Shelley Winters' Deathbed Wedding
We interrupt this program to tell you that five hours before her death last week, Academy Award-winning actress Shelley Winters wed her longtime boyfriend Gerry DeFord. The service was performed by Oscar nominee Sally Kirkland, who is ordained as a minister and was Winters' protégé and friend.
I believe you will read this in the National Enquirer and other places, but since Kirkland and I shared a flight out of the Twilight Zone on Southwest Airlines a few days ago, I know the full story.
Sally told me that Winters' daughter, Dr. Vittoria Gassman, whose father was the great Italian actor Vittorio Gassman , was not present at the wedding. That's because the doctor is an Orthodox Jew and could not travel over that weekend. She had also opposed Winters' idea of marrying DeFord earlier, having taken control of her mother's estate.
(If you were wondering: Gassman senior was Catholic. Shelley was Jewish by birth, but certainly not Orthodox.)
This would make DeFord Winters' fourth husband. In an eerie coincidence, Winters' third husband, actor Tony Franciosa , had a stroke and died just a few days after the actress' death. The couple had a contentious tabloid headline-filled marriage in the mid 1950s. Franciosa had several children including two who were under 35 from his last marriage. Kirkland told me she was praying for them all.
Meanwhile, you might want to know why Sally Kirkland is there in the first place. She's got two movies, one at Sundance and one at Slamdance, the "dissident" Park City festival. "Off the Black" is another terrific small movie, reminiscent of Jim Jarmusch's "Broken Flowers." It stars a raspy-voiced Nick Nolte as a high school baseball umpire who sort of blackmails his star pitcher into pretending he's Nolte's son for the star's high school reunion. It's a lovely little film, but I don't see it getting much beyond high-end cable play on IFC or Bravo.
Kirkland plays Nolte's former sweetheart in an extended cameo, and she's spot-on. She's one of our most underrated actresses and she doesn't mind reminding anyone who will listen. In the case of "Off the Black," at least she didn't have to go far for the audition. Kirkland told me that she, Nolte, Nolte's son and two other friends are all living together in Malibu at Nolte's sprawling beach home. It's independent-assisted living for the Hollywood set, and my guess is, it's the beginning of a trend!
Nolte, by the way, has managed to turn his eccentricities into a full-time career. He appeared on stage at the "Off the Black" screening at the Eccles theater looking gaunt, as well as balanced on a cane. He also sported a black fedora and a long black coat. When he spoke, he sounded more 85 than 65, but he's alive and he's rehabilitated from his various demons. If he can make it five more years, he's also going to get a lot of lifetime achievement awards. The achievement will have been making it through a lifetime, cane or no cane.
Kinnear, Carell in Sundance Sales Record
There's a lot going on here at the Sundance Film Festival. For example, last night rock star Sting surprised his former bandmates Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers by turning up at the party for Copeland's documentary about their old band, The Police. Entertainment Weekly threw a star-studded party at which a puffy looking Al Gore made an extended appearance alongside Hollywood's hottest actors. Robin Williams debuted in a Hitchcockian mystery.
But the biggest deal has been made about the biggest deal ever made. "Little Miss Sunshine," a black comedy starring Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, Alan Arkin and "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" star Steve Carell was sold to FOX Searchlight for nearly $12 million. It set a record for Sundance sales, beating previous record holders "Happy, Texas" and "The Spitfire Grill." If you're thinking those movies were flops, you'd be right.
To make the situation even more interesting, "Little Miss Sunshine" is written and directed by first-time filmmakers. Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton have only made music videos before this. Screenwriter Michael Arndt is also a newcomer. And the movie's plot could best be described as a combination of "National Lampoon's Summer Vacation" meets Jon Benet Ramsey.
Nevertheless, audiences here have literally lost their minds over "Sunshine." So far the two big screenings on Friday night and Saturday morning produced extended, spontaneous standing ovations. Such explosions of praise are rare at Sundance, where even the best films are met with a little cheering and some scattered bravos, at most.
Not everyone can believe this reaction, starting with the filmmakers. Star Greg Kinnear, who already has an Oscar nomination under his belt for "As Good As It Gets," told me last night he couldn't explain what was happening over the phone to his wife.
"I just said, 'I'll tell you more when I get home.' All I could say was, 'It played very well.'"
Kinnear shook his head in disbelief; he looked a little dazed when we chatted at Entertainment Weekly's big party late last night. He's had his share of hits, but nothing on this scale.
One of the movie's producers, David Friendly, son of the late CBS legend Fred Friendly, tried to put it all into perspective.
"We broke the record, but that could last for 15 minutes," he said.
Friendly, like the film's other producers, would make only that reference to the sale and declined to confirm the actual sales price. But in all likelihood, the $12 million tag is a bargain. "Little Miss Sunshine" has a minimum future of $50 million at the box office.
And that's what's making this year's Sundance a bit of bewilderment. "Sunshine" is a terrific comedy, but it also stars two Oscar nominees (Kinnear and Collette), a recent award winner from a hit TV show (Carell) and a comedy acting giant (Arkin).
Cinetic Media, which made the film, could have easily sold it straight to any of the studios for the same amount of money. Bringing it to Sundance seems to have been all about hype. Unlike "Happy, Texas" and "Spitfire Grill" or even another film it resembles in spirit, "Welcome to the Dollhouse," "Sunshine" came to Sundance with big studio aspirations.
Maggie Gyllenhaal Gets Really Naked
The lovely and talented Maggie Gyllenhaal is already famous at Sundance for getting spanked on screen (etc.) a couple of years ago in "Secretary." Yesterday she debuted in "Sherrybaby," in which Gyllenhaal plays a wayward, alcohol- and drug-abusing paroled mother whose child is living with her brother- and sister-in-law.
Unlike "Little Miss Sunshine," this is indeed an independent film. On its face it seems like a Lifetime movie, but "Sherrybaby" is fairly edgy. Gyllenhaal gets good and naked and has at least one explicit sex scene with a stranger played by Rio Hackford, son of director Taylor Hackford ("Ray"). It's also the best work the young actress has done to date, and that's saying a lot considering her resume: "Secretary," "Happy Endings," "Donnie Darko."
Gyllenhaal's only big studio movie so far has been "Mona Lisa Smile," playing one of Julia Roberts' students, but that's all about to change. She's not about to become a Parker Posey, ubiquitous queen of the independents.
Right now she's making Oliver Stone's "9-11" movie, and her next releases include Marc Forster's "Stranger than Fiction" co-starring such un-indie names as Will Ferrell and Queen Latifah. She's said to be excellent in another indie coming soon, Bart Freundlich's "Trust the Man," opposite David Duchovny and Julianne Moore.
Her performance in "Sherrybaby," though, if handled properly, is the kind that brings lots of awards notice. It's right up there with Melanie Griffith in "Working Girl" and Charlize Theron in "North Country." The only problem with "Sherrybaby" is that it's a one-dimensional story. It never gets beyond Sherry's addictions and fears. It's all story and no plot. But that's a trademark Sundance movie and there's nothing wrong with that.
Giamatti's Hawks and 'Saints' Rises
Matchbox Twenty rocker Rob Thomas and wife, Marisol, are here and taking in a lot of films. Yesterday they loved Paul Giamatti in "The Hawk Is Dying," based on a story by the legendary writer Harry Crews. Giamatti is just better and better in everything he does. Tonight, Thomas plays a private gig for Amazon.com.
At the Saturday post screening Q&A of "Little Miss Sunshine," a lady in the audience told Steve Carell, "I could just hug you." So he went into the audience and hugged her. Carell is hilarious off the cuff in these situations. He's the breakout star of 2005-2006.
Not all the standing ovations yesterday were for "Little Miss Sunshine." My favorite film so far, "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints," got one, too. At least two major studios are vying for this one, a certain awards favorite next fall.
First Look Films, ramped up with former Paramount Classics guru-ette Ruth Vitale taking charge, gave an elegant dinner in Deer Valley last night at a private home. There's a lot of excitement about their film "The Proposition" with music by Nick Cave and starring Danny Huston. They were all present.
Motorola hosted a cool late, late night after party last night on Main Street. Sting, Trudie Styler, the aforementioned Rob and Marisol Thomas, Scarlett Johansson, Josh Hartnett, Jason Isaacs and gorgeous producer Tracey Edmonds all danced to a great DJ. On a cold night it was the hottest room in Park City.