Oscar Upsets: Is It All Set in Stone? | Sting: A Punk-Pop Kenny Rogers

Oscar Upsets: Is It All Set in Stone? 

The way people are talking, the Oscars are a done deal. This is what I hear: Gladiator, Julia, Tom Hanks, Benicio, Kate, Ang Lee for Best Director. 

Oh really? Then why bother watching? 

Are there alternatives? Yes. As Oscar ballots start arriving this weekend, Academy voters still have lots of choices. For one thing, Russell Crowe's performance in Gladiator is much better than the movie itself. I'd much prefer to see Crowe win over two-time winner Tom 'Aw Shucks' Hanks. What may have hurt Russell was all the Meg Ryan stuff. But that's blown over, and Crowe — who did excellent work also last year in The Insider — seems ripe for an award. 

If Gladiator is knocked out of Best Picture, what then? I guess I'd have to say that Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is the true masterpiece from the 2000 releases. Although it's cheesy some respects, and owes its story more to Wagner's Ring Cycle than Chinese pulp fiction, Crouching Tiger was indeed the Best Picture last year. The flying — or floating — is amazing. And there's a sense that it's a prestige movie, not just Ben-Hur updated. So what if it's also nominated for Best Foreign-Language Film? 

For Best Actress, it seems all but sewn up for Julia Roberts, and deservedly so. Juliette Binoche and Ellen Burstyn have Oscars at home, and Laura Linney is too new and in too small a film. Joan Allen — with two previous nominations, including one for Nixon — has always been a bridesmaid, never a bride. 

But what if Roberts' support is just in the press? One savvy Oscar voter said to me not long ago, "There's only Binoche. She's the one." 

How do you like that? Hollywood has traditionally backed away from rewarding the very big stars at the last minute. It's possible that Julia is too popular, too pretty, and too successful. If so, Binoche may prove to be the Academy favorite. Don't forget: she beat another certainty, Lauren Bacall, for Best Supporting Actress back in 1997. It could happen again. 

For Best Supporting Actress: Is Kate Hudson definitely in? Or will the prickly Frances McDormand, also from Almost Famous, cancel out her vote? Could be. Then the race is a free-for-all, with Judi Dench in the lead and Marcia Gay Harden right behind her. Julie Walters, from Billy Elliott, is in a movie that got passed over, so we can rule her out, I think. 

Among the supporting men, Benicio del Toro has been on the inside track for months. But the Supporting category tends to be sentimental. So watch out, Benicio, for Albert Finney, a beloved older actor with lots of pull among the nostalgic crowd. And don't rule out Joaquin Phoenix, either — he steals the show in Gladiator, has a tragic dead brother who's become a Hollywood icon, and a great line — "I'm terribly vexed!" 

I know the feeling. 

Sting: A Punk-Pop Kenny Rogers 

I can so clearly remember calling the now-all-talk WNEW-FM back in early 1979 to request a song. It was "Roxanne", by the Police. At the time, radio was all Fleetwood Mac, all the time. British punk-reggae was not even considered a possibility for their playlists. No Pretenders, Elvis Costello, Police, almost no Talking Heads

How things have changed. Sting, of Police fame, is now the Kenny Rogers of punk-pop. He's sold a gazillion records since going solo in 1984 with "If You Love Somebody, Set them Free." He's been in movies and on Broadway. He's worked to save the rain forest. 

But now a new wrinkle for Sting: On January 28th he broke off with his manager, Miles Copeland. They were together since around 1977, when the Police toured America by bus to save money. Miles was the brother of the Police's drummer, Stewart Copeland. Their other brother, Ian, handled the band's bookings. 

Even with the Police's breakup, Miles and Sting remained together. Their commercial success is quite unprecedented. Brand New Day, a so-so Sting album, has been on the charts 73 weeks and has sold almost 3 million copies. It didn't even have a hit single. But it did have a hit commercial — one song, "Desert Rose", became a video for Jaguar. Sting also became the spokesman for Compaq Computers. Money poured in. And maybe that was the problem. 

A source tells me: "Miles got greedy. And so did Sting. But Miles wanted a bigger chunk than usual. And that tipped it." Copeland has a little record label called Ark 21. But Sting is bread-and-butter and identity. So the break-up — which would have to have been over money — is that much more surprising. 

Copeland plays it close to the vest. He learned how to from his dad, Miles Copeland Sr., who was a well-known CIA agent until his death in 1991. He doesn't give interviews and is rarely seen about, although it's generally thought the band manager in Spinal Tap was based on him. He needn't worry about money. But it's a sad end to a long relationship. 

And what of Sting? Again, no one could have guessed in 1979 that he'd be the annual winner of the Grammy for best male pop vocal. That he'd have hit after hit. That he'd survive last winter's debacle with The Emperor's New Groove. But like Elton John — who fired his longtime manager John Reid — Sting is a real survivor. God bless him.