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Oscars: 'Juno' Leaps; 'Sweeney,' Sean Penn Snubbed

Oscars: 'Juno' Leaps; 'Sweeney,' Sean Penn Snubbed | First Dakota, Now Sister Elle | Coogan's Bluff: Brit Star in Comedy Hit | Jacko Alert: Manager Gone Baby Gone

Oscars: 'Juno' Leaps; 'Sweeney,' Sean Penn Snubbed

The 80th annual Oscars bear some big snubs: No major nominations for Sean Penn’s much-admired “Into the Wild” — except Hal Holbrook’s Supporting Actor slot — and just one for this column’s Best Film pick, “Sweeney Todd.”

In that one, only Johnny Depp survived with a nod for Best Actor. The folks at Paramount Pictures won’t be happy about any of that, and neither is this reporter. But that’s what makes the Academy Awards so much fun.

Only Paul Thomas Anderson did well with a directing nomination for “There Will Be Blood,” which also got entries for Best Picture and Best Actor, Daniel Day-Lewis.

But that’s what makes the Oscars so interesting. “Atonement” got a Best Picture nomination, but its director and stars didn't get anything except for Supporting Actress Saoirse Ronan, a very nice 13-year-old girl. Ditto “American Gangster,” which only realized a nod for beloved veteran actress Ruby Dee in the supporting category.

The biggest winner: Jason Reitman’s “Juno,” which garnered its director a nod, as well as Ellen Page for Best Actress and the film itself.

“Juno,” a popular and critical hit, has suddenly moved into the top spot to win Best Picture. Its main competition is Joel and Ethan Coen’s much lauded “No Country for Old Men.”

Other oddities of this year’s Oscars: Great news for Best Actress Laura Linney and screenwriter Tamara Jenkins of “The Savages,” but nothing there for Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Hoffman's spot, surprisingly, went to Tommy Lee Jones for a film few people saw, “In the Valley of Elah.” Hoffman still gets Supporting Actor in “Charlie Wilson’s War,” where the rest of the list was expected — Casey Affleck, Javier Bardem, Holbrook and Tom Wilkinson.

Another surprise: How Tony Gilroy’s excellent but underrated “Michael Clayton” really struck a nerve with the Academy. Gilroy, his screenplay, the film, actor George Clooney and supporting actor Wilkinson all made the final list.

So off we go to the Oscars, which will happen on Feb. 24 — especially since the Writers Guild strike should be settled at least two weeks earlier.

And something important to note, as I’ve said before: The Golden Globes are no indicator of the Oscars. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association chose “Sweeney Todd” and “Atonement” for their Best Pictures. The former was not Oscar nominated, the latter received a token nod.

First Dakota, Now Sister Elle

Wasn’t it only last year that 12-year-old Dakota Fanning appeared in a Sundance film in which she was raped on screen? “Hounddog,” a terrible movie anyway, has never been released and probably never will be.

Now Dakota’s sister, Elle, who is 9, stars in “Phoebe in Wonderland.” She plays a child who suffers from Tourette’s Syndrome and OCD and maybe a little ADD — in other words, severe impairments.

The uneven film is by turns moving, dark and tonally all over the place. But little Elle Fanning turns in such a convincingly adult performance as a disturbed child that you cannot do anything but wonder what effect this will have on her.

What was clear this past weekend at the Q&A session following the film’s screening is that the child is not getting much of an education when it comes to grammar. In person, she has a lot of trouble speaking properly.

There’s no question that she — like her precocious sister — is a talented little actress. But this kind of acting is far beyond the kind of material Shirley Temple ever had to deal with.

I wonder if we’re going to be hearing reverberations from all this in six or seven years. Their mother, Joy Fanning, had better take a good hard look at Britney, Lindsay and the rest of that crowd and strategize to avoid that path.

Coogan's Bluff: Brit Star in Comedy Hit

A paralyzed Sundance Film Festival — so far none of the big-ticket features have sold to a distributor — got a huge boost Monday night with the one-off screening of Andrew Fleming’s potential hit “Hamlet 2.”

The very sly comedy — with echoes of “South Park” and “Borat” — was highly anticipated all weekend. It was worth the wait. British star Steve Coogan, who’s better known from tabloid headlines concerning Owen Wilson and Courtney Love, is in nearly every scene as a failed actor turned Tucson, Ariz., high-school drama teacher.

If it’s sold and marketed right, "Hamlet 2" could give Coogan a career on the par of Steve Carell and Will Ferrell.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a terrific supporting cast. Catherine Keener is better than ever as Coogan’s seemingly patient wife, and a gang of newcomer kids shine as his students. But the best stuff goes to Elisabeth Shue, who actually plays herself in this wacky, goofy, completely hilarious romp.

Indeed, the former Oscar nominee plays herself as a “Hollywood has been” who’s given up the rat race, earned nursing degree and is now working at a fertility clinic. Shue has probably revived her career in one fell swoop by having the good humor to join in this fun.

Now the Sundance crowd will be watching and waiting to see if “Hamlet 2” produces a big sale Tuesday or Wednesday and energizes what’s become a slumbering festival.

Jacko Alert: Manager Gone Baby Gone?

Michael Jackson’s manager of the last two years, Raymone Bain, may finally be gone.

Bain, who started out as Jackson’s publicist during his 2005 child-molestation trial, was fired, re-hired and then asserted a new role. She was incredibly unpopular with fans, who felt she isolated Jackson from them.

More importantly, under Bain’s regime, Jackson was sued several times which resulted in several expensive settlements. Right now, Jackson’s Neverland Ranch faces imminent foreclosure — maybe as early as Tuesday, if Fortress Investments decides it wants to auction it off for the $23 million owed.

Bain is telling insiders she’s quit, by the way.

But the conventional wisdom in Jacko-land is that the former King of Pop may have finally awakened to the chaos in his kingdom and sent her to the gallows.

More to come, as we all know.

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