Robert Redford | 'Thirteen' | Gregory Hines

An Oscar for Redford at Last?

Believe it or not, Robert Redford does not have an Academy Award for Best Actor on his nightstand.

He has one for Best Director for "Ordinary People" in 1980. He also has a Thalberg Award for his work as the creator of the Sundance Film Festival and all his work on behalf of the environment.

But all that may change this winter. I'm told there's a good chance that Miramax will release Lasse Hallström's "An Unfinished Life" in time for Oscar consideration at the end of the year.

Additionally, there's still a chance that Fox Searchlight will be ready with "The Clearing," a small film Redford made last year. The latter studio is waiting to hear if first-time director Pieter Jan Brugge — who more often works as the producer for director Michael Mann —- is ready to turn in his finished version.

The Hallström movie is notable for many reasons, not the least of which is that it co-stars Jennifer Lopez. This hasn't exactly been her year, what with "Gigli" still gobbling around in a few theaters. But my oh my, isn't this what Hollywood is all about?

Hallström is known to work magic. If "Life" is as good as his past films "The Cider House Rules" or "What's Eating Gilbert Grape," Lopez could be turning her turkey trot into a golden goose before 2003 is over.

As for Redford, it's about time he had an Oscar for acting. He's only been nominated once, for "The Sting." This seems impossible, since his performances in "The Candidate," "The Way We Were," "Three Days of the Condor," "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and "Jeremiah Johnson" were all worthy of nomination.

But Redford is the kind of actor who makes it look easy — maybe too easy. And then of course, he looks like ... Robert Redford. It will be interesting to see if, some 35-plus years into a heralded career, he finally gets the attention he deserves.

'Thirteen' Teen Mixes Fact and Fiction

First, let me tell you that Catherine Hardwicke's directing debut, "Thirteen," is a remarkable film.

Another great release for Fox Searchlight in its banner year, this semi-autobiographical treatise on teen life from the wrong side of the tracks is so searing that at times you forget the people on the screen are actors. This is because Oscar-winner Holly Hunter and former TV pre-teen Evan Rachel Wood (she was the younger daughter on "Once and Again") do work so good that if it doesn't get them to the Oscars, it will bring them to every other award show.

"Thirteen," which you may have already read about, is supposedly based on the life of a now 15-year-old girl named Nikki Reed. The connections are all incestuous and a little too convenient: Nikki happens to be the real-life daughter of Hollywood art director Seth Reed, the same guy who made Steven Spielberg's "Minority Report" look so good. (He was the assistant art director on "Fight Club," so you can imagine how busy he was on that one.)

Right now, Seth Reed is working on a new film by David O. Russell, for whom Hardwicke worked as production designer on "Three Kings." To make matters more complicated, the new Russell film will be released by none other than Fox Searchlight, the distributor of "Thirteen." Got that?

According to the storyline, it seems that Seth Reed (played in the movie by the underrated D.W. Moffet) and his ex-wife (played by Hunter) were not paying attention to young Nikki's lifestyle a couple of years ago — or so the publicity goes.

This gets a little confusing because we're being told subsequently that Wood's character is based entirely on Nikki's experiences. Even more blurring is that Nikki plays the movie's antagonist, another 13-year-old girl who introduces Wood to sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll.

To make matters more confusing, Hardwicke is apparently Seth Reed's ex-girlfriend. The story goes that she and Nikki holed up and wrote the screenplay for "Thirteen" based on Nikki's experiences.

Everyone in Nikki's family is skewered, including Seth Reed, whose fictional counterpart comes across as a clueless, cold-hearted, absentee dad who doesn't know that his ex-wife is living on the poverty line with his two kids. He also fails to notice that his 13-year-old daughter is a truant who does all kinds of drugs, shoplifts and has casual sex.

But I think it's a mistake to lay the whole "is it true?" rap on "Thirteen." This is not "A Beautiful Mind." A lot of "Thirteen" may be based on Nikki's life. Much more of it is probably exaggerated (or invented) for dramatic purposes. You could almost imagine these real-life Hollywood players cooking up this movie and its publicity at the same time.

But it doesn't matter in the long run, because Hardwicke makes such an impressive directing debut. And editor Nancy Richardson excels in putting together the pieces of this enormously complex jigsaw puzzle. Together they make sure that "Thirteen" functions as a scary, unforgettable document of family life in 2003.

The actors are all doing their best work. Hunter adds this character to a list of memorable others from movies such as "The Piano," "Broadcast News," "The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom" and "Raising Arizona." Wood, who resembles Laura Dern, gets propelled into what could be a substantial career if she's managed properly.

If you have a teenager at home, or if you are a teenager, "Thirteen" is an absolute must-see film. If you're a parent, this movie will be a wake-up call and a cold splash of water in the face. Prepare to have some pretty intense chats at home after the closing credits.

Gregory Hines

I was out of the country two weeks ago when Gregory Hines passed away at age 57. The supremely gifted and charming tap dancer/actor/performer had liver cancer, I'm told, and battled it bravely for a year.

I met Hines back in 1997 when he was filming his short-lived TV series for ABC. He was just terrific, a real mensch , completely without artifice or pretense after spending literally his whole life in show business. What a shame that he's gone. More than most, he will be missed.