Lord of the Rings | Simon CowellOscars | J-Lo | Russell Crowe

Lord of the Rings Towers With Number Two

We finally got to see The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers last night and, as I predicted from the 16 minutes of footage shown in the fall, this will be a big hit.

It's also quite likely to be an Oscar nominee for Best Picture, joining Gangs of New York and Chicago (each from Miramax, which will distribute a low-budget documentary I co-produced next year), Catch Me If You Can (from DreamWorks, whose annual Christmas party I attend), and one of the following films: Far From Heaven, Antwone Fisher, or The Hours.

Lord of the Rings is from New Line Cinema, which took a big risk in agreeing to make three films when the aforementioned Miramax balked at the idea.

The Two Towers features breathtaking battle scenes that involve a lot of computer-generated graphics but enough human interaction to make the whole business seem very real. It also boasts a beguiling CGI character named Gollum who looked to me like he the was love child of Sylvia Sidney in her older years and Peter Lorre.

There are several terrific human performances, not the least of which is from Bernard Hill as the King. He's a total surprise and a find, with the potential for a supporting-actor nod. Ian McKellen is just as good as before as Gandalf and Miranda Otto is the fetching princess.

Viggo Mortensen, who should have been a movie star long before this, will maybe now break through. He is photographed as nicely as possible by director Peter Jackson, who obviously saw Mortensen as his matinee-idol hero. He was right.

But I think the real success of The Two Towers comes not from the story — which, frankly, is hard to follow in the first hour, but then settles down. (A map, shown in the last hour, would have been more helpful early on.)

No, the real success comes in the camaraderie among the characters and the actors. It's a very human movie after all. The people really seem to like each other, and we like them because of it.

With all this emotion and bonding, The Two Towers has everything that made the original Star Wars movies so popular, and everything that the two recent ones have sorely lacked.

The Two Towers will open on Dec. 20, the same day as Gangs of New York. What a weekend that will be! Two epic stories of very different natures, and each will be fighting for the same awards. After last year's paucity of good films, we're really basking in a glow right now. Every December should be so fruitful.

Simon Cowell 'Couches' His Boredom

So what has the American Idol judge/impresario/owner done with all the money he's made this year? Apparently the answer is: buy lots of expensive furniture.

Over at Harvey Nichols' department store in the Knightsbridge section of London, Simon Cowell has been seen haunting the very posh Catherine Memmi boutique on the 4th floor. Memmi is a French designer of custom furniture and bedwear. Her stuff is off the charts in price, made by hand in France of leather and the finest materials.

Recently I was told Cowell worried about an Elle Decor shoot in his London flat. So he picked up a $5,000 bed, several tables, two $5,000 couches and a pair of chairs for $3,000 apiece.

After all this, he returned one day and told the sales people he was "bored" with a white Long Island sofa. So he picked up a $6,000 black leather sofa from the line just to amuse himself.

That's not all: On the day of the Elle Decor shoot, he frantically called and insisted the store deliver another chair.

"We didn't have one," said a store insider, "so we had to sell him the floor model."

Congratulations, America. A year ago we'd never heard this man's name.

Best Supporting Actress: Some Nominees

Everyone's starting to publish lists. Lists and lists and lists of their Top Picks for movies for 2002. So let's start with this category.

Susan Sarandon in Igby Goes Down
Bebe Neuwirth in Tadpole
Catherine Zeta-Jones in Chicago
Miranda Richardson in Spider
Kathy Bates in About Schmidt
Meryl Streep in Adaptation

Meryl Streep in Adaptation, for example, is a likely nominee. She would knock off Kathy Bates, I think, but you never know.

Then again, so few people have seen Igby or Tadpole that it's likely they'll cross each other out. Too bad, because they're both terrific performances.

Wouldn't it be a nice irony, though, if Neuwirth got nominated in the same category she might have been nominated in for Chicago — that is if she'd been given the movie version of the stage role she created.

Streep is a sure-fire lead nominee for The Hours anyway, so her supporting nod is not so dire.

Again, Adaptation has a big critical following. But regular Academy voters may not be able to follow it. Bates is brave in Schmidt for baring all, but her ball-busting independent women are starting to feel the same from movie to movie.

That leaves Richardson, who is stupendous in Spider and is an underappreciated commodity because of her low-key approach and diffidence toward this whole business anyway.

A toss-up, although if Chicago takes off as everyone thinks it will, Zeta-Jones may just swoosh on through with the rest of the cast.

J-Lo Doesn't Make Top 5

Even though she sold a lot of copies of her new album — 360,000 in fact — Jennifer Lopez failed to make the Top 5 with This Is Me Then. All that publicity about Ben Affleck, diamonds, and a new movie couldn't help her.

The mediocre album was also slammed by reviewers, including Jon Pareles in the New York Times, who called her voice — and this is being charitable — "thin."

But good news for Mariah Carey, from whom Lopez lifted a track on her last album. Carey released her new album, Charmbracelet, yesterday. She did a slew of interviews and acquitted herself well on Oprah and Dateline: NBC.

What's more, she's toned down her act and focused on her singing, even getting a good review from the New York Post. I just wish on Oprah they'd used the live version she performed of "My Saving Grace." The lip-synching was too obvious, but at the same time you see that Oprah and the audience were very enthusiastic about what they were hearing in the studio.

Eating Crowe

Back on Nov. 22 this column managed to get the dates wrong for Russell Crowe's Gladiator Oscar nomination and award. The dates should have been Feb. 13 and March 25, 2001. Also, somewhere in the transmission I didn't make it clear that the enormous success of Gladiator drove Crowe's price higher in Hollywood at the time Flora Plum was going into production.