Oscar Chaos: Guild Choices Are Head-Scratchers

Oscar Chaos Sundance 2004 Etc.

Oscar Chaos: Guild Choices Are Head-Scratchers

The whole Oscar race was sent into chaos yesterday as the Screen Actors Guild announced its nominations for its own awards.

Let's just say their choices were strange, and a lot different from those of the Golden Globes and other organizations. In fact, they were quite interesting considering that Oscar ballots are due back tomorrow at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

For one thing: Just as I've said over and over again, Peter Dinklage of "The Station Agent" was nominated. How many times have I said he would be a nominee for Best Actor? Come on, folks, it's a great performance.

But what I couldn't have predicted was "The Station Agent" being nominated for Best Ensemble Acting — the SAG equivalent of Best Picture — and Patricia Clarkson for Best Actress. Clarkson also got a Best Supporting citation for "Pieces of April."

The other films in Best Ensemble were "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King," "Mystic River," "In America," and "Seabiscuit."

Dinklage was floored to hear he was nominated — especially since he was asleep when the nominations were announced.

"I'd taken the red-eye home to New York from L.A.," he told me yesterday afternoon by phone. "So I slept in and woke up around 11. I had about 30 messages, so I thought something was wrong. But they were all people congratulating me."

Dinklage is especially happy because "The Station Agent" was written and directed by his long-time pal Tom McCarthy .

"Now he wishes he was an actor in it," Dinklage laughed.

His fellow nominees are Sean Penn, Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, and Johnny Depp .

"I'm pretty thrilled to say the least," said Dinklage, who is the first dwarf in movie history to get so many accolades. "They are all my favorite actors. I'd stir soup to be in a movie with Sean Penn."

Luckily, that won't be necessary.

But what do all these strange choices mean? "Cold Mountain" — which has eight Golden Globe nominations, and is considered an Oscar shoo-in, was snubbed by SAG except for Renée Zellweger . "Lost in Translation" was as well, as was "Master and Commander."

In the past, SAG has been an indicator of the Oscars, but this year there must have been something in the Kool-Aid.

I may be wrong, but I still see "Cold Mountain," "Lord of the Rings," "Lost in Translation," "Mystic River," and now, possibly "Seabiscuit," as the Oscar final five when the results are read on Jan. 27.

Surf's Up as Redford Opens Sundance 2004
Robert Redford stole the spotlight last night at the opening of the 20th annual Sundance Film Festival here in Park City, Utah.

Looking altogether too good, and radiating charisma, Redford addressed a packed house at the Eccles Theatre just before the opening-night film, a documentary called "Riding Giants," unspooled.

Pronouncing himself satisfied with the accomplishments of the festival and the Sundance Lab, where fledgling filmmakers learn to shape scripts, Redford ended his remarks by quipping: "I'm having a book signing with Harvey Weinstein later."

This was something of an inside joke, but many in the house guffawed.

Redford was referring to the fact that he and Weinstein are dragged over the coals in a new book by former Premiere magazine writer Peter Biskind , the author a few years ago of the more appreciated "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex, Drugs and Rock 'n' Roll Generation Saved Hollywood."

Biskind's new book has come in for criticism for its lazy reporting and poor fact-checking. I can attest to this personally, since Biskind levels several charges against this reporter, but never bothered to ask me about them.

His worst mistake on this account has to do with who in the press was chosen by Weinstein to join Bill and Hillary Clinton watch election returns from the Gore-Bush race after a dinner at Elaine's.

Biskind claims in the book that I was the only reporter chosen. I wish that it were so! However, the Daily News' George Rush and Mitchell Fink, as well as Lloyd Grove, then of the Washington Post, were also there.

If only Biskind had bothered to ask one of us. But he was too busy trying to make a point at someone's expense.

Oh well. I'm told the book has several other inaccuracies, which now casts doubt on the earlier book as well. It's a shame.

But Redford was smart to let the criticism of his Sundance operation become a punch line rather than anything more serious. The fact is there is no other film festival in the world like Sundance.

I remember back in 1982, when I worked for Jane Fonda 's film company, there was talk of a new film festival Redford was starting near Provo, Utah. The consensus was that no one would go because it was isolated and cold. How wrong we were!

Even yesterday, with airport delays and other problems, Park City was already full of attendees and awaiting more and more.

The opening night film, "Riding Giants," was distinctive because it was the first time a documentary has kicked off the festival. Stacy Peralta, a Sundance favorite for his "Dogtown and Z-Boys" a few years ago, directed this homage to surfing, which worked on some levels but was too long and took itself too seriously.

Oddly missing from the film was any mention whatsoever of the Beach Boys or their music. There's no denying that Brian Wilson — who was not a surfer — made the whole surfing world seem romantic and exotic, resulting in its popularity.

Instead, Peralta gives credit to Sandra Dee as "Gidget," which may be partially true but not exactly culturally resonant. Whereas "Gidget" was a passing fad, the Beach Boys came to be part of Americana.

But "Riding Giants" has its moments, especially when telling the stories of surfing greats Laird Hamilton and Greg Noll . The latter, especially, gives the movie some emotional thrust and humanity that it's mostly missing.

In the end, "Riding Giants" is more notable for its creative use of archival footage and for the spectacular photography of men on little fiberglass boards challenging the cosmos by skirting across humungous waves.

If only the surfers didn't take themselves so seriously. I mean, dude, it's just surfing!

Redford, by the way, spoke of surfing during his youth in Southern California.

"I wasn't very good," he said, and then made a cute metaphor. "Although I'm still surfing now."

Meanwhile, the stars will begin pouring into this ski village tomorrow. High on the list of anticipated celebrities is Ashton Kutcher, who's coming in to screen his latest attempt at acting, called "The Butterfly Effect." Will he bring Demi Moore with him? Will she bring her kids and Bruce Willis ?

Then there's Billy Bob Thornton, who's scheduled for a short appearance, as well as Courteney Cox Arquette and husband David Arquette, Vanessa Redgrave, Jane Fonda, Hank Azaria, Christina Applegate, Matt Dillon , and a panoply of bold-faced names who'll make cameos.

Last night we found Mario Van Peebles having a steak dinner with his father, famed director Melvin. Their film, "How to Get the Man's Foot Outta Your Ass," all about Melvin's wild life, will screen next week.

'American Dreams,' Jacko, Etc.

Don't forget to watch Macy Gray as Carla Thomas on NBC's "American Dreams" on Sunday. Carla was Aretha Franklin before Aretha, the first princess of soul. She is 59 years old and still touring, with a divinely rich voice that has never been copied....

No Jacko story this morning, but wait, the day isn't over and Michael will be arraigned today in Santa Maria, Calif. You can see this reporter on Fox today with Shepard Smith at 3:15 p.m. EST discussing the past five days of Jackson stories.