Catch Me If You CanBest Supporting Actor   | Whitney Dive Bombs

Catch Me If You Can Catches Everyone Off Guard 

Here's the problem with making Oscar prognostications early in December: You can miss the last movies that are readied for release. That's the case with Steven Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can, which most reviewers and press haven't seen yet. I've seen it though and I am happy to tell you it's a hit through and through. Leonardo DiCaprio is most assuredly going to get an Oscar nomination for Best Actor and the movie and director are probably headed for similar awards.

Unfortunately, Rolling Stone -- like other magazines -- issued its 10 best list for 2002 without seeing Catch Me. And that's a shame, because the film's stylized breeziness is such a departure for Spielberg that I think people will flock to it just to see him direct a movie without aliens or the crunching violence of war.

From the jazzy John Williams score and terrific opening credits right through to the end, Spielberg recalls all the great light comedy thrillers of the late '50s and early '60s, especially Robert Mulligan's 1961 classic The Great Impostor starring Tony Curtis. Indeed, DiCaprio is more Tony Curtis than ever (and I mean that in the best way) as he talks his way out of jams and romances the ladies effortlessly with the more convincing charm than I thought he had.

One sign of the success of Catch is that at 2 hours 30 minutes it leaves you wanting more.

The true story Catch Me is based on Frank Abagnale Jr., a con artist who before the age of 19 -- and without a high school diploma -- became a perfect impersonator of a Pan Am pilot. He flew around the world many times, cashing forged and counterfeited Pan Am checks and making monkeys of the FBI agents who followed him.

Abagnale eventually went straight after a stint in prison and subsequent employment with the FBI. On the set, Spielberg told me last week, he would attract crowds when he started spinning his tales of high adventure. Di Caprio became his student, learning stuff about him that wasn't even in his book or the shooting script. One great sequence has DiCaprio/Abganale getting a high class hooker (played by Jennifer Garner) to pay him for her services. Beautiful!

DiCaprio is in almost every scene, carrying the film. He's an adult here, and, unlike in Gangs of New York, he has the most riveting character. It's almost fortuitous that the two films are coming out at the same time since Daniel Day-Lewis so thoroughly runs away with Gangs. This is a tour de force for Leo, and it frees him from Titanic, I think, forever.

There are many pleasant acting surprises in Catch Me, but the hands down best is from Christopher Walken, who plays Frank's dad. Spielberg lays out the father-son relationship with real delicacy, and Walken responds to this by turning in his best performance ever. This is a nomination for Best Supporting Actor without a doubt. I think even Spielberg was surprised that Walken, whose career line is like the EKG of a heart attack patient, still had it in him.

It's kind of amazing that Spielberg could have turned in Minority Report and Catch Me in the same year. In 1993 he had Jurassic Park and Schindler's List, but the former was merely cotton candy. This time he's got two serious classics on his hands, completely different in tone and style. Catch Me If You Can is a film much fuller of gravitas than you might guess from the trailer, but it's also a lot of fun and smartly assembled. A quarter decade after Jaws, Spielberg continues to astound.

Best Supporting Actor: There Are Plenty 

Yesterday I gave you a list of supporting actresses who I thought would make it into the final rounds. Today, Best Supporting Actor is on our minds.

Dennis Quaid in Far From Heaven
Bernard Hill in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Alfred Molina in Frida
Christopher Walken in Catch Me If You Can
Jim Broadbent in Gangs of New York
Richard Gere in Chicago
Ray Liotta in Narc
Ed Harris in The Hours

This category is hopping this year. My first impression, which is still the strongest, is that Dennis Quaid is this year's Kim Basinger. He's a beloved, longtime Hollywood guy who's had a bunch of bad breaks. This is his comeback year, and people want to support him for making it past his embarrassing divorce.

Who could get in his way? Well, Richard Gere, for one. Tap dancing and singing, two things you never thought you'd see him do, Gere is the revelation of Chicago. The movie is such a hit in pre-screenings that when people finally see it I think everyone will be singing and dancing with him. Gere, like Quaid, has put in his time, made good ones and turkeys, and tried to keep his chin up through it all. He's a contender.

Christopher Walken, discussed above, will blow Academy voters away. Jim Broadbent won last year, but he's the male Judi Dench, and that may carry him through. Bernard Hill is a newcomer, so just awards talk is enough for him right now. Ed Harris could ride the wave of The Hours if there is a wave and Ray Liotta fits into the Quaid/Gere category.

My choice at the moment -- and this could change -- is Molina. His Diego Rivera is simply gorgeous. He invests so much sympathy into this rotten guy that you're thinking of ways to defend his cheating on Frida Kahlo. Plus Molina has done his time in Chocolat and other films, patiently working in quality stuff and holding out for good roles. Personally, I've always envied him having terminal sex with Natasha Henstridge in Species, but that's another story. In a real dogfight, Molina, I think, may pull it out. But there are months to go and the winds keep changing.

Whitney Dive Bombs With Diane Sawyer

Anyone who saw the embarrassing spectacle of Whitney Houston on ABC's Prime Time last night must be scratching their heads: Who would allow such a thing? Houston's publicist, Nancy Seltzer, appears to have thrown in the towel. Letting Houston go on TV and admit to drug abuse -- boast about it, even -- had to be some kind of secret pleasure for a publicist who can no longer defend her client.

Whitney looked dreadful and sounded worse. But more alarming than her laryngitis was her bizarre defense of a lifestyle that cannot be defended. She seems to be destroying herself despite her assertions. How long before her comments about crack (apparently it's not for her, it's for poor people) and receipts from drug dealers (show them to her, please) turn up in comedy routines across the country.

Houston's new album comes out next Tuesday. I don't think this interview can help her in any way. It can only hurt. I remember this girl so clearly from the first time we met in 1989. She was lovely at 26. Robyn Crawford -- now an elegant woman, then a fun girl -- was a strong part of her life. So was Whitney's mother, Cissy Houston. On the day I visited, Whitney's dad was there in Mendham Hills, too, although now it's clear that these relationships have all been strained. They've all been replaced by just one: Bobby Brown.

Sweating profusely on camera, admitting to drug use just hours after his latest arrest, this is Bobby Brown. What Sawyer did not ask the couple about was why they missed Michael Jackson's second show on Sept. 10, 2001. "They were too [expletive] up to leave their room," says my Houston insider. Or why they missed meeting Sawyer in Atlanta two weeks earlier. Same reason again. This was not Whitney before Bobby Brown. This is Whitney after.

Also, just to clarify: Whitney showed and performed at Clive Davis's final pre-Grammy party as head of Arista Records at the Beverly Hills Hotel in 2000. She made several pointed comments to BMG executives from the stage about their poor treatment of Davis. There was no rift between them.

A few weeks later she missed the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction dinner that Davis was honored at. When Sawyer questioned her about it, Whitney answered: "That's because of something between him and me."

There's a lot more to write about Whitney and none of it is very good. I am truly sorry about that. Watching her fidget, answer questions with eyes closed, laugh at drug references was embarrassing. She admits now to a failed intervention staged by her mother in 1999. She seemed very arrogant about it. There is nothing to be arrogant about here.