Here's some pretty big news: Jack Nicholson's About Schmidt did $2.55 million Friday night in only 816 theatres. That means it's going take in $8 million over the weekend. Now, if you're only used to hearing those "record breaking" numbers reports that come out on Sunday, this doesn't sound like a lot of money. But get this -- Schmidt's per-screen average of over $3,000 is off the charts. By comparison, Maid in Manhattan, playing at over three thousand screens, only took in a half million dollars more last night. Schmidt is suddenly a box-office giant. This, of course, is the power of Jack Nicholson at work. Smilin' Jack can sell sand to the Arabs, as they say.
Meanwhile, Gangs of New York -- a much different kind of movie with a huge budget and much riding on its outcome -- will finish the weekend around $42 million total. My four Oscar "locks" -- Gangs, Lord of the Rings, Chicago and Catch Me If You Can -- are now booming away at the box office. But if interest in Schmidt is this high, suddenly it's a contender for the fifth spot, along with The Hours, Far from Heaven, The Pianist, and Antwone Fisher. This is getting interesting now!
What a way to start the new year: Word from the West Coast is that Jackass won't die. The MTV series that became a feature film this fall is headed back to TV — as a reality show. The networks are now considering this as a serious possibility.
It seems that there are enough jackasses out there who have videotaped their own stunts and sent them in to MTV. What do with them? A sort of America's Funniest Videos for absolute idiots (as opposed to the ones who already videotape themselves doing stupid things for other shows).
No word yet on whether Johnny Knoxville, the host of Jackass, would sign on for a half-hour weekly show, but Bob Saget is probably available.
On Tuesday morning we'll get the Grammy nominations, which aren't as hyped as the various movie awards, but are still of interest (despite the dying recording industry).
Albums of the year should include some combination of offerings by Bruce Springsteen, Norah Jones, James Taylor, Wilco, Pink, Avril Lavigne, Eminem and maybe — oh maybe, but who are we fooling — Elvis Costello.
Santana's single, "The Game of Love," will be eligible but the Shaman album will not since it missed the Oct. 1 deadline.
In the meantime, here are my top 10 albums for 2002. This reflects nothing but personal taste since most of the stuff that came out this year was unlistenable or simply retreaded from earlier in the rock era.
It's kind of an Achilles' heel for someone brought up in that era to even want to make a top 10 list, and naïve to think that it can still be done. But I did enjoy these albums, although none of them changed my life.
1. Elvis Costello — When I Was Cruel
Costello's best work in years, maybe a decade. The title track is absolutely chilling; nearly all of the rest of it shows an artist whose work gets better with every release. "Alibi" should have been covered by someone else by now, but of course that tradition is nearly extinct.
2. Julia Fordham — Concrete Love
India.Arie loved this album so much when she heard the original version that she asked Fordham to record the title song as a duet. Fordham, 37, had a big hit in the late '80s called "Happy Ever After" and then released five terrific albums in a row on Virgin. This new one, produced by Larry Klein, is the best. Fordham has the best voice in pop music right now.
3. Aimee Mann — Lost in Space
Aimee Mann got an Oscar nomination a couple of years ago for the Magnolia soundtrack. Her fans were legion before that, however, starting with the band 'Til Tuesday. Disorganized in her career to the point of distraction, Mann still manages to cough up an excellent new collection every couple of years. She and Jon Brion write wonderful Beatlesque melodies that perfectly complement her woeful, melancholy voice and lyrics. Not a breakthrough album, but a welcome one nonetheless.
4. George Harrison — Brainwashed
You wonder why Capitol Records bothered to put this out at all considering that they ignored it from Day One. This is Harrison's posthumous farewell, and it's full of terrific tracks mixed by Ryan Ulyate and produced by Jeff Lynne. Every Beatles fan should have this in his or her collection. "Stuck Inside a Cloud" sticks out, but so does George's ukulele version of "Devil and the Deep Blue Sea." It's refreshing and sad as hell.
5. Wilco — Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
This group was always out there with a loyal audience and steady sales, but when Warner Bros. heard the new record they dropped the group. Another Warner label, Nonesuch, picked it up and got a lot of press out of that. "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" is not only my favorite track on the CD but also the name of a documentary about the group issued this year. This is smart stuff, and the more you listen to it the more it grows on you.
6. Sam Moore — Lost Album
I have to admit that Sam Moore is a friend of mine. I featured him in the documentary Only the Strong Survive simply because he's maybe the nicest guy in the world who also happens to be the most amazing singer you've ever heard. Famous for "Soul Man" and other great R&B classics, Moore never got to put this album out after he recorded it in 1972. Atlantic's Jerry Wexler didn't think it cut it. Recently Sam and I saw Jerry, and he said he regretted his decision. Get this thing as soon as possible — Aretha Franklin plays piano, the back-up band is composed of all-stars, and Sam sings like an angel.
7. Bruce Springsteen — The Rising
Isn't this the Grammy winner for Best Album? I mean, if it's not, then let's all go home. There isn't a weak track, and the great ones just keep getting better. I just wish "Empty Sky" went on a bit longer. "You're Missing" is evocative and heartbreaking, while "Mary's Place" is the new crowd pleaser. In 20 years no one's come along to knock Bruce off. He is the king of American rock 'n' roll, a great guy and long may he reign.
8. Vivian Green — Love Story
Here's the deal on Vivian Green. This is modern R&B — not any of those other nitwits you hear about. She is right there with Alicia Keys and India.Arie, making fine, soulful, bluesy music with a honey of a voice. She is all real, not like some singers who keep insisting that they are "real." Try "Emotional Rollercoaster" or "Superwoman" this weekend and see if you don't get lucky.
9. Wyclef Jean — Masquerade
"Two Wrongs (Don't Make a Right)" would have been a top 10 hit in my day on pop radio, but alas, no one at Sony has any idea how to market the one-time leader of the Fugees except to hope one day there's a new Fugees album. Since Lauryn Hill is just nuts, I don't think this is happening. I keep saying now that Wyclef, who is a genius in the mode of Stevie Wonder, should release a compilation album of all his pop songs from his three solo albums. Drop the rap already. This guy can write mad hooks. Also, he needs a stronger duet singer than Claudette Ortiz, who is beautiful but not up to par. Why not ... Vivian Green?
10. Pretenders — Loose Screw
My favorite group, the Pretenders, released this album a couple of months ago. It's being kept a secret by the label, Artemis, so that people don't get too excited all at once. If new listeners heard Chrissie Hynde's voice, they'd freak, and then there'd be all kinds of trouble. Destined for undeserved obscurity, Loose Screw is tight. Chrissie's cover of British DJ combo All Seeing I's "Walk Like a Panther" is sexier than anything the stripper girls (Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, etc.) could possibly hope for. In fact, if Britney wants Justin Timberlake back, she should just put this on and lip-synch along. All hail Chrissie Hynde!