Nicole vs. Cate | Lil' Diddy | New York Times | Travis

Nicole vs. Cate: Oscar Title Match Comes to NYC

Forget the U.S. Open. The big 2003 Oscar race (search) heats up this week as the two leading candidates for best actress bring films to New York.

On Tuesday, Cate Blanchett arrives to show her reportedly extraordinary work in "Veronica Guerin." There's a small dinner planned for her and a screening of the Joel Schumacher film, also said to be his best work yet.

The next day, Nicole Kidman (search) gets to show her stuff in the U.S. premiere of Robert Benton's "The Human Stain." This is the first of two Kidman entries this year. "Cold Mountain" comes next and should be the one for which Kidman snags her nomination, if not her second award in a row.

Blanchett, however, should be a formidable opponent for Kidman this year. She's been spoiling for the best actress statue ever since she lost to Gwyneth Paltrow in 1999 when the latter's "Shakespeare in Love" performance edged out the former's soaring moments in "Elizabeth."

If either wins it will still be good news for the folks at Disney, though. They're distributing "Veronica," and they own Miramax, which made both "Cold Mountain" and "The Human Stain."

Blanchett also has a second film scheduled for the fall, "The Missing," directed by Ron Howard. And other potential candidates in this category will be Holly Hunter ("Thirteen"), Julia Roberts ("Mona Lisa Smile"), Uma Thurman ("Kill Bill"), Katie Holmes ("Pieces of April"), and Paltrow herself ("Sylvia").

Don't count on a Salma Hayek return in 2003, though. Columbia Pictures -- sore after bad premieres of "Gigli" and "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle" -- made sure press wasn't invited to see her in Robert Rodriguez's "Once Upon a Time in Mexico" last night. Adios, muchachos!

Lil' Diddy Off to Tony School With Good Rap

Congratulations to Justin Combs, son of rap and fashion impresario Sean "P. Diddy/Puff Daddy" Combs. He's landed in one of the New York area's most prestigious schools.

Justin, whose mother is stylist Misa Hylton-Brim, has just entered the third grade at the Horace Mann School in the Bronx in New York City. He's probably the only kid in his class that has not one, but two restaurants named for him.

Horace Mann, which looks and operates like a high-class college campus with state-of-the-art facilities, is a far cry from the down-and-dirty world of rap music wars and bling-bling. Hopefully, Justin won't be answering any questions with one of his dad's trademark expressions, "It's all about the Benjamins."

But at Horace Mann, like all other New York private schools, that's exactly what it's about. The school's tuition is upwards of $25,000 a year.

That doesn't count bodyguards, chauffeurs and other necessary accoutrements of being a celebrity's child.

Hylton-Brim, a stylist, reportedly gets $5,000 a month in child support from Combs so they can live comfortably in nearby Mount Vernon.

Like most private schools in the area, Horace Mann is not known for a huge minority population, by the way. In fact, one parent familiar with Justin's class observed: "It's weird. They seem to have put all the minority children, and there aren't that many, in the same class this year."

But something tells me that the kid will have the same crossover appeal as his dad, who attended Howard University and has proven to be a survivor in many tough businesses. By Christmas all the third-graders will no doubt be wearing Sean John designs and inviting Lil' Kim in to substitute teach.

Combs has a younger son, Christian, whose mother is his on-again, off-again (off during the J-Lo episode) companion, Kim Porter.

And by the way, if you're interested in Combs' ex, Miss J-Lo, and her reported nuptials, I was assured by someone in the know that there's no wedding planned to Ben Affleck for this coming weekend.

(Yawn.)

Personally, I wish these two would get it over with so the real fun can begin.

Superhero N.Y. Times Saves Warner Bros.

Yesterday's New York Times contained the strangest article on Warner Bros. studios in its business section. I'm starting to think the Times is publishing these pieces just to test everyone's awareness.

A big part of the article concerned Warren Lieberfarb, who was fired from his position as head of DVD sales and marketing. Writer Laura Holson states merely that Lieberfarb has retained counsel and is considering arbitration. For some reason she doesn't mention that the counsel he's retained is David Boies, the former U.S. attorney who brought Microsoft to its knees and also argued the Gore campaign's side in the 2000 election imbroglio. It's not like Lieberfarb hired just anybody.

According to the New York Post back on Aug. 11, Lieberfarb was on the brink of suing Warner for a cut of DVD sales.

"Lieberfarb was given a special stock-option grant for his DVD work, but those are now worthless because the stock has fallen," the Post's Tim Arango reported. "Lieberfarb also believes he deserves a cut from certain patent royalties. His name is on various patents connected with the DVD, according to regulatory filings, but AOL Time Warner collects the royalties."

The Times article briefly mentions that no one at Warner could agree on a star for a new Superman movie. But Holson completely bypasses any reference to the debacle of the "Superman vs. Batman" movie, the "Superman" movie that McG, aka John McGinty, was going to make, or the one that Brett Ratner was signed to direct.

The entire Superman/Batman catastrophe would seem to illuminate the basic chaos at Warner. It inadvertently caused one movie to be shut down, a major star to be transferred to a costly blockbuster (Brad Pitt to "Troy") and triggered "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle," a bloated-budget movie that was a flop in more ways than one for the studio.

Of course, there's more. Under the regime Holson praises, Steven Spielberg's daring "AI: Artificial Intelligence" tanked. Christopher Nolan's excellent "Insomnia" sputtered. And there's all the movies that didn't work: "Charlotte Gray," a pair from Clint Eastwood ("Blood Work," "True Crime"), "White Oleander," "Collateral Damage," "The Majestic," "Alex and Emma," etc. And let's not forget the glorious "Kangaroo Jack" and equally memorable "Malibu's Most Wanted."

Holson also carefully omits "Death to Smoochy," which cost $55 million to make but grossed only $8.5 million. She calls "The Adventures of Pluto Nash" a movie that was "much maligned." Indeed. "Pluto" cost well over $100 million to execute and took in a slight $4.5 million in ticket sales. Of course, if the figure is correct, "Pluto" somehow made $20 million in Spain, which is a slight consolation.

Luckily, Warner has some bright spots. Holson did not even hint at the new Warner Classics indie film division headed up by Mark Gill; that should start producing some quality films. In the meantime, if the studio isn't able to turn Eastwood's upcoming "Mystic River" into an Oscar nominee, even the Times is going to have to re-evaluate this latest odd interpretation of events.

Travis Is Back

Forget about Coldplay, Radiohead or any of these other Johnny-come-lately bands. Travis is back.

The Scottish quartet finally has a new album, called "12 Memories," and a national tour that starts Oct. 21 in New York.

Last year, Travis' drummer Neil Primrose was sidelined by a spinal injury he received while swimming. But he's OK, thank goodness, and back to business.

While we wait for "12 Memories," why not make two others and pick up "The Man Who" and "The Invisible Band," Travis' two previous and quite excellent albums. See if you can figure out what the main character lied about in the band's masterpiece, "Why Does It Always Rain on Me?"