You may recall a lot of publicity back in September and October when Michael Jackson announced his "What More Can I Give?" charity single.
Jackson, then looking for anything to make him seem less nutty in public, wanted to reproduce his "We Are the World" success. So he dusted off a song from 1999, written for Bosnian relief but never recorded, and decided to use that for the World Trade Center disaster.
He boasted that the single would raise $50 million for someone, although it wasn't clear for whom. He went around and recorded a bunch of different singers, made English and Spanish versions of the song, and was supposed to release it.
I'm told he sang it at the Washington, D.C. benefit concert on Oct. 21, which was renamed just for the song.
But now it's Jan, 9, almost three months later, and there's no sign of "What More Can I Give?" anywhere.
I know the single exists, because it was played for me over the phone back on Oct. 16. I wrote about it then in this column.
The English version was produced by Mark Schaffel, Jackson's in-house producer at Neverland. The Spanish version was produced by award-winning KC Porter.
But yesterday when I spoke with Porter's rep she told me: "We heard about it before Christmas, but nothing since them. I think they're battling a distribution problem. It's not definite that Sony's going to release it, and no one knows anything except Michael."
Jackson is famous by now for announcing big charity plans and then dropping them into the black hole of press release ephemera. But those charities were always things concerning children in foreign countries; this one had to do with domestic problems. It's been four months since Sept. 11, after all, and other people have managed to raise billions.
Sony Music, Michael's label, may not be so interested in dealing with "What More Can I Give?" They've already got out several charity CDs, all of which have done well enough. But the market is saturated.
Meantime, Jacko appears tonight on the American Music Awards to accept Best Artist of the Last Million Years, or some such nonsense. He will perform, so check to see if his hand his over his mouth, or how much he actually moves on stage. He's trying to breathe some life into the Invincible album, which last week sold a sad 46,000 copies — 6,000 copies fewer than a debut album by a totally unknown person called Josh Groban.
Ballots were mailed yesterday to members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. They are due back on February 1. What will happen in this most curious of all Oscar years has become a parlor game of the highest nature since there are no clear cut front runners. But a lot of good films that have already gotten recognized by critics groups.
It seems to me that four movies are without a doubt the leading nominees for Best Picture: In the Bedroom, Gosford Park, Lord of the Rings and A Beautiful Mind. The fifth spot is a toss-up, although I must grudgingly admit that Moulin Rouge looks closer than some of its competitors. They are, in no order: Amelie, Memento and Ali.
Of those last three, the situation is tricky. Amelie has suffered by the absence of its star, Audrey Tautou, from American media outlets. Tautou is currently in England shooting a Stephen Frears movie for Miramax and has been unable to come here. It's too bad, because if she were to somehow rework her schedule and make a few appearances, Tautou would be a likely candidate for Best Actress. People love Amelie. It's made almost $20 million with very little push. It's a word-of-mouth hit.
Memento, my personal favorite movie of the year, also lacks a big promotional push. Again, this is a shame since Guy Pearce and Joe Pantoliano each deserve acting nominations and director/writer Christopher Nolan should get at least a screenplay nod. Maybe he will.
With Ali, no one could have predicted that the story of a revered sports figure would wind up producing such a medium cool reaction. But it did, and Michael Mann's epic is so unfocused that even Will Smith has suffered in the process. The best performance in the movie is from Jamie Foxx, but at this rate I doubt the Academy voters will be able to fish around and find him.
I'm going out on a limb among the also rans to say that David Lynch's Mulholland Drive will also not get a Best Picture nomination. When the New York Film Critics awarded Lynch their Best Picture prize, he rightly quipped, "What are you people smoking?" A better question might be, what was he smoking when he made Mulholland Drive. It makes Twin Peaks look like Driving Miss Daisy. Incoherent is too nice a term for it. But it's been nice to watch Lynch get pats on the back from the critics. He's one of our best directors.
But back, back, back to the four certain Best Picture nominees. They are each worthy films, although by the time the Golden Globes give their award to Lord of the Rings, the Academy may feel that an artier offering is worthy of their recognition. And here comes the problem: A Beautiful Mind has been discredited by the New York Post's Page Six and the New York Times review it received. A good movie, yes. But it's not a fiction movie. It's a biography —and Academy voters will have to decide if leaving out so much of John Nash's life is reason to set Ron Howard's movie aside. If so, I think they will make a beeline for In the Bedroom, and make Todd Field the first novice director to win the big prize.