<p>Can Penelope Cruz, Mickey Rourke and Kate Winslet repeat their BAFTA wins at the Academy Awards?&nbsp; We'll soon find out.</p>

Can Penelope Cruz, Mickey Rourke and Kate Winslet repeat their BAFTA wins at the Academy Awards?  We'll soon find out.

Credit: AP Photo/Joel Ryan

Oscar 2009: Real drama in Penelope vs. Viola, Meryl vs. Kate, Mickey vs. Sean races

Acting categories more competitive than originally thought

 

It's been too long since Oscar has been given its due on HitFix, but thank the Grammys and a busy news week for the delay (sigh, what we'd do for an extra set of hands).

What's the buzz with less than a week left until ballots are due?  More than you’d think.  "Slumdog's" lock for Best Picture aside (yeah, I said it), there is actually an unexpected amount of uncertainty in some other major categories.  Here's a rundown:

In somewhat of a surprise, Penelope Cruz appears to be getting some major competition from Viola Davis in the Best Supporting Actress category.  Don't be shocked if you see the "Doubt" star accepting a gold statue on Oscar Sunday.

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<p>Brian Grazer and Ron Howard celebrate their Milestone Award at last week's Producer's Guild Awards.</p>

Brian Grazer and Ron Howard celebrate their Milestone Award at last week's Producer's Guild Awards.

Credit: AP Photo/Gus Ruelas

Oscar 2009: 'Frost/Nixon' celebrates a classy awards season ride

Howard, Grazer and Langella on hand to toast flick's five nods

 

It was a classy affair tonight at West Hollywood haunt Nobu as Universal Pictures celebrated their five Academy Award nominations for their critically acclaimed drama "Frost/Nixon." 

Producer Brian Grazer, director Ron Howard in low key jeans and cap (no doubt just back from the editing room of "Angels & Demons") and Best Actor nominee Frank Langella mingled with notable guests Ridley Scott, Sam Raimi, Bill Paxton and Robert Forester (who spent a good portion of the night sharing sushi and stories with Langella). 

It's significant to note that "Nixon" received a nomination from every major branch: the overall Academy (picture), acting (Best Actor), the directors, editors and screenwriters (best adapted screenplay).  That's pretty much the closest thing you'll get to universal respect from your peers in the movie industry, Oscar fans. So, while admittedly "Frost/Nixon" winning the golden statue on Oscar Sunday would amount to a major surprise at this point, sometimes you have to find solace in the overall achievement of your work. 

"Nixon" may not have been the crossover hit everyone at Universal hoped it would be (do you wanna try selling a movie nationwide with two unknowns like Michael Sheen and Langella?), but it is a film that the studio will be proud to have in their library a long time to come.  And while "Slumdog Millionaire" is preparing for glory and a few of the other Best Picture nominees will clearly not age so well, down the road "Frost/Nixon" will be one of those films that you'll overhear people saying, "Hey, I finally saw that on HBO last night.  It was really great.  How come Langella didn't win an Oscar for that?" 

Exactly.

[And no offense to the equally worthy Sean Penn or Mickey Rourke.]

Still, it's an all too familiar mantra heard over the years for films such as "The Thin Red Line," "The Talented Mr. Ripley," "The Ice Storm," "The Insider," "The Piano" and "L.A. Confidential," just to name a few.

And that should help Howard and Glazer sleep well at night.

Along with the residual checks for "The Da Vinci Code," of course.

 

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<p>"Milk" screenwriter Dustin Lance Black as photographed by Gus Van Sant in the latest issue of Vogue Hommes.</p>

"Milk" screenwriter Dustin Lance Black as photographed by Gus Van Sant in the latest issue of Vogue Hommes.

Credit: Gus Van Sant/Vogue Hommes

Oscar 2009: Gus Van Sant shoots his 'Milk' screenwriter, um, shirtless

A notable first in the history of Oscar campaigns

 

During the course of the awards season campaign for Gus Van Sant's "Milk," I'm trying to conceive of where someone at Focus Features said, "Sure, why don't we have the director of our film take some photos of our young screenwriter shirtless and juxtapose them with images of the subject of our picture, slain gay rights icon Harvey Milk?"  Someone obviously said "Of course!" because that appears to be the result in the latest issue of Vogue Paris - Hommes International.

One word guys: "classy."

Somewhere even wild child Oscar-winning writer Diablo Cody is going, "No way. Really?"

I can't imagine what the hot button will be in next year's screenwriting race.

To see all of the images from the story, including more revealing ones, click here. Kudos for Movie City News for scanning and putting these up on the web.

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<p>Heath Ledger as The Joker in "The Dark Knight."</p>

Heath Ledger as The Joker in "The Dark Knight."

Credit: Warner Bros.

Oscar 2009: Report say Ledger's family to accept Oscar on his behalf

"The Dark Knight" star set to become only second posthumous winner

 

A few weeks ago, during a video taped panel of The Envelope.com prognosticators, I remarked that it was still unclear who would be accepting the Best Supporting Oscar on Heath Ledger's behalf.  Especially, as it's clear "The Dark Knight'" star's stunning portrayal as the Joker is a lock to win.  Award Season had previously found Director Christopher Nolan delivering the finest acceptance speech of his career picking up Ledger's Golden Globe and Gary Oldman became choked up as he accepted Ledger's Screen Actor's Guild Award.  Now, according to Entertainment Weekly's Adam Vary, during remarks at last night's DGA Awards, Nolan has said that Ledger's family will rightfully appear on stage to represent their son.

There had been some scuttlebutt (i.e, gossip) that Ledger's ex-wife and mother of his daughter , Michelle Williams, might accept the award and that his family wasn't necessarily happy about the possibility, but its hard to believe that was ever a viable option. 

It's still unclear who from Ledger's family will journey from his native Australia to Hollywood's illustrious Kodak Theater, but the popular magazine speculates his father Kim, mother, Sally and older sister Kate could all appear on stage to accept the award. 

Peter Finch's win for Best Actor in 1976's "Network" is the only time the Academy Awards has given out a posthumous statue in its history.  That award was accepted by the film's screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky and Finch's widow Eletha.

As Hollywood's own Super Sunday inches closer, keep checking back for the latest Oscar news on HitFix.

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Legendary Oscar host Billy Crystal and this year's host Hugh Jackman chat during the 2005 Tony Awards.
Legendary Oscar host Billy Crystal and this year's host Hugh Jackman chat during the 2005 Tony Awards.
Credit: AP Photo/Kathy Willens

Oscar 2009: Jackman ready to sing and dance

Musical moment confirmed, but it's not the opening number

 

And you thought there'd be no musical number in this year's Oscar show, right? 

Wrong. 

As first reported, er, fed to Fox News' Roger Friedman, Academy Awards host Hugh Jackman is teaming up with "Australia" director Baz Luhrmann for a special musical number during this year's Oscar extravaganza.

What Friedman got wrong is that the number isn't opening the show, it will occur later on during the telecast.  Also, sources say the number will not be inspired by legendary musical director Busby Berkeley (yeah, let's really scare ABC guys).  Still a mystery, however, is whether this Hugh Jackman production number will include this year's three nominated songs "Down to Earth," from "WALL-E" and "Slumdog Millionaire's" "Jai Ho" and "O Saya."

The best news for Oscar show fans, and probably where Friedman was misinformed on the Berkeley comparison, is that Luhrmann, one of cinema's most creative minds, is no stranger to the stage. His production of the Puccini Opera "La Boheme" received critical acclaim and kudos in both its Australian and Broadway incarnations.

And not to be cynical, but if the number is a hit in the show, it will only help put some shine back on Luhrmann's reputation stateside after the big-budgeted "Australia" was a huge disappointment at the box office (although it's grossed a fine $131 million overseas).  And a successful stint as Oscar host won't hurt Jackman either.  When the only true hits you've had involve playing a mutant superhero, your career can use the boost.

As for the news, what's your take Oscar fan? Relieved? Excited?

 

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Pete Hammond, Gregory Ellwood, T.L. Stanley, Scott Feinberg and Tom O'Neil chat Oscar at the LA Times.
Pete Hammond, Gregory Ellwood, T.L. Stanley, Scott Feinberg and Tom O'Neil chat Oscar at the LA Times.
Credit: Los Angeles Times

Oscar 2009: The Envelope panel looks at the Academy Awards

Ellwood joins O'Neil, Hammond, Fienberg and Stanley in dishing this year's nominees


Last Friday, before "Slumdog Millionaire" rolled over the PGA and SAG Awards on its way to Oscar glory, I was part of a panel of The Envelope.com Academy Award prognosticators that also featured The Envelope's Notes on a Season columnist and Oscar guru Pete Hammond, Hollywood Reporter's feisty Gold Rush blogger T.L. Stanley, The Envelope's up and coming Feinberg Files blogger Scott Feinberg  and The Envelope's Gold Derby blogger, the legendary Tom O'Neil. 

Pleasantly, a frank and entertaining discussion on all the major awards took place.  Two important factoids to consider as you enjoy the commentary.

1. Yes, I completely misspoke when saying the deadline for ballots was only a week to ten days away.  It is, in fact, not until March 17.

2.  I am this close to needing an intervention regarding my current haircut  I'll just defend myself in saying it looks great head on.  That side angle?  Let's just say I have more sympathy for Mariah Carey's antics than I did in the past.

Best Supporting Actor


Best Supporting Actress

Best Actor

Best Actress

Best Picture


Agree? Disagree?  Any hair style suggestions?

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The cast of "Slumdog Millionaire" celebrate their win at the 2009 SAG Awards.
The cast of "Slumdog Millionaire" celebrate their win at the 2009 SAG Awards.
Credit: AP Photo/Reed Saxon

'Slumdog's' SAG win may close the door on 'Button's' Best Picture hopes

Penn holds off Rourke challenge, Streep vs. Winslet continues


So, a movie without one recognizable actor, let alone any Hollywood actors wins the Best Ensemble Award during tonight's Screen Actor's Guild Awards. That's pretty damn amazing. 

Think about it.

Not only did "Slumdog Millionaire" beat other ensemble films such as "Milk" or "Frost/Nixon," it beat "Doubt" which cinematic success is based only on the powerful performances of Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and Viola Davis.  And, surprisingly, it overcame its main competition at this year's upcoming Oscar show, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button."  A flick that only featured a multitude of small performances by working actors (always helpful when seeking union love) as well as respected nominees Brad Pitt, Taraji P. Henson, Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton and Julia Ormand [Thanks for the correction hoffmry].

And yes, "Slumdog" won.

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Mariah Carey, director Lee Daniels, Mo'Nique and Paula Patton at the world premiere of "Push: Based on a novel by Sapphire" at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.
Mariah Carey, director Lee Daniels, Mo'Nique and Paula Patton at the world premiere of "Push: Based on a novel by Sapphire" at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.
Credit: AP Photo/Matt Sayles

Sundance fuels first legit Oscar candidates for 2010

'Push,' 'An Education' and 'Adam' could all be players


Is it 2007 all over again?  Just two years ago, the indie haven that is the Sundance Film Festival had its most significant representation at the grand old lady herself, the Oscars.  "Little Miss Sunshine," "An Inconvenient Truth," "Half Nelson" and "The Illusionist" all rang up significant nominations in what was a very competitive year.  2010's show may not duplicate that success, but the writing is on the wall that a number of audience favorites could be major players during next year's award season.

"Push: Based on a novel by Sapphire"
Many in the media looked at the cast and prejudged this film before seeing it, only to rave about it afterward.  And that makes the double win of the Audience and Grand Jury dramatic awards is significant.  Especially considering the competition in that category with "Humpday" and "Adam" (more on that one later).  No one is claiming Mo'Nique is a lock to get an Oscar nod in the best supporting actress category next year for her stunning performance as a monster mother (no one is this early in the game), but the Special Jury Prize winner for Acting definitely makes her a player.  The producers and director Lee Daniels have held off on lining up a distributor until now and based on the festival awards it may have been their best strategy.  They are going to need a mini-major or studio to come on board who will work this title into the crossover hit it can be.  Searchlight might be booked, but Focus? Paramount? Miramax? Lionsgate?  Who is going to step up to the plate?  For more on "Push," read my review.

"An Education"
Carey Mulligan. Remember that name.  If Sony Pictures Classics has their way, moviegoers will fall in love with the, as HitFix's own Daniel Fienberg noted, "Emily Mortimer crossed with Ellen Page crossed with Katie Holmes" british newcomer.  This classy coming-of-age drama could push Mulligan into the Best Actress race (although Sally Hawkins failure to get nominated this year isn't a good sign for British ingenues) and at the minimum reward Nick Hornby ("About a Boy") for an Oscar nod for best adapted screenplay.

"Adam"
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see what Fox Searchlight was thinking when they acquired this one.  A romantic drama about an autistic man (Hugh Dancy) who falls for his upstairs neighbor (Rose Byrne), this well received flick has the potential to push Dancy into next year's best actor race.  And if you have to ask why, just rent "Tropic Thunder"...

"The Cove"
Already pegged as a potential smash as the "dolphins are the new Penguins" movie, this Audience Award winner could easily sneak into the always bizarrely selected best documentary field...as does...

"We Live in Public"
Hailed as a significant artistic achievement by many critics, this documentary follows the life of dot-com entrepreneur Josh Harris whose online experiments were years ahead of its time. Certainly on the short list for next year's documentary competition.

And this isn't even taking into account two other crowd-pleasers: Searchlight's "500 Days of Summer" and the Jim Carrey/Ewan McGregor flick "I Love You Phillip Morris" (a film that will be better received away from Park City). 

Needless to say, Sundance has made the kickoff to next year's award's season that much more intriguing.  And that's always a good thing.

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The industry was stunned to see "The Dark Knight" not nominated for best picture for this year's 81st Academy Awards.
The industry was stunned to see "The Dark Knight" not nominated for best picture for this year's 81st Academy Awards.
Credit: Warner Bros.

Oscar 2009: Why the'Dark Knight' snub? The Academy is old stupid

Fallout on Eastwood, Springsteen and Winslet, Weinsten's last hurrah



So much for some stone cold locks

In an awards season that was shaping up to be relatively drama free, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had the audience of press and publicists gasping in shock after the 2009 Academy Award nominees were announced early Thursday morning.  Obviously, the biggest snub went to “The Dark Knight” which proved getting recognition from each and every guild in town increasingly doesn’t mean much.  Still, Christopher Nolan and company weren’t the only ones scratching their heads.  Here's more on that controversy and other big stories from today’s nominee announcement.

Harvey Weinstein ain’t dead yet

It wasn’t just that the Weinstein Company pulled “The Reader” from afterthought to a prizefighter knocking out “The Dark Knight” for the final five, Harvey and gang (what he has left of one anyway) secured nods for Stephen Daldry in directing and David Hare in the very competitive adapted screenplay categories.  As expected, the studio also sheperded a nod for "Vicky Cristina Barcelona's" Penelope Cruz in the best supporting actress race. Considering the rumors surrounding the finances of the company, this might amount to the Weinstein’s last Oscar hurrah (at least in this incarnation). 

Winslet goes solo
Previously nominated five times, both Paramount Vantage, the Weinstein Company and Winslet’s reps fashioned a strategy where they would sell Winslet as a best actress candidate for “Revolutionary Road” (directed by her husband Sam Mendes) and a best supporting candidate for her work in “The Reader.” While many awards groups including the Golden Globes acclimated to their wishes, the Academy decided to go their own way nominating Winslet only for her superior performance (in this writer’s opinion) in “The Reader.”  Now, Winslet the Oscar bridesmaid is trying to win her first nod opposite the legendary Meryl Streep who secured her 15th nomination for “Doubt.”  Our money is still on Winslet, but with Streep in the mix anything is possible.

Screeners rule

Not only did it help “The Reader” with all its nods, but “Frozen River” and “The Visitor.”  “River,” one of the 2008 Sundance Film Festival’s less buzzed about films, got some nice reviews during its summer release, but Sony Pictures Classics made sure it was one of the first guild and Academy screeners mailed resulting in somewhat surprising nominations in the best actress category for Melissa Leo and best original screenplay for first time writer/director Courtney Hunt.  Overture also scored with best actor nominee Richard Jenkins and a nod for original screenplay for Thomas McCarthy thanks to a strong screener campaign.

Why the “Dark Knight” snub?  They’re old stupid
There has been a lot of talk over the past years about how the Academy is starting to age down and that a younger perspective has influenced the selection of such non-traditional nominees as “Little Miss Sunshine,” “Juno” and “Lost in Translation.” It appears that trend has been greatly exaggerated.  “The Dark Knight” was one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year appearing on numerous top ten lists, the second highest grossing picture in U.S. history and was nominated by almost every major industry guild for year end awards.  And still, it appears a majority of the Academy couldn’t see past is superhero origins to nominate it for the final five.  Remember, every member of the Academy submits five nominees for best picture.  There is certainly a younger contingent in the Academy, but they appear only strong enough to safely push one non-typical nominee in a year.  This year, one would have to guess a majority of their votes went for “Slumdog Millionaire” and, possibly, “Milk.”  “Knight” couldn’t make up the ground it needed with the older members who favored more traditional Oscar bait such as “The Reader” and “Frost/Nixon.” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” was like a consensus pick among all voters.  This might also explain why “The Wrestler,” a major favorite among Hollywood’s younger set, didn’t score original screenplay, cinematography or directing nods.  Most importantly, this is another shot across the bow to AMPAS that if it wants the Oscars to stay relevant in movie history, it needs to open its doors to many more under 40 members working in the industry.  Yeah, good luck with that one.

Springsteen will just enjoy the Super Bowl this year
While many in the media and the music industry might be perplexed about a perceived diss against the 1994 best original song winner for “Philadelphia” by not nominating his title song for Darren Aronofsky’s “The Wrestler,” its much more complicated than that.  The music branch of the Academy wants to be taken more seriously as being part of the moviemaking process and there recent rule changes over the past few years have made end credit songs difficult to champion.  It’s one of the reasons Clint Eastwood’s “Gran Torino” song also wasn’t nominated (not that they respect the icon’s composing skills).  “Down to Earth” no doubt made the cut because it’s heard within the context of the movie.  One thing is clear the branch may have gone too far in its rule changes. Excellent songs that become ingrained in pop culture are being eliminated overly strict requirements.  When the Grammys are more accurately awarding in this category you’ve got a problem.

Are there any competitive races this year?

There is a growing sense that the closest thing to a race this year is in the best actor category.  Sean Penn is still the frontrunner for his work in “Milk,” but  “The Wrestler’s” Mickey Rourke is coming on strong.  If Rourke wins the equivalent statue at the Screen Actor’s Guild Awards on Sunday night, watch out. 

“Slumdog” has to watch out for another underdog
The much beloved “Slumdog Millionaire” is still the favorite to win best picture, but even with 10 nominations (and trust me, double digits means a lot when it comes down to the finish line) the Fox Searchlight surprise needs to watch its rearview mirror for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” The David Fincher drama scored 13 nods, one short of the record 14 only “All About Eve” and “Titanic” have secured.  Wit that much love from individual branches, the yawn inducing, but pretty “Button” could easily take home the top award of the night.

Irony in Eastwood snub
Billed as Clint Eastwood’s last performance on the big screen, the Academy favorite was thought to be a shoe-in for a best actor nomination. No one would have been surprised if the crowd-pleasing “Torino” had received a best picture or best original screenplay nomination either.  Instead, the icon was completely shut out of this years show, having to be satisfied with a best actress nominee for the star of his drama “Changeling,” Angelina Jolie.  Amazingly, “Torino” is a huge hit that should gross well past the $100 million mark.  Would opening the movie nationally a week earlier helped its Oscar chances?  Warner Bros. and Eastwood will no doubt be second-guessing that decision while taking the inexpensive film’s receipts all the way to the bank.

Where was the Woody love?
Eastwood wasn’t the only Academy favorite to be forgotten this year.  Woody Allen made his best film in a decade, the critical and box office hit “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” but the legendary writer/director couldn’t snag a nomination in a weak best original screenplay field (very odd).  Allen will just have to root for one of the film’s stars, Penelope Cruz, to take home her first Oscar in the best supporting actress category.

What surprised you most about this year’s nominations? Are you looking forward to the show?  Hit me back with your thoughts below.

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Tea Leoni and Billy Bob Thornton no doubt want to forget their time digging through "Manure.
Tea Leoni and Billy Bob Thornton no doubt want to forget their time digging through "Manure.
Credit: Sundance Institute

Sundance Review: 'Manure' an appropriately titled piece of [expletive]

Thornton and Leoni no doubt hoping this movie goes down the drain

"Manure" really is one big piece of [expletive].

Yeah, yeah, that was too easy wasn't it. But, oh is it true.

The Polish Brothers, director Michael and screenwriter/actor Mark, have always been an acquired taste.  From "Twin Falls Idaho" to "Northfork" the brothers have been impressive visual stylists, but their screenwriting skills have always left a little to be desired.  "Manure" is no different.

A comedy that went over like a lead balloon at its public premiere at the massive Eccles Theater, "Manure" finds Billy Bob Thornton (reuniting with the Bros. after "The Astronaut Farmer") as a 1950's fertilizer salesman whose company is on the verge of collapse after the death of its founder.  When the new boss, Tea Leoni, shows up, Thornton and his salespeople (including Ed Helms, one of the few shining lights in the pic), enter a war with a modern fertilizer company (lead by Kyle MacLachlan) for the business of Kansas' ignorant farmers.  But, the plot doesn't really matter much.  In fact, it's pretty pointless.  The movie is really just an excuse for the Polish to spend two hours on overly indulgent production design and small pockets of bizarre humor (Helm's character grows breasts, seriously).

Needless to say, there isn't a major distributor who will go near this flick and once the tepid applause began as the credits rolled, any investor in the audience must have been wondering what convinced them to put money into this piece of [expletive].  The traditional Q&A was just as painful.  The theater manager had to coax answer out of the crowd and Leoni had no interest in going anywhere in the mic. 

And yet, that's the one advantage of coming to Sundance without a distributor is that if your movie is as bad as "Manure" is, it may never be seen again.  Leoni and Thornton are no doubt keeping their fingers crossed for that outcome.

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