Charlize: We Created a 'Monster'
Oscar season really gets going tomorrow when Niki Caro's carefully made film "North Country" finally opens.
Charlize Theron and Frances McDormand, two past winners of the Best Actress award, will undoubtedly, and deservedly, be nominated this time in the lead and supporting categories respectively.
Even Woody Harrelson fares better than ever in this fictionalized account of a very important moment in the history of sexual-harassment cases. There are lots of excellent secondary performances, too, from Sissy Spacek and Richard Jenkins among others.
"North Country" will remind audiences of "Norma Rae," "Erin Brockovich," "Silkwood," "The Accused" and a few other feminist tracts. But this is no Lifetime movie. Caro, who previously directed "Whale Rider," finds terrific strength in the women who work in these mines, and doesn't let the movie get too preachy until the end.
The real class-action lawsuit that inspired this film, called Jenson v. Eveleth Mines, took place in 1984. Theron and McDormand play fictionalized characters based on the actual women who finally took their employer to court for innumerable acts of sexual harassment.
The two of them are simply dynamite, together or apart. McDormand, who got robbed of an Oscar nomination for "Almost Famous," is just never bad and never hits a wrong note, no matter what kind of role she accepts. She makes the whole thing look too easy.
Charlize is the revelation, though. In "Monster," for which she won the Oscar, the South African great beauty had to make herself look hideous in order to be given any respect.
But in "North Country," she's gorgeous, even through coal-stained smudges, and she still produces. She's a movie star now, and forever. Come February she'll be fending off the likes of Dame Judi Dench, Felicity Huffman, Gwyneth Paltrow and maybe Keira Knightley.
The future of rock 'n' roll? Well, it ain't Kanye West or 50 Cent, that's for sure. We are left to find the songwriters of the new generation and to hope they can carry on the tradition of pop music.
Rob Thomas, the leader of Matchbox Twenty, is one of those few guys who can do it all: sing, write, play multiple instruments. His songs are hook-laden, as we used to say, and full of hummable melodies.
Thomas, on break from his group, released a solo album this year called "Something to Be." It's an absolute certain Grammy nominee, if the Grammy committees will honor such talent. Songs like "Lonely No More" — inspired by Kurt Vonnegut, no less — and "This Is How a Heart Breaks" are potential Record and Song of the Year nominees.
"Something to Be" should be a Pop Album of the Year nominee itself, if nothing else, and Thomas should find himself in the Best Male Vocalist category, without a doubt.
I went to see him yesterday afternoon at the Beacon Theater for a sound check before his second show in a row there this week. Believe it or not, he was busy changing the entire running order of the show.
"People come every night, and you want it to be different for them," he said.
The people who come, by the way, are girls, lots of them, in droves. Guys come, too, but a Thomas concert is like a magnetic field for rock chicks. They swooned at the show, later, especially when he did a bluesy version of "Smooth," the hit he wrote for and performed with Santana.
In fact, Thomas is now the go-to guy in the rock business for people who want to do duets.
"The funny part is I've only had one hit like that — 'Smooth,'" he told me on his tour bus, where his beautiful wife of six years, Marisol, her mother, Maria, and the couple's rescued dog, Tyler, were all hanging out.
"The song I did with Seal for Santana's last album, Seal's record company wouldn't let us release it as a single."
There have been a couple of others, too, that didn't make it. Thomas has a song on the new Santana album, but he doesn't sing it. That's left to Mary J. Blige, and he's not sure he likes it.
"But Clive [Davis] says it's going to be huge," he shrugs. And Clive is right more often than anyone else.
The 33-year-old has been at this for about 13 or 14 years now. He didn't finish high school, and he ran away from home in Florida when he was around 17. He doesn't have formal music training; it's all natural. (Don't you hate that?)
At 13, he was picking out tunes on the piano, he told me, trying to mimic what he heard on the radio and on records. From there he graduated to guitar. He even plays drums, although he says, "not very well."
Well enough, I say, after seeing him.
At sound check, Thomas ran through a couple of "cover" songs — he loves to play covers. He's got a genius, slowed-down version of Madonna's "Borderline" in the show. And he's perfecting a killer copy of "Born to Run" for gigs the next couple of days in New Jersey.
He also throws in a faithfully funked-up version of David Bowie's "Let's Dance" and a sort-of imitation of Ryan Adams' take on Oasis' "Wonderwall" to surprise the audience.
It all works because Thomas has a kind of self-confidence about his abilities and choices that will soon put him on a level with Sting, Bono and Bruce Springsteen. He's a natural, and he "gets" it more than any other rocker of his generation.
So isn't there any gossip? What about the great Urban Myth of 2005, that he and Tom Cruise are/were lovers? It's right up there with other now-classic — and fabricated — legends about Richard Gere, Rod Stewart, Keanu Reeves and Kevin Costner.
Rob jokes about it, and says his wife doesn't mind.
"As long as I sleep with A-list celebrities, I'm completely OK," he jokes. "When [the rumor] was about me and David Caruso, she was like, 'None of that, none of that!'" Anyway, he says, "all my gay friends love it. They all say, 'Our friends love you even more now!'"
Here's a P.S. about Thomas, post-Beacon show (did I mention that the audience stands through the whole show? They never sit down, even during the ballads). Maybe 100 people drift down to the basement "reception" area to congratulate Rob after the show.
Michael Lippman, his longtime manager, is there. It's mostly friends and family, though. Mostly in these situations, the guests line up to say hello to the star. But there's Rob, joking and moving around, soliciting conversations, hanging with Marisol. He's the nicest host in rock history.
"You really know how to work a room," I joke with him.
"These are my friends," he replies, beaming. "I have to talk to them."
All day today, Lord & Taylor's windows on Fifth Avenue and 38th St. will be showing D.A. Pennebaker's first film, a five-minute 1953 short called "Daylight Express." It's essentially a subway ride chronicled to Duke Ellington's "Take the A Train."
The film is considered a classic, and it's certainly the best reason I can think of to go inside a department store!