Michael Jackson finishes 2006 without a home and estranged from his family.
I’m told that, despite his arrival in Las Vegas on Christmas Day, he still hasn’t been in touch with any member of his family, including his mother Katherine. Michael hasn’t spoken to any of the other Jacksons since he left California in June 2005.
The family, I’m told, is worried that he’s being isolated from them purposely by his children’s nanny, Grace Rwaramba, who has taken over day-to-day duties as Jackson’s point person, personal manager and only real adviser other than PR woman Raymone Bain.
By now, everyone who was close to Jackson or who helped get him through his 2005 child molestation and conspiracy trial has been excised from his inner circle.
And get this: Jackson’s makeup artist and stylist for 25 years, Karen Faye, is also part of this group. She has been replaced by Carol Lamere, the very same woman who introduced Jackson to the Arvizo family several years ago. It was the Arvizos who were used by the Santa Barbara District Attorney to bring Jackson’s 2003 arrest and subsequent 2005 trial.
“She can be controlled by Grace,” says a source, “where Karen couldn’t.”
Nonetheless, it’s hard to imagine that Jackson has absolved Lamere for the Arvizo incident. Yet there she is.
And there Jackson is, in Las Vegas. He remains there as the guest of the Sultan of Brunei, waiting to make his next move. He won’t return to Neverland, his 2,800-acre ranch on the central California coastline. The ranch remains essentially shut down, patrolled by a security staff. A couple of people are living on the premises, I’m told, including a Jackson cousin.
At the same time, Jackson has already booked three months of recording time back in Ireland at the Grouse Lodge in Westmeath, Ireland. It’s not clear whose deposit Jackson will lose if he doesn’t return. But at the rate things are going, that doesn’t seem to matter to the onetime "King of Pop." He moves around the world oblivious to responsibility or reality, dragging along three acquired children and $325 million in debt.
We’re winding up the year with choices for Best Actress, Best Actor and Best Director. Next week, we’ll post the list for Oscar nominees in its entirety. You can look back to Wednesday’s column for my Best Supporting choices.
Today, let’s start with Best Actor. This is not a great category this year, with most actors winding up in the supporting category. And thanks to a lack of imagination, there aren’t too many surprises.
Forest Whitaker has already won every single critics’ prize for "The Last King of Scotland." He is the likely winner. Peter O’Toole might have won for his work in "Venus," but he’s been absent from campaigning. The nomination will have to be enough. Will Smith is so good in "The Pursuit of Happyness" that there’s almost a chance he could topple Whitaker. I said ‘almost.’ But this film has done a lot to make him into a real actor in the eyes of the Academy, getting him away from his Michael Bay days.
That leaves two slots. Leonardo DiCaprio is generally thought to have one for either "Blood Diamond" (not possible) or "The Departed" (more likely). Leo is becoming kind of a regular also-ran in this category, which is too bad. I thought his roles in "The Aviator" or "Catch Me If You Can" were better than either of these, but it’s all quality work. He’s still very young, and is looking for his signature part. I have a feeling his first Oscar will come from a supporting role anyway.
And the fifth line? It could go to a number of deserving types. I cited Ryan Gosling almost a year ago in “Half Nelson.” If gets the Oscar nod, it will be a miracle, and will bring him up several notches. Unfortunately, not many people have seen that film.
My other choice, in the real world, would be Ken Watanabe from “Letters from Iwo Jima.” It’s a real leading-man role, and Watanabe comes off like the Japanese Gregory Peck. And he’s already been nominated once, which means voters know him.
For Best Actress, the final nominees have been known for some time. But just to reiterate: Helen Mirren, Judi Dench, Penelope Cruz, Meryl Streep, and Kate Winslet. Winslet's work in “Little Children” is very good, of course, but the movie has turned out to be a bust. If the people behind "The Painted Veil" bothered to mount a campaign, there’s a strong chance Naomi Watts would emerge as a dark horse. She’s terrific. Renée Zellweger in “Miss Potter” gets relegated to the Golden Globes, and Sienna Miller registers her first meaningful year. In the end, though, Winslet should wrap it up.
Best Director? Obviously, Bill Condon is in for “Dreamgirls.” That picture did not direct itself, friends. Martin Scorsese should win the category for “The Departed,” which will be some consolation. Clint Eastwood will be honored with a nomination for “Letters,” not “Flags,” although he should be allowed to present something big, like Best Actress. Stephen Frears will join this gang for “The Queen,” although I’m not sure why; it’s not at all his best work. Fifth slot? No question: Pedro Almodovar, for “Volver.”
Next week: the writing nominees and Best Song.
Since it’s the end of the year, I suppose I should offer some ideas for Best Album. So here it is: “Surprise,” by Paul Simon. It didn’t get any Grammy nominations. It sold very few copies. Maybe you don’t even know it exists.
Simon worked with Brian Eno on this record, and the result is a lot of very rocking music which lifted him out of his sometime torpor. If “Surprise” lives up to its title, the melodies and arrangements are the reasons.
But no one writes lyrics like Paul Simon. The songs on “Surprise” are simply more sophisticated and thoughtful, literary and bracing than anything else that was sent to iTunes or CD stores in 2006. I don’t say this because I’m middle-aged, or fussy. If Justin Timberlake had something to say other than bromides against his idiot ex-girlfriend, I’d listen. He doesn’t.
Simon’s “Father and Daughter” was the Best Song of the Year, too, about 10 times more interesting than the John Mayer song “Daughters.” I loved this little break in it: “Trust your intuition/It's just like goin' fishin'/You cast your line and hope you get a bite.”
In “Everything About It Is A Love Song,” Simon does it again: “Early December, and brown as a sparrow/Frost creeping over the pond/I shoot a thought into the future/And it flies like an arrow/Through my lifetime, and beyond.” The images are striking, and the construction of the rhymes in this song, and all of them, is nothing less than brilliant.
But hey, it’s 2006, and if there’s an audience for Simon, who’s over 60, they’re not buying anything you can see advertised on the Grammys show. Surprise!
And here’s another surprise: The No. 1 classical album on the Billboard charts is “Songs from the Labyrinth” by … rock star Sting. Who knew? The Grammys ignored it — probably because the all-lute album of 16th-century John Dowland songs wasn’t a "true" classical album. Hogwash! The classical CD-buying audience obviously recognizes Sting’s passion for this material and appreciates the dedication it took to learn the instrument so well. This wasn’t just a case of another pop star trying on classical music like a costume — or having a line of costumes to divert attention from no musical talent! Congrats to the former Police leader on an ambitious success.
Memories and anecdotes of James Brown will go on forever. You know, he walked out on “Live with Regis and Kathie Lee” years ago when the show told him to make his performance only two minutes long. He said, "Nothing doing." You can do that when you’re James Brown … Madonna and Guy Ritchie are busy showing off baby David to friends in the London countryside. Last week they had a Christmas party and entertained the likes of Sting and Paul McCartney. The latter was described by one observer as looking “not so good.” This year has taken the piss and vinegar out of him, that’s for sure. Maybe Madonna can pick him up a baby the next time she’s in Malawi …Yes, that was New York literary couple Nora Ephron and Nick Pileggi in London the other night, taking a table at The Wolesley vacated by famed artist Lucian Freud and his “niece.” The Pileggis are on a theater tour, followed by a nip over to Paris for New Year’s … I always thought Laura Bush was secretly very cool. She gave W a copy of Sam Moore’s “Overnight Sensational” album for Christmas, along with biking shoes and a blue suit, according to the White House. Nice to know she’s got ears … I’m not a big fan of "General Hospital," but I do remember many years ago as Alan Quartermaine planned to kill his wife’s lover with some kind of trap in the attic. That was maybe 1978. Stuart Damon has always played the character with dignity, humor and charm. But he’s almost 70, so ABC has decided to kill him. Alan, that is. They are completely nuts. ABC Daytime doesn’t get it: Soaps are “aspirational.” Young people don’t want to watch those their own ages. They look up to the older characters. But no one ever accused TV execs of being bright. Stuart Damon, thanks for all the fun. You’re better than they are, my friend …