Mariah's Up, So Where's Tommy?

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Published January 04, 2006

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Mariah's Up; Where’s Tommy? | Hell Freezes Over | A 'History' of Popularity | Sightings

Mariah's Up, So Where's Tommy?

Is the infamous, legendary, reviled, beloved, scorned and sometimes scary Tommy Mottola officially retired from the music business? Maybe not yet, but consider all of this:

His celebrated ex-wife, Mariah Carey, is in the middle of her biggest success. Her “Emancipation of Mimi” album has eight Grammy nominations and is just about to cross the 5 million copy mark. It’s also yielded two huge hits, “We Belong Together” and “Don’t Forget About Us,” and propelled Carey back to superstar status, from which she will not likely fall again.

All of this makes us wonder: What the heck ever happened to Mariah’s ex, her guru, the man who thinks he discovered her and made her a star? Recently, recording artist Marc Anthony —whom Mottola picked up as a management client with the hope of getting Mrs. Anthony, aka J-Lo — quit and returned to work with his brother.

Earlier, Usher did the same thing, giving up Mottola for his mother (I wonder whom he blames for putting him in the awful movie “In the Mix,” but that’s another story).

You do recall Mottola getting the heave-ho from Sony Music exactly two years ago this week, after 14 years of ruthless behavior re-creating and then running an empire. He got a major gig with Universal Music six months later, in July 2003. That job was reviving the late Neil Bogart’s famed Casablanca Records, once home to acts such as Donna Summer and KISS.

Someone — I’m not sayin’ who — put out gossip that Universal’s Doug Morris was putting $50 million into the operation.

According to a press release issued in Billboard on July 8, 2003, “Signings will be announced in the next three to four weeks with the first singles to be out before September. As many as six albums are expected to be released under the Casablanca name within the next year.”

That was 30 months ago. And since then?

Casablanca has released virtually nothing but two albums by teen pop star Lindsay Lohan. The first one sold a respectable 1.1 million, according to Nielsen Sound Scan. But the second one has been a disaster: 202,000 copies. And that’s after Lindsay crashed her car a couple of times and got more publicity than 10 record acts.

If Mottola has other acts on Casablanca, he’s been keeping them a secret. The only singer besides Lohan who’s featured on the label’s Web site is a girl named Brie Larson. Her debut album, released a year ago, has sold 3,500 copies. The single from the album did a little better, with 5,800 copies.

Mottola may actually be at a disadvantage at Universal. It’s widely believed that Morris made the Casablanca deal with him out of friendship. At the same time, some insiders insist that Morris has actually blocked Mottola from having hits. One source told me yesterday: “They were always going to give Tommy a big three weeks when a record came out, then abandon him. And that’s what’s happened.”

Two years ago, a Mottola signee called MVP, considered a hot rap act, was on the verge of success. But then, says a source, “the word went out to kill the record. It went to No. 1 at dance radio in New York and Top 3 at pop stations. But Universal put nothing behind it.”

Mottola, according to friends, is spending most of his time now in Aspen with third wife, Thalia Sodi, long billed as a Mexican soap opera actress. Thalia remains mostly unknown in the United States except for a clothing line at K-Mart.

Despite efforts to turn her into an American celebrity, Mottola has only deepened her Latin American star status. At this point, it’s clear she will never be another Mariah, in any language.

“It must be driving him crazy that Mariah’s having so much success,” says a source. “After all, in the past he tried to kill her albums. But this one he couldn’t do anything about.”

The album he had a hand in destroying was “Glitter,” which was released on EMI after Mottola allegedly pilfered music and ideas from it and gave them to Jennifer Lopez to release earlier.

But Mariah is now with Universal, which means that no matter how much Mottola would like to see her fail, undermining the album would have meant undercutting himself at the same time.

Doug Morris, it’s pointed out, wouldn’t have liked that. And right now, Morris is Mottola’s last link to his beloved record business.

Hell Freezes Over; Pigs Fly

Did you hear that freakish sound yesterday afternoon? That was hell freezing over. I’m also told pigs were seen flying over Manhattan. The reason? I have been extended a formal invite to next week’s gala dinner at Tavern on the Green given by the National Board of Review.

What, you say?

That’s right. This is the work of the new director, Eileen Newman, who swears she’s going to turn this crazy group of movie fans into a respectable organization. I’ve got to give her credit. Things can’t get much worse.

According to sources within the group, this last round of voting was different than in years past. For the first time, they claim, the votes of the Screening Committee (150 or so members) in acting and directing categories counted as 100 percent.

In the past, the group vote sometimes counted only partially, with the votes of the 12 members of the Orwellian-named “Exceptional Photoplay Committee” and some of the administrative staff getting weighted percentages.

“I hope the Screening Committee vote was the only one. I know for a fact,” says a source, “that many of the 12 didn’t see any movies.”

The Orwell group, or Gang of 12 (to mix political and literary references) still chose all the “special” awards that are largely gifts to the studios and at the same time incentives for them to take $10,000 tables.

The trick here is that not all of the 12 even bothered to vote for these awards. That left an even smaller "Gang" to dispense their largesse and hope for a reciprocal effect. Those rules will have to be changed before next fall if Newman is going to bring about a substantial overhaul.

A 'History' of Popularity

Fans of David Cronenberg’s excellent movie “A History of Violence” would like me to point something out to you. Did we know that this movie, starring Viggo Mortensen and Maria Bello, made more critics’ Top 10 lists than any other film? More even than those gay caballeros?

Among the publications that acknowledged Cronenberg’s work were (that is, aside from this very column): Entertainment Weekly, New York magazine, Rolling Stone, People, Us Weekly, two columns each in the New York Daily News and Philadelphia Inquirer, Newsday, the Denver Post and the New York Times’ Arts & Leisure section.

This is what I have to say about "History": I wouldn’t mind seeing it as the “fifth” Best Picture choice, after “Munich,” “Brokeback Mountain,” “Capote” and “Walk the Line.” The “fifth” spot is a busy place right now.

George Clooney’s “Good Night and Good Luck” and Steven Gaghan’s “Syriana” are each contenders. Woody Allen’s “Match Point” could come on strong in the 11th hour. Someone out there may still be campaigning for “Memoirs of a Geisha,” too. “King Kong” could still have supporters, sort of the way Richard Nixon did when he ran for California governor in 1962.

I do think, though, for purposes of the Academy Award, “A History of Violence” would be my fifth choice, with the others as detailed above. “Munich” is the most important film of the year. “Brokeback” is the most controversial. “Capote” is the literary work of art. “Walk the Line” is the most well-rounded fun.

Choosing the fifth contender is difficult. “Good Night and Good Luck” is seriously well done, and Clooney should be applauded. But Cronenberg is the “professional” director, and his work is far more textured. Also, Mortensen is almost more Richard Widmark than Widmark himself. Almost.

I do think "History" plays better on DVD than the others, too. It’s that memorable. And that it was chosen by more Top 10 pundits than any other film could carry it over to a small victory.

Sightings, Etc.

Two of my favorite people, supermodel/actress/filmmaker Irina Pantaeva and her husband, the great photographer Roland Levin, celebrated some new projects at dinner with French actor Jean Reno at Russian Samovar…

Irina just left the Off-Broadway production of “Jewtopia,” but I also ran into Sam Wolfson, the show’s co-star and co-author, at that Mariah Carey New Year's blowout. That show is a certified hit, literally minting money from what I can tell…

Lucy Liu negotiated with the chef at Sushi Samba in the Village for her favorite dishes while she dined with stylist Enzo Angileri. In my day (the 1900s, I think) Sushi Samba was occupied by the Buffalo Roadhouse. It was just a place. Now it’s “hot.” Go figure. Must be the edamame

Ubiquitous “Entourage” star Adrien Grenier and his band, The Honey Brothers, got the crowd at the hot new GOGO Club to stand on their chairs for an hour long encore...

Scarlett Johansson and Josh Hartnett at separate tables from “The O.C.” actress Mischa Barton, who stopped in with her father for a late-night dinner at Dekk restaurant. Dad lives around the corner…

Celebrity interior designer Ben Chasin, who just finished an apartment for tsunami survivor model Petra Nemcova and “ER” refugee Julianna Margulies apartment, is said to be in the running for his own TV show on celebrity design. Why not? With 500 channels to fill, TV is now mysteriously home design central. I don’t understand it. Soon I will have my own channel on which I will discuss my favorite Yankee moments, high-end audio equipment and Rufus Thomas’ early music…

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