Gwyneth Paltrow is back. She won the Oscar in 1999 for "Shakespeare in Love," but followed it with a lot of strange choices and bad movies like "Bounce," "Possession," "Shallow Hal," and most recently, "Sylvia." It seemed like Paltrow, who was dubbed "the first lady of Miramax" by Harvey Weinstein, was not going to be able to follow through on her tremendous promise.
But last night I saw an early test screening of "Proof," based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway play, starring Paltrow, Anthony Hopkins, Jake Gyllenhaal and Hope Davis. Wow! What a difference it makes to have good material.
Paltrow played the same role in London's West End on stage, with John Madden directing, in order to prepare for the film. Madden, who also directed her in "Shakespeare in Love," obviously knew what he was doing. They will all be talked about when awards season gets under way.
In "Proof," all thoughts of Gwyneth's tabloid life — yoga, Apple, Brad Pitt, Ben Affleck, etc. — evaporate. She is squarely back to being the finest actress of her generation. It's not only her unique talent, which has matured and grown. I do think Madden has a way of bringing out the best in his actors. Hopkins, subject to scene chewing since his run of fame as Hannibal Lecter, hasn't appeared so relaxed and natural since "Remains of the Day," my favorite of all his post-fame films. Equally good, in less showy roles, are Davis and Gyllenhaal.
Today, in Hollywood, the company's Weinstein brothers will sit down and meet with Disney's Michael Eisner to hash out the future of the company. Eisner, it's been reported, views them as renegades. But it's not so long ago that Eisner was the renegade. He took over Disney at a time when it was moribund and turned it around with sophisticated comedies starring Bette Midler, among others. "Pretty Woman" was a hit because of him, and "Quiz Show," a wonderful Robert Redford film, owed its life to him.
I wonder if Eisner can't recall his excellent instincts from that heyday, and can't make some kind of deal that keeps the Miramax quality filmmakers — the people who can do a "Proof" or "Finding Neverland" or "Cider House Rules" — making movies under the Disney aegis for years to come. Both sides would benefit from this, as would moviegoers.
Yesterday there were two album releases of note for those interested in popular music of the classy variety: Mavis Staples' "Have a Little Faith" and Julia Fordham's "That's Life."
I've had an advance copy of Fordham's album for a couple of weeks now, and two of the tracks — "Jump" and "Jacob's Ladder" — are so lodged in my mental hard drive I doubt if I will ever get them out.
Fordham, who celebrated her birthday yesterday, is in her late 30s, a British blonde who lives in Los Angeles and is produced by Larry Klein, former husband and producer of Joni Mitchell. Her range is so extraordinary that she can run from Nina Simone to the Indigo Girls in one song. But mostly what gives her inarguably the best voice of any female singer in the generation, following Annie Lennox, is her superb intelligence and warmth. Maybe you call this white rhythm and blues. I call it a comfort.
Fordham also writes her own songs, thank you, and they are not sampled or covered or otherwise manipulated. They are mostly about love, but they aren't bitter like Aimee Mann. The Fordham I've interviewed in the past is funny, and so no matter how morose she'd like to make her lyrics, they are always tinged by some kind of optimism. "That's Life" is a hit. I sure hope to see Fordham's name in several Grammy categories when the nominations are announced in January.
Hot on the heels of our report yesterday concerning Mariah Carey and plagiarism charges comes news that the singer is cutting corners. It's not like she's broke. After all, Virgin Records paid her $49 million to get out of their contract. But still, one worries when we hear that Carey was spotted flying business class to Rome recently before she connected to a commuter flight to the sparkling isle of Capri. Evidently she's doing some recording there despite assurances from manager Benny Medina only a few weeks ago that Carey was past her diva-like ways and was making her new album, like other pop stars, in Los Angeles.
On top of that, it seems that Carey has shut down her much vaunted record label. She started MonarC, with a capital C, when she signed with Island/Def Jam Records two summers ago. MonarC has had a butterfly's mortality, I'm afraid, and is now a moth perhaps eating away at Mariah's wardrobe. (This would explain its scantiness.) Carey's new album, which will be released early this fall, will appear on Island/Def Jam itself under the auspices of Antonio "LA" Reid, late of Arista Records. This puts Mariah one step closer to ex-hubby Tommy Mottola, who is running Casablanca Records at Island/Def Jam.
Like observers from Page Six, I have to say that I, too, saw Tom Cruise's twin last week at the premiere of "Collateral." He was seated a couple of rows in front of me, and noticeable because of his resemblance not to the current Cruise, but to the circa-1990 model. He has brown hair, a widow's peak, and a uni-brow that's been clipped in the center. I actually said to the person next to me, "That must be Tom's cousin, since he has no brothers." Strangely enough, this young man looked more like Tom than his actual cousin, actor William Mapother. Go figure.
Celebrity doppelgangers are nothing new, however. Jennifer Aniston has one. She's an actress named Andrea Bendewald who was featured on "Suddenly Susan." Bendewald is Jennifer's best friend and is said to be constantly at her side. It's a little weird at first, but I have a theory. Actors are alone much of the time while working on projects, often separated from family and loved ones. What better way to maintain sanity than to keep a person with you who resembles a family member but doesn't carry the emotional baggage? (This reminds me of a "Murphy Brown" episode in which Murphy's friends hired an actress to play her sister.)
For all we know, more celebrities are accompanied by near-perfect doubles to whom they can turn in times of need. The next step, of course, will be actual cloning. And you know some low-level TV actor will be first to try that out!
By the way, you may wonder what happened to William Mapother, Tom's cousin who was in five of his recent films. Acclaimed for his role as the killer in "In the Bedroom," William is now busy shooting "Lords of Dogtown," directed by Catherine Hardwicke ("Thirteen").