The Screen Actors Guild, the only group with a guaranteed awards show coming next month, has announced its nominations. And they are strange.
In one fell swoop, as they say, the SAG nominating committee has snubbed a number of films and actors who were on the fast track to Oscars. At the same time, the SAG voters have revived some that were completely dead or forgotten.
The biggest shocks? A total snub of Paramount’s Oscar-bound “Sweeney Todd,” and the restoration of Angelina Jolie to Best Actress in the mostly unseen and panned “Mighty Heart.”
The oddest choices? Best Ensemble cast nominations for “3:10 to Yuma,” a remake of a Western that had been just about completely buried in the rubble of small releases. Other unusual choices in that category: “Hairspray” and “American Gangster.”
Wednesday, I wouldn’t have given any of those three a shot at the Best Picture nomination for the Academy Awards.
The other two more reasonable choices by SAG: “No Country for Old Men” and “Into the Wild.”
But that leaves out other ensembles that were thought more likely to make it, including the top-seeded Oscar film “Sweeney Todd,” plus: “Juno,” “The Savages,” “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” “The Great Debaters,” “I’m Not There,” “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” and “There Will Be Blood.”
Actors whose names surprisingly don’t appear on the SAG list: Philip Seymour Hoffman, who’s got three tremendous performances this year, his “Savages” co-star Laura Linney, Paul Dano from “Blood” and any of the cast of “Sweeney Todd.”
It’s almost as if the nominators didn’t see all of the films. Or, if they did, the voters were so scattered that the finalists made it with little plurality.
Either way, the SAG Awards will now be viewed in a new light once the Academy Award nominations are made known. They’ll either have been a true predictor or a scattershot in a year when no one had the faintest idea what to do.
Woody Allen is coming home.
After making several movies abroad — "Match Point," "Scoop," the upcoming "Cassandra’s Dream," and "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" — Allen is returning to Manhattan.
Woody tells me he will shoot a romantic comedy in Manhattan beginning in April. Details are a secret, still, and there’s no cast yet. But for Allen this film should be a return to the form for which he is loved and revered.
First, though, "Cassandra’s Dream" will be released in January. Then his "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," shot in Spain last summer with Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem and Scarlett Johansson, will get a premiere either in Cannes or Venice.
Woody did tell me the new movie will feature more "mature"-aged characters, and that unlike those last four films there is no part for his recent favorite leading lady, Johansson.
Indeed, it sounds from his description that there’s some chance of perhaps seeing Allen work again with Diane Keaton. The pair would be considered box office magic and a publicist’s dream. Their last film together, "Manhattan Murder Mystery," in 1993, was a big hit.
Audiences would clamor for Allen and Diane and wouldn’t even mind seeing a reunion of some of the great Allen repertory company such as Julie Kavner, Alan Alda and, of course, Tony Roberts.
Woody, meantime, is supporting the Writers Guild strike, even though he’s not too up on the details. He did make a very funny short video for the Guild’s "Speechless Hollywood" series, which you can see on YouTube. It’s the best of a very good bunch of shorts contributed by various celebrities to support the strike.
As for "Cassandra’s Dream," at this point, Woody has nothing to prove. He’s just turned 72 and has more "classic" films in the modern film canon than any other contemporary director.
Some hold up better than others, but no one can top "Zelig," "Hannah and Her Sisters" and another dozen or so titles right up through the excellent and recent "Match Point." He’s never not thoroughly interesting and edifying.
Watching Denzel Washington and Forest Whitaker in "The Great Debaters," which opens Christmas Day, is like watching De Niro and Pacino. The two Oscar-winning actors never have shared scenes together. When they do in this Oprah Winfrey-produced film, they’re magic. There’s no doubt about it.
At Wednesday night’s New York premiere, "The Great Debaters" played to many ovations during the film and a big one at the end. The movie — about the 1935 debating team from a small black Texas college taking on Harvard University — is like the intellectual version of "Rocky."
You can’t help but keep rooting for the trio of kids sent to do battle with Harvard. They’re played by Nate Parker, Denzel Whitaker (no relation to the stars) and the gorgeous Jurnee Smollett.
Just the way Denzel "discovered" Derek Luke and Joy Bryant for his "Antwone Fisher," he’s done it again with these three brilliant young actors. "Great Debaters" will launch their careers.
The unsentimental and disarming tone of "The Great Debaters" no doubt will strike a chord with audiences. It should also be very popular among Academy voters, who already have been inundated with enough blood-soaked potential nominees from "Sweeney Todd" to "No Country for Old Men" and "There Will Be Blood."
Washington simply has made a dramatically involving competition that speaks to American history. "Great Debaters" is sort of his "Chariots of Fire."
At the screening, I asked Forest Whitaker, slimmed down and refreshed from his Oscar win last winter for "The Last King of Scotland," to whom he expected to hand the Best Actress award in February — assuming we have an Oscar ceremony.
"Marion Cotillard!" he shouted. "Did you not see her in 'La Vie En Rose?' She’s transforming! That’s it!" It’s nice to see someone has an opinion.
And who does Forest think will be in the Best Actor category? "Don’t forget James McAvoy," he advised. The British actor co-starred with him in "Last King" and has a decent shot for "Atonement," even though the category is brimming with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Johnny Depp, Daniel Day-Lewis, George Clooney and, hello! — Washington for "American Gangster."
That is, if we have an Oscar ceremony.
At long last, a performance rights bill is being introduced in the House of Representatives and the Senate by a partisan coalition.
On Tuesday afternoon, legislation was introduced in the Senate and the House. The Performance Rights Act of 2007 would at long last force broadcasters to pay a license fee to performers of songs they play on the radio. For 50 years or more, only writers have been paid for songs that were broadcast.
Singers like Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and, these days, Celine Dion, who do not write music, were left to earn their living through physical sales of records, tapes or CDs and live performances.
Imagine that most of the music we consider "classic pop" or "oldies" is or was sung by people who get nothing every time their voice is heard on the radio. This includes nearly every Motown or Stax/Atlantic artist, all the performers of top 40 songs who scored one hit and disappeared.
The Performance Right Act of 2007 would finally end that travesty. At long last, radio broadcasters who became rich from these hits would have to pony up. You can read more about it at www.grammy.com under Advocacy.