"This is going to be a hard Christmas for our family," George Clooney told me yesterday right before we all went off to the premiere of his directorial debut, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. He was thinking about his late aunt, the legendary (and truly so, no kidding) Rosemary Clooney who left this planet last June much too early.
"Christmas was a big time for her," George remembered. "Every year she'd send us a Christmas song on tape that she'd sing for the whole family. Then two years ago we got the tape and put it in and she said on it, I've been doing this for like 30 years and 'I've run out of Christmas songs.' So she sang 'Easter Parade!' Isn't that great?" He took a moment. "But it's still sad."
George did not forget Rosie when he was making Confessions. For one thing, he made sure her voice would be heard in the film. "We have her in the movie," he said. She sings at the end of the movie.
"I heard the song and it's Irving Berlin's song. His estate never lets that song out, but we called up and said it's a tribute to Rosie, so they let us use it."
You'll have to wait and see Confessions to hear which song George chose by his aunt.
Clooney was a little disappointed yesterday that Confessions got shut out of the Golden Globes, especially so for star Sam Rockwell. "He really worked his ass off," said Clooney. And truly, Rockwell does a star turn in Confessions that should earn him an Oscar nomination even if the Hollywood Foreign Press ignored him.
Clooney hit the Confessions after-party at the W Hotel with a drink in each hand, ready to celebrate having actually made it to opening night.
He accepted congrats from his pals, Joel and Ethan Coen, as well as director James Toback, co-star Drew Barrymore, Campbell Scott, Patricia Clarkson, Maria Bello, Liev Schreiber, Liv Tyler, (celebrating the debut of Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers the previous night), and his producing partner Steven Soderbergh, who managed to avoid the limelight as much as possible.
But all eyes were certainly on Chuck Barris, who wrote the book and lived the life, or at least the parts he didn't make up out of whole cloth. Barris, creator of The Gong Show, The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game, claimed in his book that he was simultaneously a CIA hit man.
Clooney lays it all out in the movie brilliantly and Rockwell portrays Barris in such a way that it almost seems possible.
When I asked Barris about his CIA life, he replied, "I don't talk about it, and if you're interviewing me, I'm going to walk away." Indeed, he is better off not talking about it, because he can't offer any proof of his involvement, leaving it a mystery works so much better.
But whether or not Barris was with the CIA is irrelevant. In the end, who cares? Rockwell makes up this wild character out of whole cloth anyway, and Clooney was able to convey the story in a totally unique way. Audiences are going to be fascinated by Confessions.
And here's a little aside. One guest last night was the great Sheila MacRae, musical star and wife of the late star Gordon MacRae. (Sheila was also featured for many years in The Honeymooners when Jackie Gleason did the sketches on his variety show.)
Sheila was actually a judge once on The Gong Show. Barris couldn't believe it when they were reunited. "He was always a little crazy," MacRae said.
The dancingest fool in the movie biz is star Sam Rockwell. He has a reputation for taking over dance floors with his deft moves and at the same time removing bits of clothing. Last night was no exception. Once the Confessions star was fully ensconced on the dance floor at the W, he got into a bit of dirty dancing with actress and Brazilian bombshell Sonia Braga. If there are pictures of this I'll bet they've been destroyed by now.
Sam's dad, Pete, a commercial artist for the San Francisco Chronicle, told me nothing about Sam's rise to success surprises him. "We've been doing this for 15 years, taking our vacations when Sam has a movie premiere. And this is the best thing he's ever done. He was born to play this part."
Meantime, the word at the Confessions party was that the long, odd romance between Jack Nicholson and The Practice's reed-thin star Lara Flynn Boyle is over. Boyle is now apparently dating handsome Hollywood agent Patrick Whitesell, who represents among others Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. This would explain Boyle's absence from Nicholson's recent appearances supporting About Schmidt in L.A. and here in New York last September. I rather doubt Jack has done much moping about this situation.
Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York opens today in about 1,200 locations, many fewer than Lord of the Rings or other Christmas blockbusters.
Nevertheless, if there is one event picture to see this weekend, Gangs is it. Daniel Day- Lewis may be an odd duck in real life, but on screen he is so mesmerizing that you will not be able to take your eyes off of him. His performance as Bill the Butcher has already earned him raves and awards from the New York and Los Angeles film critics groups. Ever since I saw the 20-minute reel at Cannes last May, I've been telling you about this. Now everyone has the chance to see DDL in action.
You will hear that Gangs is violent, and it is. But the violence follows historical detail from the period of the 1860s in lower Manhattan. It's probably no bloodier than Gladiator or Saving Private Ryan. But it is also on the grand scale of both of those classic movies.
We are all sworn to secrecy on the final moment of Gangs. All I can tell you is please, stay in your seats until the credits roll. That last sequence is a tearful, emotional moment no one should miss by accident.
I liked most of the Golden Globe nominations yesterday, but I think some glaring omissions must be rectified come Oscar time. Missing from the Globes were Chris Walken, Best Supporting Actor in Catch Me If You Can; Sam Rockwell, Best Actor for Confessions; Bebe Neuwirth, supporting for Tadpole; and Lois Smith in Minority Report.
Also left out of the Golden Globes was any reference to Denzel Washington's smash directorial debut, Antwone Fisher. In advance screenings, Antwone has been quite popular; a ten-hanky black Good Will Hunting. Fox Searchlight has done a good job so far in advance preparation for the film's release but they need to hire an Oscar specialist if they want this film to hit the big time.
As for all of us, Antwone Fisher is a movie you must not miss when it opens next week. It is the feel good drama of the year.