Téa Leoni's Late Oscar Buzz

Téa Leoni | Michael Jackson | Luke Wilson

Téa Leoni's Late Oscar Buzz

You may know Téa Leoni's name simply because she's married to actor David Duchovny.

She's starred in, among other things, Woody Allen's "Happy Ending," the disaster film "Deep Impact" and the sitcom "The Naked Truth," which never worked, even though it featured her prominently.

Now, though, Leoni may have her shot. I've seen her as the female lead in James L. Brooks' "Spanglish," a late entry in the Oscar race.

Brooks's credits, besides helping to create "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," include "As Good as It Gets," "Terms of Endearment" and "Broadcast News." His actors always shine in his films. "Spanglish" is no exception.

The film is kind of a "dramedy" that reminded me of "Grand Canyon" or "Down and Out in Beverly Hills." It's the story of a steadily more successful Beverly Hills restaurateur and chef (Adam Sandler), his beautiful wife (Leoni), her mother (Cloris Leachman) and their kids.

When they hire a beautiful young Mexican housekeeper, she and her daughter change the family's lives and in turn have their own epiphanies.

Maybe because it is so late in the Oscar race in the press, "Spanglish" is getting a mixed reaction from weary screening audiences.

Leoni, however, seems like a shoo-in for Best Actress consideration. The same goes for Leachman in the supporting category.

Sandler tries hard, and is the best he's been since "The Wedding Singer." Spanish actress Paz Vega, making her Hollywood debut as Flor the housekeeper, is the breakthrough performer of the year.

Leoni joins a list now shaping up into one tough Best Actress race, Annette Bening, Hilary Swank, Uma Thurman, Imelda Staunton, Nicole Kidman, Kate Winslet and Sophie Okonedo among them.

Add Leachman's name to the Best Supporting Actress lineup, which includes Cate Blanchett, Laura Linney, Virginia Madsen, Kate Winslet again, Lauren Bacall, Natalie Portman and Regina King.

Some may feel Leoni hits too close to home as a wealthy, spoiled, insecure woman who is so self-involved that she respects no personal boundaries.

Her character, Deborah, is the kind of person who is so insulated from self-awareness that she believes herself to be more aware than anyone around her. Brooks is smart not to saddle her with a clichéd psychiatrist in whom to confide.

Deborah is beyond therapy. She fights with her husband while in a yoga position, hires a maid who doesn't speak English and makes no attempt to communicate with her in Spanish.

She is so out of touch with her overweight teenage daughter that she buys her size-8 clothes, hoping she'll diet to fit into them. Of course, Deborah herself is rail-thin and an obsessive jogger.

Her mother, Evelyn (Leachman) lives with the family and seems to have once been a famous singer-actress of some kind, which comes off a little bit fuzzy. Now she is mostly a boozer who gets to fire off quips and observations as the world spins around her.

Leachman, for whom Brooks created the character of Phyllis Lindstrom (Deborah's soul sister) on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" some 35 years ago, gives the performance of her life as she watches the family fall apart.

Perhaps "Spanglish" will have a difficult birth, but I think Brooks has created some of the most interesting and in-depth characters in recent film history, certainly the most on-target contemporary characters since "American Beauty."

He's even made the most of Adam Sandler, restraining nearly all of his annoying tics.

I just hope Columbia Pictures starts small with this one and lets it build. "Spanglish" is a gem to be appreciated.

Jacko's 'Thriller' Manager May Be Back

With rumors swirling about prosecutorial evidence, DNA tests and financial ruin, Michael Jackson may finally be getting the picture of the state he's in.

His CD box set, "The Ultimate Collection," has sold only 14,000 copies so far. You'd think this would jolt him into some kind of reality — and maybe it has.

I'm told that about three weeks ago, Jackson's ex-manager, Frank DiLeo, was summoned to Sony Music's inner sanctum to give advice about the box set and all future Jackson-Sony enterprises.

The meetings occurred around the time of the regular Sony-ATV Music Publishing board meeting. The attendees included DiLeo, Sony Music chief Donnie Ienner and Michael's sometime lawyer John Branca, who sits on the Sony-ATV board.

Branca probably looks like a genius now to Jackson's other lawyers, who are still owed fees by the singer. Branca collects a controversial, but automatic, 5 percent fee annually on Jackson's Beatles-catalog revenues, thanks to a deal he cut several years ago.

DiLeo was the true mastermind behind Jackson's King of Pop era in the early-to-mid-'80s, engineering the process that made "Thriller," "Bad" and "Dangerous" top sellers.

But by the time of Jackson's first child-molestation scandal in 1993, DiLeo was out in the cold. More recently, other Jackson associates from the period who had held on — Bob Jones, from public relations and Bill Bray, who did security — were pushed out as well.

If Jackson is acquitted of all charges in his upcoming trial, it's DiLeo who has the best shot of bringing him back.

I'm told he's already working on a Jackson brothers album and tour that would reunite Michael with the Jackson 5 and the era of pre-scandal innocence.

Of course, first Jackson has to be acquitted. And that won't be so easy.

Even now, Jackson's defense team is still lagging in interviewing witnesses and developing an iron-clad strategy for court, I am told by sources.

So far, the team has done more work talking to character witnesses who have no bearing on the case than to those who might have been eyewitnesses to the events being discussed.

Luke Wilson Does a Kevin Costner

"You should have seen what they cut out," Luke Wilson told me at the premiere of "The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou" last night. "I'm the Kevin Costner of the movie."

He was referring, of course, to Costner's completely excised part in "The Big Chill." The only difference is, Wilson was never in "The Life Aquatic" to begin with.

"It's the first Wes Anderson movie he hasn't been in with his brother," his uncle told me.

Luke's brother is Owen Wilson, who co-stars in "Aquatic" with Bill Murray, Anjelica Huston, Seymour Cassel, Willem Dafoe and Jeff Goldblum — all of whom were at the premiere and the underwater-themed party at Roseland.

Luke Wilson was busy at the time shooting a movie he directed with his other brother Andrew called "The Wendell Baker Story." Still, he couldn't help kidding everyone about his cut scenes from "Aquatic."

Other guests last night included Spike Lee, Lauren Bacall, famed New Yorker writer Lillian Ross, Huston's artist husband Robert Graham and Anderson's fashion-designer girlfriend Tara Subkoff.

"He wasn't in the movie," insisted Anderson, who sports long blond hair now and kept his overcoat on the whole time he was in Roseland.

Anderson has turned Bill Murray into his regular franchise, having previously featured him in "Rushmore" and "The Royal Tenenbaums."

Murray, who got an Oscar nomination last year for "Lost in Translation" — not an Anderson movie — gained even more notoriety when he started heckling the Oscar ceremony from his seat.

"I thought we were in a commercial," he told me last night. "I was just having fun."

Would he like to be a presenter this time around?

He rolled his eyes, as if to say, "As if."

I say: Why not?