Pitt Beats Cruise | The British Are Coming | How Kate Winslet Could Win An Oscar | More About Josh Brolin’s Broadway Debut | Prince Returns; Entertainment Weakly

Pitt Beats Cruise At Box Office

The numbers are in, and Brad Pitt has Tom Cruise beat at the box office.

Of course, Pitt’s ex wife Jennifer Aniston has them both by wide margin, but that’s another story.

All three stars released films on Christmas Day. But in the thirteen days since that happened, Pitt’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” – a nearly three hour extravaganza containing several unrelated stories—has taken in a whopping $82 million.

Meanwhile, Cruise’s “Valkyrie”—while certainly no flop—is running significantly behind at $62 million.

Way out ahead, however, is Aniston’s “Marley and Me.” The lighthearted shaggy dog tale has $110 million in its till and continues to rake in business.

At the same time, a really big loser is not surprisingly Will Smith’s gruesome and manipulative “Seven Pounds.” After almost three weeks in release the suicide themed holiday feature has $62 million.

In both Cruise and Smith’s cases, one has to consider that the stars are taking between $15 and $20 million off the top. The remainder of the box office is then split in half between the studio and the theater owners.

In the case of “Seven Pounds,” that might not be so bad. The rest of the cast isn’t star heavy, and there aren’t any big special effects other than a contentious jellyfish. With “Valkyrie” it might be a different story. The budget has been pegged at $90 to $100 million, with another $50 million at least for promotion.

That “Button” is a hit is really a tribute to Paramount's marketing and publicity. The studio created buzz for this unwieldy project for months leading up its release. It was received with lukewarm notices, but people were already so ‘curious’ about it, it didn’t matter.

Some people do contend, however, that there are massive similarities between “Button” and the 1994 classic “Forrest Gump” since both screenplays come from the hand of writer Eric Roth. Yesterday, USA Today actually put together a chart comparing the two films. Reporter Patty Rhule noted that the newer film should be called “Forrest Gramps.” Funny!

Nevertheless, the Writers Guild nominated Roth yesterday for an adapted screenplay award even though it’s largely original and barely resembles F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story of the same name. Other nominees in this category include Slumdog Millionaire—which should win, Doubt, Frost/Nixon, and The Dark Knight. The WGA missed out on both "The Reader" and "Revolutioanry Road," but what can you do?

The bigger omission by the WGA was in the original screenplay category. The group mistakenly passed on Jenny Lumet’s “Rachel Getting Married,” which should get an Oscar nod. Their choices were Woody Allen’s "Vicki Cristina Barcelona"—which should win, plus "The Visitor," "Milk," "The Wrestler," and "Burn After Reading."

The British Are Coming

The parties around the Golden Globes are starting to gear up. On Saturday afternoon, the British Academy – BAFTA/LA – tosses its 15th annual tea party just days after announcing its own annual nominees. This swanky shindig at the Beverly Hills Hotel always pulls big star power, and already there’s a confirmed list including Josh Brolin, Kristin Scott Thomas, Danny Boyle, Sally Hawkins, Melissa Leo, Viola Davis, Rosemarie DeWitt, Ralph Fiennes, Paul Haggis, Richard Jenkins, Simon Beaufoy, John Patrick Shanley, Marisa Tomei, Ian McKellan, Peter Morgan, Dev Patel, Amy Adams, Jane Krakowski, and Ann Dudek among others. Kate Winslet may or not make it – but only because one of her kids is sick (it’s winter, you know) and she’s said to be delaying her trip out west…

…Don’t miss the The Critics Choice Awards tonight on VH-1. It’s the first big televised awards show of the season, and the awards are voted on by actual critics and legit press…

…And also don’t miss Regina Weinreich’s fascinating take on The Reader. Wenirech’s parents were Holocaust survivors. She knows what she’s talking about…

How Kate Winslet Could Win An Oscar

Attention voters for both the Oscars and the SAG awards: did you know you don’t have to vote for actors in the categories for which studios advertise them?

In plain English: you can elevate an actor from supporting to lead or send a lead down to supporting at your own discretion.

This bit of news comes as SAG voters have recently reportedly received such instructions from their mothership.

At the same time, I’m told that Academy voters get these guidelines when they receive their ballots. According to an Oscar insider: "It has always (at least in modern history) been the case that it is up to the individual Academy member voter to determine if a performance is lead or supporting. They are provided a list of ALL eligible performers and then they write them in under the category they wish to nominate for. There is a letter that advises them of this which accompanies the actual ballot. The studios/distributors/marketers/etc. can advertise and promote performers however they wish to, but our members are not in any way bound to follow that."

Considering we’re on the verge of tomorrow night’s Critics Choice Awards (VH-1, 8 p.m.) and the Golden Globes on Sunday, here’s a chance for Academy and SAG voters to shake things up a little.

For example, given this news I would immediately put Kate Winslet in Best Actress for "The Reader" because frankly, it’s her movie and she gives a more direct, dynamic performance in it than in "Revolutionary Road." Indeed, Winslet’s chances improve 100% if this happens. She would still be on a list that includes Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, Sally Hawkins, and either Kristin Scott Thomas, Cate Blanchett or Kate Beckinsale — but just in movie from which she could actually win.

With Winslet out of supporting actress, that opens a slot. We’ve already got Penelope Cruz, Viola Davis (Doubt), Amy Adams (Doubt) but now we can add Rosemarie Dewitt from "Rachel Getting Married" and Lena Olin for her double portrayal in "The Reader." There’s also Taraji P. Henson in "Benjamin Button" and Kathy Bates in "Revolutionary Road."

At the same time, I’d also move Philip Seymour Hoffman up from supporting to lead in "Doubt." That way, he’d join Sean Penn, Frank Langella, Richard Jenkins, and Clint Eastwood for Best Actor Now that’s a race. And if Penn takes the Golden Globes — the Hollywood Foreign Press for some reason ignored Eastwood — Hoffman’s chances get a lot better. The Academy likes to zig after the Globes have zagged.

Getting Hoffman out of supporting opens a slot. That means Josh Brolin and Heath Ledger could be joined by Michael Sheen from "Frost/Nixon" — where he should be, and not in lead — as well as Javier Bardem from "Vicki Cristina Barcelona" and James Franco from "Milk." Cool.

Isn’t this fun, moving things around? You can even play at home.

More About Josh Brolin’s Broadway Debut

Yesterday, I told you about actor Josh Brolin’s very funny speech at Monday night’s New York Film Critics dinner. One of the things he said was that he "hated" New York Times theater critic Ben Brantley, who panned him in a production of "True West."

Well, this is what happened. Brolin and Elias Koteas took over for Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly in July 2000 after that pair had scored raves in the main roles. Brantley reviewed the replacements, and eviscerated them. "Mr. Brolin brings to mind John Davidson, the eternally clean-cut singer," Brantley wrote.

Yeesh. No wonder Josh said in his speech, "I hate that mother"-you know what. "True West" closed a week later, thanks to Brantley. Now Brolin is a star, getting awards and is married to the hot Diane Lane. His step mom is Barbra Streisand. So there, Ben Brantley!

Brantley really did hate Brolin and Koteas, too. There’s a long circulated Broadway legend that the reviewer may have even warned the show’s producers too, advising them to recast lest he be forced to review this pair.

Do Times reviewers really call producers with offers to get out of something before they attack? I’m also told something similar to this may have happened recently concerning a cabaret show. This is supposedly the explanation why the Café Carlyle is currently, and suddenly, empty. Hmmm…

Prince Returns; Entertainment Weakly

You can hear Prince’s new album — I guess that’s what it is — here. It’s a stream of romantic R&B songs, with no audio controls, so you just have to listen to it. No individual tracks, no fast forwarding. Prince covers Tommy James and the Shondells’ "Crimson and Clover" persuasively, with a blistering, memorable guitar solo. The rest of the songs sound just like…Prince when he’s in his hit song writing mode. That’s always a good thing. No one’s sure how "Lotus Flower" will be released, but Prince says it’s one of three albums from him this coming year. Okay. Why not just release one, and really focus on it? Too easy. And too bad, since "Lotus Flower" sounds like it has potential to be some kind of hit, if hits still existed…

…The New York Post’s Keith Kelly broke the story late last night that Entertainment Weekly has "bounced" recent editor in chief Rick Tetzeli, replacing him with Jess Cagle. Well, something had to happen. EW, much loved in the past, has been fading. Maybe Jess can turn it around. Everyone’s rooting for this mag to regain its luster. Jess started at EW back in 1990, at the beginning. Another EW alum is also soaring: Maggie Murphy is taking over People magazine’s country music editions, which means they’re going to rock. Nashville couldn’t be luckier…