Nicole vs. Renée: Down to the Wire

Nicole vs. Renée |  Jessica Lange Speaks Out |  Mottola Goes Magazine

Nicole vs. Renée: Down to the Wire

The last leg of the Oscar race is here and the Best Actress category seems to be down to two contenders: Nicole Kidman in The Hours and Renée Zellweger in Chicago.

Ballots aren't due until Tuesday, so Academy voters still have a few days to make up their minds.

It's a tough choice. Prior to Chicago, Zellweger had been charming in Jerry Maguire, Nurse Betty and Bridget Jones' Diary. She was a favorite at the Golden Globes but had no luck with the Oscars.

Chicago changed all that.

Renée, who is poised and fun in person and knows how to work a room, has now moved into first position. Not only did she sing and dance like gangbusters in Chicago, she did it with little experience. Her upset win at the Screen Actors Guild awards on Sunday showed that other actors relate to her showmanship and guts.

It doesn't hurt that Renée is part of the Chicago steamroller. People love this movie, there's no doubt about it. The film's momentum is so strong Renée may be swept along in the excitement.

On the other hand, as they say, Nicole Kidman was ripped off last year. She was great in The Others but chose to take Moulin Rouge to the Oscars.

That was a fatal mistake. She might have won for The Others, but it didn't work out. Kidman, riding a high, lost to Halle Berry.

Her performance in The Hours as Virginia Woolf is exceptional. Everything about it, every nuance, is spot-on. Forget about the fake nose, and just watch her walk — shuffle, really — head bent, lost in her genius and craziness. Her story becomes the glue that holds The Hours together, and she's only in it for 30 minutes.

If Kidman loses again this year, she'll come back next time with Cold Mountain, which co-stars ... Renée Zellweger. Renée will probably get nominated as well.

Kidman also co-stars with Anthony Hopkins in an adaptation of Philip Roth's The Human Stain. Roth generally doesn't translate well to film, so the jury is out on that one.

Personally? I go with Kidman for this year's Oscar. What will the Academy do? We're just a short time away from knowing.

Jessica Lange Speaks Out on War, Sex Change

Oscar winner Jessica Lange premiered her HBO film, Normal, last night — and proved she is every bit of that title.

Lange has lately taken to the media to make anti-war pronouncements. She is the perfect face for this new peace train — she isn't from Hollywood, has no personal or political baggage and makes sense when she talks.

Her catchphrase: "I'm a mother from the Midwest." It works.

The North Dakota-born Lange told me at the Normal premiere that she intends to keep on speaking out against the war.

"I've always spoken on these subjects," she said, "and I'm not going to stop."

It doesn't hurt that she's the most beautiful anti-war activist in recent memory.

In Normal, a very disturbing and poignant film that could have been an indie art-house hit, Lange plays an Iowa housewife whose husband of 25 years wants a sex-change operation.

The premise sounds laughable, but Tom Wilkinson gives such a subtle and textured performance as the husband he'd have been nominated for an Oscar had this film played in theatres.

Lange plays a wonderful counterpoint to him. You can't take your eyes off either of them.

"I've always been sympathetic to people with these kinds of issues," she told me. She would not say how she would react if her longtime lover, actor/director Sam Shepard, made a similar decision.

"He'd never do that!" she said.

Mottola Gets on Editor's Radar

Tommy Mottola may be out of Sony Music, but he's still in the game.

Yesterday, sources say, Mottola put in a call to Maer Roshan, editor of the much-hyped magazine called Radar, which hasn't even launched yet.

Radar's first issue comes out in April, and is said to feature a highly controversial music-industry article by investigative reporter John Connolly. The piece is not about Mottola, though. It's an in-depth look at Universal Music's Doug Morris.

Morris came to Universal after a calamitous stint running Warner Bros. Records in the mid-'90s. Still, he's an old hand, like Clive Davis, and knows the business.

According to the buzz on Connolly's story, Morris may know it too well. Because he runs the currently most successful music company — Universal takes in Def Jam, Interscope, Geffen, Motown, etc. — Morris has a lot of enemies with long memories. You have to break a few eggs to make some nice omelettes, right?

Over at Radar, though, Roshan may have been substituting "legs" for "eggs." According to my sources — Roshan wouldn't comment — Mottola's call was a plea not to run the story on Morris.

"He wanted it killed," my source says. "But the weird thing is that Connolly hasn't even turned the story in yet. And Maer hasn't read a word of it."

Morris was said to be in on Mottola's call. Everyone at Universal will deny this, but that's the word, and it's solid as a rock. I am also told that Morris may be backing Mottola's label venture. How ironic that would be since Mottola's ex, Mariah Carey, is already under their umbrella.

I've always kind of liked Doug Morris, but — gossip aside — I'd have more practical questions for him.

Last week I started to write a story about the extreme violence among Universal's various rappers. In the last five years, being shot, stabbed, arrested or being a victim/victimizer has proven to be gold on the charts for their so-called "artists."

I was trying to recall anything comparable from the '60s and '70s. Did the Temptations ever threaten to kill the O'Jays? Were people killed at recording studios?

No. If you broke the law in the old days, your career was over. Now it's the only way to guarantee success.

A spokesperson for Morris told me: "No comment."