Oscar's Best Actor Dilemma | Madonna | Molly Shannon

An Oscar First: Best Actor Shortage

For the first time in recent memory, there’s a shortage of names for the Best Actor category at the Academy Awards.

Right now, only two names trip off any tongues of Hollywood insiders willingly or spontaneously: Forest Whitaker, who plays Idi Amin in “The Last King of Scotland,” and Peter O'Toole in the British import “Venus.”

After that, the remaining three slots are up for grabs and anyone’s guess. This is because most of this year’s big Best Picture candidates have ensemble casts, with many choices in the supporting categories and few if any in the lead.

To make matters worse, nearly all the potential Best Actress candidates — Penelope Cruz, Helen Mirren, Judi Dench, Kate Winslet, Renee Zellweger, Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman — are in movies that don’t feature them with men as their counterparts.

This could work very well for three actors in Martin Scorsese’s "The Departed." Right now it’s still undecided if Jack Nicholson will go into the supporting category. But that still leaves Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio, each of whom also has another film coming out before the end of the year.

But things get a little fuzzy at that point. Ryan Gosling gives a much admired performance in "Half Nelson," but it’s a small movie that few people have seen so far.

Will Ferrell does his best work ever in "Stranger Than Fiction," but it may be a leap to get the Academy to take the former "SNL" comedy player seriously.

One upstart choice might be Michael Pena, who costars with Nicolas Cage in "World Trade Center." His part is considered the showier of the two, and may be the one that the film’s studio, Paramount, emphasizes.

At the same time, the supporting category is getting tighter. With Nicholson, the likely names are Eddie Murphy, who’s said to be outstanding in "Dreamgirls"; Adam Beach, in "Flags of Our Fathers"; Chazz Palminteri for "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints"; either Freddy Rodriguez or Laurence Fishburne for "Bobby"; Alec Baldwin or Mark Wahlberg for "The Departed"; as well as any number of actors from films to come such as "Breaking and Entering," "Black Diamond" and "The Good Shepherd."

Madonna's New Tot: 'Happy at Home'

Madonna's newly semi-adopted son is happily settled at home.

I’m told that on Sunday night, Madonna and Guy Ritchie introduced 13-month-old David to friends at their London estate. Today, Madonna will give a satellite interview for an episode of "Oprah” and receive what will no doubt be absolution from the talk-show star.

But what of little David’s life at Casa Madonna? According to my sources, David has already fit right in with Lourdes (Lola) and Rocco, Madonna’s children respectively with Carlos Leon and Ritchie.

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“They adore him,” says an observer, who also says that Ritchie — usually the absent man in these stories — is very happy to have David in the fold. No doubt Madonna will stress all this when she goes on "Oprah."

Oprah is unlikely to press Madonna on Kabbalah and the foundation Madonna is fronting in Malawi for the organization Spirituality for Kids.

That's too bad, because Oprah's Angel Network and her new participation in Bono’s One Campaign are legitimately trying to get money and resources to Africa without attaching any strings. That is, red strings.

Meanwhile, back in London, the Ritchies are said to be trying to make their new family work. Despite Madonna’s PR crisis and the fact that the entire adoption business has been turned into a joke, my sources say that the pop star is a great mother.

“Lola and Rocco have impeccable manners. They aren’t spoiled,” the sources said.

And then there’s the actual adoption business. Even though David’s biological father, Yohane Banda , turned up and insisted he didn’t know what was going on when he signed the papers, there is another side to this story.

“He just turned up at the last minute,” says a source. “And for the right money, he was happy to tell the papers anything.”

Expect a lot of saber rattling in this case, but in the end it seems that Madonna and Guy will keep David and perhaps even adopt another child from the same orphanage.

Madonna’s friends say she really did give $3 million to the place, which is, after all, an orphanage. It’s expected that children who are placed there will be adopted. It’s not a dormitory or a way station. Little David’s father knew that from the start, Madonna will argue, and only changed his mind when he saw green.

Former 'SNL' Star Had Inducements

Molly Shannon, so beloved from "Saturday Night Live," really wanted a part in Sofia Coppola’s "Marie Antoinette." The problem was that the movie was due to commence shooting at exactly the same time Shannon was supposed to give birth to her second child in March 2005.

What to do?

Shannon, appearing at the Hamptons International Film Festival last weekend, explained her dilemma to one of our spies. Apparently she asked her doctor to induce labor, thereby having her son, Nolan, two weeks early. She made the start of "Marie Antoinette," and is now on screen playing the teen queen’s auntie.

It doesn’t sound that great for Nolan, but the baby did get a part out of it himself. He appears with Molly in a new feature called "Shut Up and Sing," which unfortunately shares a title with the Dixie Chicks documentary that opens this Friday.

Shannon has three more films coming in 2007, including a role in "Evan Almighty," now thought to be the most expensive comedy ever made. Luckily, none of them required a surgical procedure.