Miramax Takes Top Two

Miramax | Oscar Showdown | Carly Simon | John Coltrane | U2

Miramax Takes Top Two

For once, I agree with the National Board of Geezers, uh, Review.

The fan-based, membership-fee group announced its top 10 films of 2004. The top two went to Miramax's "Finding Neverland" and "The Aviator," in that order.

The balance of the list were all as this column might have predicted: "Closer," "Million Dollar Baby," "Sideways," "Kinsey," "Vera Drake," "Ray," "Collateral," and "Hotel Rwanda."

The group, which I've criticized in the past for the credentials of its members and the fees they have to pay to belong to the organization, also chose Annette Bening (search) as Best Actress in "Being Julia" and Jamie Foxx (search) as Ray Charles for Best Actor.

I do think the choices are pretty much right on, but it's the rest of the stuff on the list that gives pause. Such as: a Producer's Award for otherwise award-deprived Jerry Bruckheimer; some kind of special award to Clint Eastwood (to whom I think they've already given a dozen of these things) and all kinds of other distinctions that seem to have been made up.

The reason: This way the NBR makes sure every studio gets something and buys at least one table for $4,500. Bruckheimer, for example, guarantees that Disney will spend some bucks, even though the studio has no awards. DreamWorks must now pony up for Michael Mann, who got Best Director. Otherwise, the only studios in the room on Jan. 11 would be Miramax and Fox Searchlight (awards for "Kinsey," "Sideways").

Left off the NBR list completely and conspicuously: Wes Anderson's "The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou," which is said to be quite "problematic," and James L. Brooks' "Spanglish," starring Adam Sandler.

The latter looks like it's going to be the big question mark of the season at this point. Press screenings for this week were abruptly canceled, and the inside word is that Brooks, who managed to pull off "As Good as It Gets," is struggling to do the same here.

Is the NBR a predictor of things to come? Yes and no. At least one of their top five won't make it to the Oscars, maybe two. The only three definites are "Neverland," "Aviator" and "Sideways." Everything else is still up for grabs, as it should be so many months away from the Academy Awards show.

Bening and Swank in Oscar Showdown, Again

There's a little Oscar catfight brewing, and it should be a good one.

Five years ago, veteran actress Annette Bening looked like a certain winner for her work in "American Beauty."

Her co-star, Kevin Spacey, was a "lock," and the film itself was on its way to Best Picture. Bening was sensational as the real-estate tigress/suburban mom who scrubbed and scrubbed her kitchen cabinets until they were clean.

But along came upstart Hilary Swank in "Boys Don't Cry" as sexual question-mark Brandon Teena, and the rest is history.

Swank — then only 25 — swept through the Oscars, leaving Bening to wonder what happened, along with fellow nominees Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore and Janet McTeer (remember "Tumbleweeds"?)

Well, it looks we're going to have a rematch, and that may be the appropriate word.

Bening has become a favorite again for her work in "Being Julia," easily besting all presumed (and worthy) competitors such as Laura Linney, Uma Thurman, Sophie Okonedo, Ziyi Zhang, Kate Winslet and Imelda "Vera Drake" Staunton.

So guess who's back after a run of mostly inconsequential roles? None other than Hilary Swank.

Swank, now all of 30, is said to be a knockout, literally, as a female boxer in Clint Eastwood's "Million Dollar Baby." Early screening audiences have loved her, even when they've complained that the film may be a little dark.

Hey, "dark" means artistic, and that wins Oscars, my friends.

In fact, life since "Boys Don't Cry" hasn't been so easy for Swank. She's made seven or eight disappointing films, including "The Gift" and "The Affair of the Necklace." Her only success was a supporting role in Chris Nolan's "Insomnia."

Five years after her last big hit, Bening seemed assured of an Oscar, a Golden Globe, you name it.

Now a new race is on, apparently, with the same two actresses in a fight to the finish. Suddenly, the whole thing looks a lot more interesting.

Carly Simon Live After 10 Years

She is known for not performing live on stage, and certainly not touring. But Carly Simon — rather glaringly still not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — is coming to Harlem's famed Apollo Theater.

She'll be doing Christmas songs, as well as some of her many hits, including "You're So Vain," "Coming Around Again" and "Nobody Does It Better."

She's booked two nights in a row at the Apollo, Dec. 17 and 18, for which she'll be joined by Rob Thomas of Matchbox Twenty, Bebe Winans, her singing adult children Ben Taylor and Sally Taylor and some other guest stars.

I'm told the shows were Carly's idea too, and not a marketing scheme. Bravo!

Carly has not performed live on stage for anything more than a private function since an outdoor concert on Martha's Vineyard more than a decade ago.

Of course, there was a one-off club gig she did in the early '90s so Clive Davis could promote one of her albums. But that's it.

The folks at the Apollo tell me that without any promotion or announcement, just a short e-mail blast that went out to Simon's fans, half of their tickets are already gone.

That's pretty impressive, since the prices range from $55 in the balcony to $300 in the orchestra. The rest should be gone by today or tomorrow at the latest.

A chunk of the proceeds will go to the Apollo Theater Foundation, which is busy building a very cool modern marquee out front and implementing much needed improvements all around.

By the way, in addition to Carly's shows, the Apollo is buzzing with hot performances not to be missed.

This weekend alone, they have Bill Cosby doing his stand-up routine for two shows on Sunday. On Saturday night, Paul Shaffer, "Little Steven" Van Zandt, Ben E. King and Cissy Houston are on the bill.

And this winter, I'm told that both the O'Jays and Diana Ross will do shows.

This rejuvenation of a city landmark is due in part to Time Warner chief Richard Parsons and to executive director David Rodriguez. They've brought soul back to Harlem. Amen!

Coltrane Conquers Kmart

Maybe you've heard this jarring piece of music playing behind a Kmart Martha Stewart ad on TV.

It's not the usual junk that clutters our heads and makes you want to reach for an aspirin — or something stronger.

No, it's a short clip of John Coltrane's very famous 1960 recording of "My Favorite Things." From the album of the same name, this track features jazz greats pianist McCoy Tyner and drummer Elvin Jones. Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote the song for "The Sound of Music."

Coltrane plays a shivery soprano sax on the album cut, which is 13 minutes long. The commercial is about 30 seconds.

Coltrane died much too young at age 41 in 1967. His legacy lives on at the Coltrane Foundation, which is administered by his widow, Alice, and their 39-year-old son Ravi.

I called there yesterday and spoke to a staffer, who told me that Kmart had licensed the track from not only the publisher, but from them as well. Coltrane is now making money from the merchandising giant.

It's not like the foundation says "yes" to everything.

"Alice was approached by the Gap not too long ago," said her sister, Marilyn McLeod. "But she didn't like the commercial. This one she liked."

You might like to know that Alice Coltrane, a musician herself who was married to John in 1965 near the end of his life, has just released her first album in 27 years, "Translinear Light." It's full of Indian and spiritual influences.

That's our jazz lesson for today, kids. If you see Britney, Lindsay, Hilary, Haylie, Paris, Jessica or Ashlee, please give them a copy of it!

U2 Assembles a Hit

U2's "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" finished its first week sales with more than I thought it would, but less than the record company expected.

The total number was 838,871 — a career high, certainly, thanks to the Apple iPod tie-in.

Interscope's other big push, for Gwen Stefani's "Love.Angel.Music.Baby," resulted in 315,175 copies being sold — quite a bit more than anyone had predicted. The numbers are from HitsDailyDouble.com.

Interscope continues to be the hottest label on the charts, with Eminem's "Encore" adding another 468,007 copies sold to its total of nearly 2 million.