Some years you can't predict the Oscars, but other years, oh boy, it's a lead-pipe cinch.
For "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King," 2004 will be much like 1998 was for "Titanic." It's a done deal.
The third chapter of Peter Jackson's astonishing trilogy got 11 nominations this morning. On February 29, it will take home most of those statues.
Otherwise, the 2004 Oscars are a mixed bag containing one huge disappointment: no nomination for Anthony Minghella's "Cold Mountain." The Miramax hit seemed likely to be in the mix, but its late release on Christmas Day obviously worked against it. All the other nominees were out in time for voters to see them and learn to love them.
Of course, "Cold Mountain" still got seven nominations, including a best-actor nod for Jude Law, which ain't bad.
The real surprises at Miramax were nominations for their independent foreign films "City of God," "The Barbarian Invasions" and "Dirty Pretty Things."
For "City of God" especially, a film that missed the best foreign-language category last year, getting nods for directing and for screenplay is fairly amazing.
Denys Arcand also got two nominations for "Barbarian," for best original screenplay and best foreign-language film. And "Dirty Pretty Things" picked up a nod for best original screenplay.
Totally shut out, even from the best-supporting-actor category, where Albert Finney seemed sure to pick up a nomination, was Tim Burton's "Big Fish."
But totally in was Jim Sheridan's fine drama "In America," which benefited from heavy campaigning. Same for "Seabiscuit."
So 2004 will go down in the books as an unusual year, blamed somewhat on the "screener" controversy and also to the change in the schedule of ballot deadlines.
Yet not everything is decided. While Charlize Theron and Renée Zellweger are locks, I think, to repeat their Golden Globe wins, the best actor category is up in the air.
Sean Penn, for example, is vulnerable after not turning up for the Globes, which he won. The Oscar may very well go to Globe co-winner Bill Murray. And Tim Robbins' supporting actor statue could drift to Alec Baldwin of "The Cooler" if Warner Bros. doesn't handle the "Mystic River" campaign just right.
As for surprises, my favorite one has to be Djimon Honsou, who was nominated for his work in "In America." Steven Spielberg first cast this guy in "Amistad," where he was great. But after that, except for a supporting role in "Gladiator," and memorable appearances in a series of "ER" episodes, it's been hard finding work.
I ran into him Sunday night at the CAA party (see below) and he was a pleasure, as usual, to talk to. He is a welcome addition to the Oscar line-up, as are Patricia Clarkson, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Keisha Castle-Hughes and Ken Watanabe.
Leonardo DiCaprio is back.
Still cruising on his "Titanic" fame, DiCaprio managed to cause a sensation Sunday night at the Golden Globe ceremonies and later at both the Miramax and CAA parties.
This should be the beginning of Leo's march to the 2005 Oscars for his portrayal of Howard Hughes in Martin Scorsese's Warner Bros. film "The Aviator."
In fact, the CAA post-Globes blowout at Chaya Brasserie in Beverly Hills was studded with stars besides Leo.
Jude Law, Eva Mendes, Jimmy Fallon, Troy Garity, rocker Fred Durst, "Sex and the City" actor Jason Lewis, Mary Kay Place, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Peter Sarsgaard, Katie Holmes, Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis, Leelee Sobieski, Kirsten Dunst and Jake Gyllenhaal, New York nightclub empress Amy Sacco, 'N Sync's Lance Bass , super-producer Jennifer Todd, and Sony Pictures Classics' Michael Barker were just a few of the hearty party-goers who would not go gently into the good night.
Let's not forget Meryl Streep, who proved she was no slouch. She was one of CAA's, shall we say, "more mature" clients who dashed over to the event after paying her respects at the HBO party at the Beverly Hilton.
When I ran into her, Meryl — with her newest Golden Globe in hand — was waiting inside the door while her husband, Don Gummer, patiently braved the paparazzi and looked for their driver.
I asked Meryl about her allusion to the State of the Union address in her acceptance speech, and she laughed, "Someone had to say something!"
Indeed, without Sean Penn, and with Tim Robbins in a reticent mood, Streep was the only interesting speaker of the night.
Nicole Kidman also put in an appearance at the CAA gala. Kidman made a point of keeping a low profile, knowing that "Monster" star Charlize Theron was the focus of the night. Nicole — who had her parents with her as dates — wisely stepped away from the spotlight.
But certainly it was DiCaprio who got the most attention, twirling around the dance floor and chatting up lots of the young women who vied for his attention.
Meanwhile, the CAA party showed that über-agent Kevin Huvane, who reps most of the town's great beauties (Jennifer Aniston, Julianne Moore, Kidman, etc.) has grown well beyond his early description as a "young Turk."
Since he and a group of agents (including Rick Nicita, Fred Spektor, and Richard Lovett) took over Creative Artists Agency from Mike Ovitz and Ron Meyer a few years ago, the firm has once again become a powerhouse.
Huvane, among the group, has stepped out as their public face and de facto leader. This annual party has become his hot ticket, with everyone in town trying to get in — even agents from other agencies!
It was a Huvane family affair Sunday night, too, as Chris Huvane, Kevin's younger brother and the West Coast editor of GQ magazine, did the deejaying. You haven't seen anything til you've seen Leo boogie to Beyonce's Chi-Lites sample, "Crazy in Love."
No, you couldn't get away from Paris Hilton on Sunday night, no matter how much you tried. She was everywhere, making a scene, and the scene, with boyfriend Nick Carter (remember the Backstreet Boys?), her newly brunette sister Nikki and her parents Rick and Kathy.
The Hiltons were almost as omnipresent as couple-of-the-minute Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson, who are about to become a Trivial Pursuit card of their very own.
The couple met shrieks as they headed into the glamorous shindig thrown by InStyle magazine, which featured a real singing star — Prince — as the surprise entertainment. The Purple One serenaded nominee Scarlett Johansson, among others, at what had to have been the best-looking party on the premises, and also the one with the best food.
I felt bad for Johansson, though. She's only 19 and not old enough yet to guard her thoughts. When I asked her how she felt after the show was over, she said, "I'm just a big loser!"
No amount of cheering her up — after all, at 19 she's the toast of the town for artistic achievements — could change her mind. Tsk, tsk.
It's funny about the Golden Globes parties at the Beverly Hilton: The most unnecessary security and rudeness came from the hosts who had the least to offer.
On a talent-per-capita basis, Miramax and HBO had the hottest rooms and the nicest set-ups. At the Miramax party, Renée Zellweger might have won the award for least demanding star as she worked the room and accepted kudos from fans for her "Cold Mountain" win without a publicist in sight.
Elsewhere, Sting and stylish wife Trudie Styler roamed about, and I caught up — at various parties — with Jon Voight, Ben Kingsley and William H. Macy and his own wife, actress Felicity Huffman. (I liked it when Huffman introduced herself to Jane Fonda at the Miramax party as "the wife of William H. Macy — and a person in my own right.").
Earlier, on the red carpet, Tom Cruise approached Sarah Jessica Parker with some trepidation.
"Are you Sarah Jessica Parker?" he asked, flashing his grin.
SJP cooed, and the newly introduced pair hugged.
Cruise was without his other Cruz, Penelope, maybe as a gesture towards Kidman, whom he could have made feel uncomfortable.
As for Fonda, looking lovely, she was the belle of the Miramax ball, where so many A-listers pranced around — she was more of an A-plus-lister.
She did confirm for us that she's starring in the comedy "Monster-in-Law" as Jennifer Lopez's ferocious new mother-in-law. It's a comedy and you can expect Fonda to bring an intelligence and sensitivity to this project.
It begins shooting in May, and after that expect the two-time Oscar winner to be shopping for a big drama that will bring her home to the Academy Awards in 2006.
I have to say I'm pretty stupefied by the way the new Warner Music Group has announced the arrival of Universal's Lyor Cohen to their fold.
I told you some time ago that Cohen's contract at Universal would not be renewed and that he was leveraging himself to go to Warner's. In fact, Cohen himself made the announcement months ago to Newsweek's Johnnie Roberts. I mean, when Universal saw that item, did they think he was staying?
More importantly, did they want him to stay? The Warner press releases say they offered Cohen $50 million to come on over and steer their rudderless ship.
Coincidentally, $50 million is the amount of money Universal will have to pay TVT Records because of a court judgment that Cohen interfered with TVT's business. In court, Cohen lied or misrepresented the facts of the case constantly and inconsistently.
Since then, his acts — like Ja Rule and Ashanti — have turned out to be flashes in the pan. Nevertheless, this is who the new Warner Music Group thinks should guide them out of their fog.
At the same time that Cohen mounts the Warner machine, the new rumor is that his successor at Island/Def Jam will be Arista's recently ousted Antonio "L.A." Reid.
Are you enjoying this? For years, the Hollywood movie studios played this same game, with fired execs moving from one post to another as the movies got worse every year and the execs built bigger and bigger palaces for themselves.
Now the record business, which is in the middle of its own duck-duck-goose game, is headed in that direction. Witness the zillions made by Tommy Mottola and friends while so many actually talented artists have no label deals.
Quick, everyone switch places! Maybe it will work this time!
Here is the music business as it stands today. I saw the lead singer from Train on the "Today" show last week trying to sing some awful, unmemorable, non-melodic "song" with just a keyboard player.
The vocals were so far off-note and off-key that I thought dogs might go off their leashes in Rockefeller Center and barrel through the Art Deco doors, knocking over the security guards on their way into the glass-enclosed studio.
At the same time, record execs wonder why they're being laid off this week, and why album sales have disappeared. Hello?