Rod Stewart and Anita Baker | Will Smith | Oscars | Harry Potter 

Don't Count Rod — or Anita — Out so Fast

Yesterday I told you that Rod Stewart and Anita Baker — two powerhouse names in the pop music biz — had been dropped by Atlantic Records. 

But I spoke to people representing both artists yesterday and things are not completely what they seem. 

First, Rod Stewart: His longtime manager, the very shrewd and savvy Arnold Stiefel, told me that Atlantic did not drop Rod. His contract with them expired five months ago. "We did one album with them because we were still with Warner Music Group and thought, okay, let's try Atlantic. We have a two CD greatest hits package on Warner in Europe that's sold through the roof, but we are done with them. We've been there 150 years, and it just seemed time to work with a real song man in the record business." 

Could that be Clive Davis? Stiefel declined to say who he was talking to, but assured me that Rod would have a new deal in place early in the new year. 

Meanwhile, Anita Baker's story is more complicated and more stressful for the golden throated singer. 

Yesterday, the day after Atlantic dropped her, Baker's aunt died after a long illness. The funeral is today for this lady whom Baker considered a surrogate mom. Her real mom also passed away recently. These two ladies and their medical problems, according to Baker's former attorney Greg Reed, occupied most of her time and thoughts the last seven years. 

"Luckily Anita owns all her songs," said Reed, "so she's never had to change her style of living. She wanted to come back to recording but these things in her personal life took up her time." 

Reed says, diplomatically, that Baker can be "demanding," but she isn't a full-blown diva with eccentric tastes. She did ask to be let off Elektra Records after not getting along with top management. "I negotiated a seven figure package for her," Reed told me. Meaning: Atlantic bought out the Elektra deal. Now I suppose they'll just write it off entirely. 

Ironically, Baker was finishing up a new album this fall. Last summer she recorded several songs, then discovered that there was what she claimed to be a "popping" noise on the songs. She sued Zomba Recording Studios for $500,000 reimbursement. Settlement papers were drawn up, but Baker wouldn’t sign them, and now the case is pending again. 

Her new lawyer, Christiana Vance, told me: "We are in litigation with Zomba, that's all I can say." 

A source knowledgeable about the Zomba side of things maintains the case is not true.

Vance also told me she'd heard nothing about Baker being released by Atlantic. But rest assured, Baker will have plenty of suitors when it's time to shop her new CD.

Will Smith Catches His Own Screening

Michael Mann's Ali, which opens in a couple of weeks, was screened last night at the Ziegfeld Theatre in New York. Among the invited audience of 300: star Will Smith, director Michael Mann, and co-stars Mario Van Peebles and Geoffrey Wright

Mann — whose movies Heat and The Insider are, I think, modern classics — sat in the rear of the orchestra busily taking notes. His main gripe, according to sources? He didn't like the sound mix on the movie. 

The film, like The Shipping News and a few other Christmas releases, didn't appear to be quite finished either. It lacked end credits. Between that and the sound, which Mann could still tweak, Ali is up against a deadline.  

Oscar Buzz: Too Many Movies, Too Little Time 

All at once, Oscar is descending on us like parachuting troopers taking a beach. 

The fact is that, except for Christopher Nolan's very fine Memento, and Ben Kingsley's performance in Sexy Beast, there were no contenders for Oscar before this month. How is that possible? How is everyone supposed to absorb 20 good movies in three weeks' time? 

Somehow, we'll muddle through. Worse things have happened this year. 

So far the Best Picture situation is cloudy at best. Early reports on Ron Howard's A Beautiful Mind are solid, and it seems to have the edge on a locked position. Gosford Park, Robert Altman's tour de force, could also be in, depending on its campaign and public reception. You have to see it though just to enjoy Maggie Smith, among many fine performers. 

The rest is speculation. Good films that might make the cut include Lasse Hallstrom's The Shipping News, Judi Dench in Iris, Memento, Todd Field's In the Bedroom, and Cameron Crowe's Vanilla Sky. Interesting movies with good elements but less likely for Best Picture are Michael Mann's longish Ali, the Coen brothers' The Man Who Wasn't There, Wes Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums and Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings

One interesting scenario brewing is the likelihood of Nicole Kidman getting two Best Actress nominations from the Golden Globes. Since they have drama and comedy/musical categories, Kidman is eligible for The Others in the former, and Moulin Rouge! in the latter. Moulin Rouge! — like Memento and some other pre-October 1 choices — is being re-released in New York and L.A. next week. So 20th Century Fox is in there fighting. 

Believe me, Nicole's double whammy will happen, without a doubt. But the inevitable winner in the comedy category has to be Renee Zellweger, as Bridget Jones. The Others should propel Nicole all the way to an Oscar.

No One Wants to Hear Harry Potter 

Everyone — or an awful lot of people — seem to be going to see Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. But not that many people are listening to it. The album, on the jinxed Warner Records label, is at No. 62, down from No. 48, after four weeks on the charts. So much for the synergy between hit movies and their soundtracks…

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