oscar is because people are passionate about the movie," said Tom Ortenberg, president of Lions Gate Films, which released "Crash." "With all due respect to the other best-picture nominees, all of which are terrific and of great merit, there's a sense that people admire and respect the other nominees, but they are passionate about 'Crash.'" EDITOR'S NOTE: IT'S NOT THE KIND OF PASSIONATE THAT NECESSARILY IS A GOOD THING, THOUGH. IT'S MORE AN ANGRY TYPE THING, THAN AN INSPIRING TYPE THING.

"Crash" took an unusual route to the Oscars, emerging out of the 2004 Toronto International Film Festival, where Lions Gate snapped up the film. The movie hit theaters last May and came out on DVD in September, defying conventional wisdom that films released early in the year get forgotten by Oscar time.

Lions Gate took the singular step of providing about 100,000 DVD copies of "Crash" to SAG members to ensure that as many as possible had seen the film before voting for the guild's awards. Distributors generally provide about 20,000 to 30,000 DVD copies of awards-contending films to academy members, key critics groups and voters in other Hollywood honors, but this was the first time a group as big as SAG was blanketed with DVDs of a movie.

Tom O'Neil of the awards Web site said the SAG win was a sign that "Crash" could be picking up steam as a potential best-picture party-crasher among the Oscars' 5,800 voters.

"Brokeback Mountain" has become a cultural touchstone for Hollywood depictions of gay love affairs, yet the hubbub over the film may be growing stale as Oscar voters cast their final ballots, O'Neil said. And while "Brokeback Mountain" has become a solid box-office success, the gay theme may be off-putting to some Oscar voters, he said.

"Statistically, we know the vast majority of Oscar voters must be straight if they're at all representative of the general population," O'Neil said. "As much as they admire this movie, it may not feel like it's their movie. If there is homophobia in Hollywood, it could manifest itself there. Or they could just be sick of gay cowboy jokes."

James Schamus -- a producer on "Brokeback Mountain" and co-president of Focus Features, which released the film -- declined to comment on his movie's front-runner status or the prospects of "Crash" becoming an underdog spoiler.

Schamus, previously involved with such Oscar contenders as "The Pianist" and Lee's "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," said it's impossible to calculate a movie's awards fate based on such insubstantial notions as "momentum and peaking."

"That allows us to actually pretend we have some clue of what's going on," Schamus said. "But if you go back and do a statistical analysis of all that talk about momentum and whatever, then line it up against the outcome of the Oscars themselves, you'll find the relationship of those things is completely and utterly serendipitous. There's no cause and effect. There's no science to it."

And of course, there are three other worthy films in the best-picture race, the Truman Capote drama "Capote," the Edward R. Murrow tale "Good Night, and Good Luck." and the political thriller "Munich."

Along with "Crash," any one of those movies could pull off a win over "Brokeback Mountain," Maltin said.

"Anyone who says that someone is a sure bet for an Oscar is a fool," Maltin said. "There's no such thing as a sure thing, least of all in a five-way vote."

Study: Movie Critics Speak Even When They Don't Utter a Word
Research finds that many film critics, faced with far too many movies to write about, tend to avoid writing reviews of bad films they’ve seen

Durham, N.C. -- As Oscar season gets into full swing, new research indicates that what movie critics don’t say about a film appears to matter as much as what they do.

The research, conducted by marketing professor Wagner Kamakura of Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, Suman Basuroy, assistant professor of marketing at Florida Atlantic University, and Peter Boatwright, associate professor of marketing at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business, examines the meaning of silence by professional film critics.

It finds that many film critics, faced with far too many movies to write about, tend to avoid writing reviews of bad films that they’ve seen. At the same time, a few critics, faced with the same overwhelming choice, tend to avoid reviewing good movies that they’ve watched.

As a result, moviegoers might infer the likely opinions of their favorite reviewers, even when those critics don’t actually write about a movie. The study will appear in the June 2006 issue of the journal Quantitative Marketing & Economics. EDITOR'S NOTE: ON SALE NEXT TO VOGUE AND US WEEKLY.

"Our results show that critic silence is actually quite informative about movies, a valuable source of relevant information that should not be overlooked," the authors wrote. "Our model demonstrates that the fact that an expert is silent about a product may imply a positive or a negative review, depending on the expert."

The researchers studied what 46 top critics wrote about 466 movies released between December 1997 and March 2001. Using information drawn from Variety magazine, Hollywood’s leading trade publication, the authors sorted the critics’ opinions into three categories -- pro, con and neutral -- and assigned points for each type of rating.

Controlling for such factors as an individual reviewer’s biases, they then used a statistical model to develop a composite scale of "movie acclaim," a consensus measure of movie quality.

In developing their scale, the researchers found that most critics passed on films that generally fell within the neutral range. But 13 of the 46 critics in the study showed a greater tendency to be silent about movies that their colleagues disliked. On the other hand, three critics -- Hazel-Dawn Dumpert of LA Weekly; Elvis Mitchell, formerly of The New York Times, and Susan Wloszczyna of USA Today -- seemed more likely to pass on films that won a "thumbs-up" from other reviewers. EDITOR'S NOTE: YES, BECAUSE ELVIS MITCHELL IS A PISSY LITTLE TROLL. (HE SEEMS TO THINK NEGATIVITY IS THE SAME THING AS INTELLECTUALISM).

"Our results showed that silence has a large impact on the precision of predictions, especially for highly acclaimed movies," the authors wrote. "Simply put, silence allows one to more confidently identify those movies that are of the highest acclaim."

The study also identifies the critics who are most informative about different types of films.

Some reviewers divulge more about potential Oscar winners, while other critics reveal more about films with less appeal.

For instance, the researchers found that critics Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times, Jack Mathews of the New York Daily News, Mark Caro of the Chicago Tribune and Susan Wloszczyna of USA Today provide the most information about poorer movies. At the other end of the spectrum, David Ansen of Newsweek, Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times, Manohla Dargis of The New York Times, J. Hoberman of the Village Voice and Mike Clark of USA Today supply the most information about the finer flicks.

The authors contend that the same kind of consensus quality scale could cover other "experience" products for which consumers rely heavily on expert advice, including financial investments, restaurants, theaters, books, wines and music. For example, the authors envision such a scale to rate stock picks by financial analysts and to detect general biases in their choices.

"The approach outlined in this paper extends beyond movies to other product categories," the authors wrote. "The method can be applied to any situation where multiple experts provide opinions on the same products/services."

In a follow-up study, the researchers are now exploring the relationship between a movie’s critical acclaim and its box office sales. Among other things, they aim to pinpoint the critics who have the biggest impact on ticket sales.

10 Awards They Missed
The Oscar categories we wish the Academy would recognize
1. So Those Acting Lessons Finally Paid Off Award
—Pierce Brosnan: O.K., so he didn't get nominated. But thanks to a Golden Globe nomination for The Matador, this ex-Bond man finally got a license to act.

—Matt Dillon: 23 years later, he finally gets past the "Let's do it for Johnny" scene in The Outsiders, with a best supporting actor nod for Crash.

—Keira Knightley: This Brit can't skate by being mistaken for Winona Ryder forever. Thank God she earned a best actress nomination for Pride & Prejudice before she turned 21.

—Heath Ledger: From teen girl heartthrob to honorary gay icon, we vote this best actor nominee most improved.

—Michelle Williams: This Dawson's Creek alumna has not only hooked up with a Hollywood hunk and become a new mom but found time to make serious movies —take that, Katie Holmes!
2. I Directed A Big Studio Picture and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt Award
—Ron Howard: Cinderella Man(Universal, Miramax)

—Peter Jackson: King Kong (Universal)

—James Mangold: Walk the Line (FOX)

—Rob Marshall: Memoirs of a Geisha (Sony)

—Susan Stroman: The Producers (Sony)

3. Best Job Staying in Character Off Screen Award
—Russell Crowe: Duck! This thespian threw punches as boxer James Braddock in Cinderella Man, then threw a phone at a hotel clerk in New York City last spring.

—Scarlett Johannson: The movies' current reigning hottie, she seduced Jonathan Rhys-Meyers away from Emily Mortimer in Match Point, and would give straight male viewers a reason to tune in on Oscar night.

—Joaquin Phoenix: Should method acting require a 12-step program? This best actor nominee hit rehab after playing Johnny Cash in Walk The Line.

—Rachel Weisz: The best supporting actress nominee must have really dug that fake belly she wore as a pregnant aid worker in The Constant Gardener, cause she and director Darren Aronofsky are now expecting a child; does Armani do maternity?

—King Kong: He fell off the Empire State building — and the Academy's radar screen—earning only technical nominations.

4. Most Supportive Spouse Award
—Bill Macy: Being married to a Desperate Housewife is emasculating enough. Try it when she plays a man, as Macy's honey, best actress nominee Felicity Huffman does in Transamerica.

—Ryan Phillipe: Mr. Reese Witherspoon endured his wife learning to sing for Walk the Line. That deserves a hee haw.

—Jesse James: Mr. Tattoos and leather, the custom motorcycle builder, will have to scrub up to escort wife, Crash's Sandra Bullock, who will be a presenter.

—Fran Walsh: Imagine having to put up with King Kong director Peter Jackson when he's filming his multi-year epics, much less when he's sulking without a nomination.

—Michelle Williams: Yes, she's nominated, too, for best supporting actress in Brokeback Mountain. But really, when her sweetie Heath Ledger said he wanted six kids, wasn't that a prize of its own?

5. Cast Most Likely To Get Rowdy at the Awards Award
—Cinderella Man
: Nobody disses Opie (overlooked director Ron Howard), especially when that pugilist Russell Crowe is in his movie.

—Hustle & Flow: Imagine a cast sing-a-long to nominated tune "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp". Think Dame Judi Dench will join in?

—Murderball: The quadriplegic rugby players in this nominated documentary make Hollywood action stars look like girlie men. Arnold, beware.

—Walk the Line: Joaquin Phoenix fit in great when he gave a show at Folsom Prison. 'Nuff said.

—March of the Penguins: They came all the way from Antarctica for this and they want their stinkin' gift bags! EDITOR'S NOTE: I JUST HAD A MENTAL IMAGE OF A BUNCH OF BELLIGERENT PENGUINS HANGIN AT THE BAR WITH RUSSELL CROWE. (GIGGLE).

6. Ubiquity Award
— George Clooney: The former Sexiest Man got serious, earning nominations in multiple categories for Syriana and Good Night & Good Luck.

—Jake Gyllenhaal: Showed he's the real deal in Jarhead, Proof and Brokeback Mountain. Hollywood can't quit you, Jake.

—Terrence Howard: As a director who lets his wife down in Crash and a pimp who raises his prostitutes up in Hustle & Flow, this best actor nominee showed range and red carpet stamina.

—Catherine Keener: Deflowered a 40-Year-Old Virgin, safeguarded The Interpreter, disrupted The Ballad of Jack and Rose and earned a nod for playing prim Harper Lee in Capote.

—Ludacris: Also appeared in Crash and Hustle & Flow, while keeping his day job as a rapper. It can be done well, 50 Cent.

—7. Thank God Someone Has That Old-Fashioned Hollywood Charisma Award
George Clooney
George Clooney
George Clooney
George Clooney
George Clooney

8. Toughest Job on Oscar Night Award:
—Jennifer Aniston's publicist: Has Jen seen Brangelina's sonogram? Will she attend the shower? Red carpet chatterboxes have many rude questions for this presenter.

—Isaac Mizrahi: The grabby E! co-host must keep his hands in his pockets, and off of starlets

—Dolly Parton's stylist: O.K., we're not sure she has one, but heck, fitting a gown on this buxom Best Song nominee for Transamerica's Travelin'Thru would be a real achievement.

—Host Jon Stewart: Really, will there be any original gay cowboy jokes left by March 5?

—Reese Witherspoon: Acting surprised when she wins best actress for Walk the Line will surely require Witherspoon to channel more of that June Carter-style class.

9. Been-There/Done-That Award:
—Woody Allen: This is his 21st nomination, for his Match Point script; Allen won two for 1977's Annie Hall and one for 1986's Hannah and Her Sisters

—Judi Dench: She earned her 5th nod this year for Mrs. Henderson Presents EDITOR'S NOTE: AND BOY, HOWDY, DID SHE EARN IT! (MARVELOUS, CLASSY DAME)., and won for 1998's Shakespeare in Love.

—William Hurt: Snagged his 4th for History of Violence, won for 1985's Kiss of The Spiderwoman

—Frances McDormand: Got her 4th for North Country, won for 1996's Fargo.

—Steven Spielberg: This is his 11th, for director of Munich; he won two for 1993's Schindler's List and one for 1998's Saving Private Ryan.

10. Most Talented Nominee You've Never Heard Of Award
—Amy Adams: Without even suffering through he over-exposed starlet phase, this Best Supporting Actress nominee shines in Junebug. EDITOR'S NOTE: WHATEVER YOU THINK OF THIS STRANGE LITTLE MOVIE, ADAMS' PERFORMANCE IN IT IS CREEPY/FUNNY/WONDERFUL.

—Colleen Atwood: This six-time nominee, who already won for her costumes in 2002's Chicago, made covering up in a kimono look super-sexy in Memoirs of a Geisha

—Hayao Miyazaki: Considered the best in the animation biz, this Japanese filmmaker won for 2002's Spirited Away, and his Disney import Howl's Moving Castle, is up for Best Animated Feature. Yes, another reason to outsource.

—David Strathairn: Finally people will know how to pronounce this actor's actor's name, after a nomination for his Good Night & Good Luck performance. EDITOR'S NOTE: PITY THIS IS A YEAR WITH SUCH AN OVER-ABUNDANCE OF GOOD BEST ACTOR PERFORMANCES, BECAUSE THIS IS A PERFORMANCE THAT IN OTHER YEARS WOULD HAVE TAKEN STRATHAIRN ALL THE WAY TO THE PODIUM.

—Focus Features: With 16 nods for its films and Pride & Prejudice, Brokeback Mountain, Constant Gardener, this indie arm of Universal Pictures proves size doesn't matter.

And the Extended Life Span Goes to . . . the Oscar Winner!
When it comes to the Academy Awards, winning is, in fact, everything.

The actors and actresses who take home one of those statuettes can count on living 3.9 years longer than the losers.

This, as Donald A. Redelmeier is fond of pointing out, is a big deal -- a 28 percent relative reduction in death rates, and the statistical equivalent of "curing all cancers in all people for all time."

So if you were wondering why Katharine Hepburn (96) lived so long and Richard Burton didn't (58), now you know. She won four Oscars. He was nominated seven times and won zip. EDITOR'S NOTE: AND I'M SURE THE BOOZING AND CAROUSING HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH IT? (UMMM...BURTON'S, I MEAN. NOT KATE'S. GIGGLE).

Researchers have long known that higher social status can indicate longer life. One famous study of British civil servants found that mortality rates declined as pay grades rose. An analysis of a 19th-century Irish cemetery showed that longer lives won taller gravestones.

Redelmeier, a professor of medicine at the University of Toronto, tried the analysis on the Oscars after watching the awards ceremony. "I was struck by just how vivacious the people looked," he said. "The way they gestured and walked seemed so different."

And it was. Beginning with a paper published in 2001, Redelmeier has run the numbers for every actor and actress ever nominated for the award, counting each nominee once for his or her highest achievement. Paul Newman, who is 81 and had one win in nine nominations, ended up a "winner," while Burton died a "nominee."

The pattern was clear. Life expectancy for winners -- men and women in lead and supporting roles -- was 79.7 years, vs. 75.8 years for losers.

Redelmeier suggests that winners bump up their social status, enabling them to live longer "in the shadow of past accomplishments," a luxury not afforded losers, who, he speculated, "are only as good as their last picture." EDITOR'S NOTE: AND FOR THE REST OF US WHO WEREN'T EVEN NOMINATED?......HAVE FUN OSCAR NIGHT, DWEEBAPLS!