Sandra Bullock may finally have some Oscar magic up her sleeve this year. One of the most agreeable, fun and down-to-earth box office superstars, Bullock nonetheless rarely gets taken seriously as an actress.
Last year she threw audiences a curveball by appearing in the Oscar-winning film “Crash,” a "serious" flick. Now she’s about to turn up in “Infamous,” this year’s movie about Truman Capote.
That’s right: There’s another movie about the famed little writer. It’s not Bennett Miller’s “Capote,” which won Philip Seymour Hoffman an Oscar for Best Actor, Dan Futterman one for his screenplay and everyone involved major kudos.
“Infamous” is written and directed by Douglas McGrath, a frequent Woody Allen collaborator and the director of “Emma” and “Nicholas Nickleby.” It’s based on a biography of Capote by the late George Plimpton.
As such, “Infamous” is a hell of a lot darker than “Capote” and maybe not as accurate historically. However, it does cover the exact same period in the writer’s life when he reported and wrote “In Cold Blood.”
Bullock plays writer Harper Lee, whose “To Kill a Mockingbird” was being published at that time. In Capote, Catherine Keener memorably played the same role and won many awards — I thought she was terrific.
Bullock thereby has taken on a huge challenge to make Harper Lee her own. It’s her first real onscreen acting job ever — no flirting or being cute, and she’s unable to use her natural glibness to cover the script. These words are on the page.
But Bullock makes it work. Even I thought felt a little sorry for her — no one wants to fight the image of another actor — she pulls it off masterfully. She is going to surprise everyone.
Her scenes with the insanely good Toby Young — a smaller, gayer, more accurately grating Capote in this movie — couldn’t be better.
With a severe haircut and a bland suit as her only props, Bullock makes you wish she’d done more "serious" stuff in her career. She also likely scores a Best Supporting Actress nomination.
Is she better than Keener? No. They are "apples and oranges." Or maybe lemons. And Bullock takes hers and makes lemonade.
Hip-hop impresario Kanye West has a lot of fans, but probably none bigger than Renald J. Richard. That’s because Richard wrote the lyrics to Ray Charles’ seminal 1954 hit “I Got a Woman.”
As it always goes in hip-hop, someone else wrote the song, and in this case it was Richard and Ray Charles who composed what today is known as “Gold Digger.”
Last night at the BMI Urban Music Awards, it was Richard who came on stage with Kanye to accept a prize for “Gold Digger” getting tons and tons of airplay in the last year.
Richard is in his mid 70s and lives in New York's leafy Westchester County suburbs. But back in 1954, he was the first leader of the Ray Charles Band. He would go on to write more songs with Ray, play on his important Atlantic recordings and those of many other artists, including Little Richard. “I Got a Woman” was his biggest hit, though, and he was rewarded with a songwriting credit. Last year he made a cameo appearance in the movie “Ray.”
So how does he feel about West sampling his entire song for “Gold Digger”?
“Just great,” replied Richard’s wife before he could even answer. We were at the Roseland Ballroom, as BMI — the cool music licensing agency — handed out its annual awards.
“It’s been wonderful,” added the musician with a laugh.
He acknowledged that he’s never made more money in his life. It’s the same kind of windfall that Eugene Record of the Chi-Lites had with Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love,” based on one of his songs.
Each time Renald and West won last night, they came to the stage separately and left that way. One time, they sort of made small talk as they took their plaques, but otherwise they were strangers in the night. It didn’t matter to Richard. “Oh no, he’s terrific,” said the veteran musician.
The funny thing, of course, is that BMI’s Urban Awards was like a pop-up version of this column’s observations for the last few years. Every “song” is “written” by a dozen or more people.
Sometimes when the winners came to the stage it looked like a convention. When Mariah Carey — who was there and looking hot in a short, tight black cocktail dress — won for “We Belong Together,” she was trailed by an entourage that resembled one of those cell phone network commercials.
Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds — the night’s main honoree with longtime business partner LA “Antonio” Reid — got a kick out of it.
A real composer — an overly effusive Reid kept calling him “the great songwriter since Lennon and McCartney” from the stage — Edmonds laughed as these huge scrums of “songwriters” grabbed their laminated cardboard plaques. Who were these people, I wondered?
“They were in the room when the song was written,” he laughed.
Del Bryant, the dapper and lovely bespectacled head of BMI, did his best to joke his way through the ceremony as he passed out the awards.
His legendary parents, Boudleaux and Felice Bryant, have between them about 450 songs registered with BMI, including the Everly Brothers' hits “Wake Up Little Susie,” “Bye Bye Love” and “Devoted to You.” As Ashford and Simpson might say, ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby.
So what would Del Bryant’s parents think of all this? “They wouldn’t get it,” he said.
One guy who did get it — a lot of it — was Sean Garrett. He was one of the few actual hip-hop writers in the room. The others were Pharrell Williams and Rodney Jerkins.
I’m not even sure they won any awards, but Pharrell was wearing an all-fire engine red outfit — T-shirt, baseball cap — and sported about $8 million worth of bling around his slight neck.
Jerkins, on the other hand, was mostly jewelry free. A regular Michael Jackson contributor in recent years, Rodney told me that Jackson’s called him about working on an album but it’s not happening yet.
“Anyway, he’s got to listen to me if we do it. He’s got to have a complete makeover first, change his whole image.”
And come back to New York. “I don’t want to make an album in Bahrain,” he laughed. Who could blame him?
And what of Mariah? They gave her special crystal awards — none of that cardboard stuff — for several of her hits from last year, plus a few she didn’t pick up in years past.
“I’m sorry I didn’t come here in ’92 and ’98,” she said, recalling her Big Diva years with Tommy Mottola. “I wasn’t really hanging out then,” she said wistfully, that whole period seeming like a distant — and maybe upsetting — dream.