Clint Eastwood Pulls a Fast One | Mickey Rourke Scares Patricia Clarkson | Groundhog: More Wintour to Come

Clint Eastwood Pulls a Fast One

Yes, it’s the very end of the Oscar season. We’ve seen everything. Lists are being drawn up. We think we know everything.

And then: Clint Eastwood pulls a fast one, throws a curve ball. That’s Clint. It wasn’t so long ago that "Million Dollar Baby" came in at the last minute and screwed everything up.

Not like "Gran Torino," which opens next Friday, is anything so heavy as "Baby," or even "Mystic River." But it’s such a lovely surprise that I guarantee you Clint is now a threat to everyone’s previously held thoughts on serious awards.

"Gran Torino" is just a beautifully wrought small movie, with the feel of an indie. It was shot in a small working class neighborhood in Detroit, set in the now of contemporary times. Just widowed Clint, whose name is Walt Kowalski, is a retired auto worker who’s not very politically correct. You’ll hear more racial nicknames here than on any episode of "All in the Family." But it works. Because Walt is redeemed as his hard heart is slowly melted by the Asian family living next door.

"It’s not rocket science," Walt says to a character in the movie, and he may be talking about the film itself. What unreels is a fairly mundane story. It’s just what Eastwood does it with that’s so marvelous. Even though we’re in 2008 Detroit in a row of little houses on sidestreet, the 78 year old director turns "Gran Torino" into as much of an operatic western as "Unforgiven."

From the moment he calls the local parish priest "padre," and comes to the door of his house with a shotgun—squinting into the light of day, no less—you know what Eastwood has in mind. There are big themes here, and he hits them with inverse lightness to his heavy handed "Changeling" of earlier this year. I think the point here is that he didn’t really need Angelina Jolie. He can do it all himself. He can.

You think "Gran Torino" is going to be a vigilante movie, "Dirty Harry" in his sunset years. It is not that at all. I don’t want to give it away. In fact, "Gran Torino" is so artfully executed it reminded me of David Cronenberg’s last two films, "Eastern Promises," and "A History of Violence." Like them, this is a gem that recalls the great morality films of the late 1950s. If you didn’t know Martin Ritt was dead you’d think he’d directed it.

So now what? "Gran Torino" may be the spoiler that knocks "Benjamin Button" out of the top five for good. And Clint — who’s never won Best Actor — may very well swipe the statue from the hands of Frank Langella, Sean Penn, Leo, and Richard Jenkins from "The Visitor." And the lesson we learn again and again: never count Clint Eastwood out or underestimate him. He’s going to beat the house and the odds every time.

And now, review: for Best Picture we’ve got "Doubt," "Frost/Nixon," "The Reader," "Slumdog Millionaire" and "Gran Torino" in the first round. In the second: "Revolutionary Road," "Benjamin Button," "Milk," "The Wrestler," and "Rachel Getting Married." There was a big discussion last night about "Batman: The Dark Knight." It made gazillions of dollars. But it will be represented at the Oscars, I feel, solely by the late Heath Ledger in Best Supporting Actor and a few technical nominations. And that’s perfect.

Mickey Rourke Scares Patricia Clarkson

Yes, Mickey Rourke is back, and looking for his Oscar nomination for "The Wrestler." Will he get it? Last night he began his campaign in earnest, appearing at the Gotham Awards for the IFP. Someone dressed him in cool sunglasses, Armani-type apparel. He looked like half a million bucks. His hair was styled.

If only the same stylist had been able to catch Philip Seymour Hoffman. He appeared on stage at Cipriani Wall Street looking like he’d slept in his clothes all night and then stayed in them all day. We can’t have the best actor of his generation walking around like this, should we?

"We have a new baby at home," he told me , which means he and his significant other Mimi O’Donnell now have three kids, a boy and two girls. "She’s six weeks old." He was glowing, and sat with the gang from the highly unusual film, "Synecdoche, New York," which tied with Woody Allen’s "Vicki Christina Barcelona" for Best Ensemble. Director-writer Charlie Kaufman was on hand, along with Michelle Williams and boyfriend, director Spike Jonze. Michelle smiled a lot, which was nice. This has been the toughest of years.

Penelope Cruz, who got a career tribute after sixteen years of work, was pretty much the center of attention in the audience. She brought her mother and sister. No mention of Javier Bardem, however.

Penelope was smokin’ hot in black, and gave a lovely speech. Next week, Penelope told me, she, Nicole Kidman, and Marion Cotillard film a musical number for the upcoming "Nine" with Daniel Day Lewis.

Legendary filmmaker Melvin van Peebles also got a tribute, and he said, "People think I’m so smart for going it alone. They don’t realize there’s no one to come in with me." The great Liz Smith, dressed like an Oscar in a smart gold suit, gave HBO’s Sheila Nivens a witty toast.

But the best moment of the night was on the stage. Paired together to give an award were the unlikely duo of Patricia Clarkson and Mickey Rourke. "We thought she could handle him," someone from the IFP told me. Uh, well. Standing at the dais, Clarkson looked clearly frightened. Right before they went on stage, he said something to unnerve her. At the dais, first he looked like he might jump her. Then Rourke became distracted by the beautiful Asian model, dressed like a political dissident, who delivered award statues to the stage. So he planted a big kiss on her.

This gave Clarkson a chance to regain control of the podium. She launched into reading names. Rourke returned and kind of goofed on her. Said Clarkson, for no reason; "It’s been 13 and a half long weeks." She might have minutes. What we learned: it’s going to be a long awards season with Mickey Rourke.

Later, I ran into Amy Adams at the after party given by the Diamond Information Center at the Downtown Association, the swanky, private club that otherwise we would never have seen the inside of if we lived to be 200 years old. Cool. "My driver left," Amy said, sweetly. "I called him and said, 'Why did you do that?'" She wrinkled her nose. "Get mad," I said. "You’re a movie star." She shook her head. "No,’ she said, voice trailing off. "I can’t do that."

The whole gang from "Frozen River," which won Best Feature and Best Actress (Melissa Leo) was there. They also got several Indie Spirit nominations yesterday. The feeling now is that Melissa will get an Oscar nomination; she should. A crowd came over too from "Rachel Getting Married."

Rosemarie Dewitt brought boyfriend Ron Livingston, who was one of Carrie’s boyfriends on "Sex and the City." "Rachel" director Jonathan Demme, who has a Best Picture ("Silence of the Lambs") from 1991, was philosophical. "It’s not like you can change the movies because it does or doesn’t get award. It’s done. We can’t go back and make it better or worse."

One last word for now. Penelope Cruz’s mother doesn’t speak English, so she had a translator. Did she know when Penelope left Spain for America that she’d wind up being a big movie star?

"Si," said the mother, who is smallish, cute as a button, and very young looking. "She always gets what she wants, she’s like that."

I say, then, give her Best Actress for "Vicki Christina Barcelona." And anything else she wants.

Groundhog: More Wintour To Come

The blogs went crazy yesterday announcing the imminent end of Anna Wintour at Vogue. She was to be replaced by the editor of French Vogue, Carine Roitfeld. Just like that, and everyone believed it. You people do not know Anna Wintour. She is tough, and not going anywhere, my sources say.