Monday night's very emotional, wonderfully constructed evening to support Project ALS ended on a bum note. TV's "Ed," actor Tom Cavanagh, put the night's hostess, Caroline Rhea, on edge by not getting up and singing a song.
Rhea, who'd done a great job with her own stand-up act, music by her former talk-show bandleader and more comedy by Mario Cantone, was flummoxed when she asked Cavanagh to come on stage.
The actor — who was in the Broadway musical "Urinetown" this summer — jumped on stage. Rhea asked him to sing, and he replied, "We did this on your show, didn't we?"
But then he said, "My table says they'll donate $10,000 if I don't sing." Rhea, looking for a big finish to the evening, replied, "I'll bet they'll donate it even if you do." But by then Cavanagh was gone and refused to help her out.
Mind you, this was a charity dinner for a woman who is paralyzed in a wheelchair and wearing a respirator.
But the rest of the evening, designed by Jenifer Estess and her sisters, was a memorable and emotional experience. Edie Falco, Stanley Tucci, Julianna Margulies, Rob Morrow, Fisher Stevens, Marisa Tomei, Maria Bello, Richard Kind, Bobby Cannavale and Tom McCarthy (star and director, respectively, of "The Station Agent"), Karen Duffy, Alan Ruck, Mariska Hargitay and actor/boyfriend Peter Hermann and Alec Baldwin were just some of the famous faces in the crowd who came to support Estess, who suffers from ALS (otherwise known as Lou Gehrig's Disease).
The big dinner and show at the Hammerstein Ballroom was preceded by a 30-minute film which HBO will air next year. In it, Estess exhibits unusual courage as she and her sisters discuss her situation and new medical advances in the treatment of ALS. Particularly striking are films and pictures of Jenifer from before her illness.
Many in the room, such as fundraiser Brad Grey, who produces "The Sopranos" and other films, and Rhea, didn't know Estess when she was well. Those people, I think, deserve even more kudos for their current dedication to Project ALS.
Foo Fighters singer Dave Grohl, once part of the legendary rock group Nirvana, only to wanted to meet Justin Timberlake last night at the GQ Men of the Year Awards.
In fact, Grohl — who came to the fashionable event wearing just a plain white T-shirt and jeans — had made a bet with his beautiful wife of three months, Jordan.
"I bet her he wouldn't be wearing a suit," Grohl said of Justin, "and she said he would." The winner was Jordan. "And the loser has to introduce the winner to him. We just want to meet him. I really like his album. I have that song in my head. He used real drums on the album, which means a lot to me."
In the end, Timberlake — with some help from this reporter, who told him of the Grohls' interest — went over and graciously introduced himself.
Justin, who is well spoken, well behaved, and well mannered, told me: "I once passed him on a street in San Francisco, but I couldn't go over and say hello. I mean, he's Dave Grohl, he was in Nirvana!"
Justin and the Grohls were among a lot of celebrities of various caliber who made the scene last night at GQ's awards show and the party that followed.
Charlize Theron, looking like a real movie star, came with her mom, but spent an inordinate amount of time chatting with "Lord of the Rings" actor Orlando Bloom. She's still with British actor Stuart Townsend, in case you're interested. And she's almost guaranteed an Oscar nomination for "Monster," a movie she produced and stars in. Newmarket Films ("Memento") will release it on December 26.
Also: Adrien Brody, with his parents, looking natty; Kim Cattrall, AWOL from "Sex and the City," which shot last night in Greenwich Village at the Tasti D-Lite on Sixth Avenue and West 10th St; Aisha Tyler and Jon Henson, not together, but what do they have in common? (both are former hosts of "Talk Soup"); the deliciously sweatered Eva Mendes with, drat!, her boyfriend; Erika Christensen, Dave Chapelle, Monica Bellucci, Jon Stewart ("I don't know why they call a monthly a 'Quarterly'"), designers Dolce & Gabbana, The Rock, Eva Herzigova, Wanda Sykes, P. Diddy (with a weird haircut), Deborah-née-Debbie Gibson and Famke Janssen, plus baseball star Sammy Sosa.
Best line of the night goes to Grohl, though, who declined very politely to discuss Courtney Love or her problems. I did ask him what he thought Love's dead husband, Kurt Cobain, would think now that Nirvana has become such a big deal.
"When we started out," Grohl said pleasantly, with a goofy smile, "we thought we were scamming the world!"
A compromise is at hand in the fight between the Hollywood studios and independent filmmakers over "screener" videos.
I told you two weeks ago that this fight, instigated by Jack Valenti and the Motion Picture Association of America, was not about piracy but about shutting out the indies. You see who won.
Now all members of AMPAS, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, will get all the Oscar-eligible films, from "Thirteen" to "The Station Agent." So you can scratch "Beyond Borders" from the list.
Valenti, in his job since 1966 and now 82 years old, almost found himself retired because of this contretemps. On September 29th, AMPAS — which governs everything to do with the Oscars — sent out a press release.
The gist of it was that Valenti and the MPAA have nothing to do with the awards whatsoever. The press release had a lot of unwritten language in it. But the main thrust was: The MPAA, whatever it is, should stay out of our business.
But Valenti is the MPAA. The organization, which may employ between 150-200 people in Los Angeles and Washington, DC, is all about him. The MPAA Web site is sort of a shrine just to him.
Valenti is essentially the official lobbyist for the movie business. He negotiates the labor contracts with the unions on behalf of the seven signatory studios. He makes pronouncements defending the rating system he devised years ago. He rattles his saber on the subject of piracy.
Who knows if this screener business was his idea. It may very likely have come from the heads of the Seven (Warner, Paramount, Universal, Disney, Fox, MGM, Sony) who were tired of watching Miramax, Dreamworks and miscellaneous smaller outfits get to put on the dog every March. But Valenti works for the studios. They pay his salary and they pay the salaries of everyone else at the MPAA.
Without the studios, Valenti wouldn't exist. So somewhere in this mess, when he must have realized that he alone was taking the blame, Valenti no doubt called his employers and told them to back off.
So is it over? Not quite. There's still the issue of the Golden Globes and SAG Award voters, not to mention the Director's Guild. As one insider put it to me, "The MPAA is just leaking information now, testing the water to see how much they can get away with."
According to the British papers, Gwyneth Paltrow is upset about the review that ran here of "Sylvia."
She said, "A writer in New York — he's not even a film critic — wrote a mean review. I didn't see it, but we were surprised. Then I heard a newspaper here in the U.K. picked it up."
Hmmm. She "didn't see it." If she had seen my review, such as it was, it confirmed that Paltrow turned in her usual intelligent performance. She was not my problem with the "two-hour miseryfest," as I described it.
The script for "Sylvia" is problematic. It leaves the characters colder than they are now in the grave. It's hard for me to believe anyone is recommending this film to friends because they're either in love with Plath's poetry or identify with her plight.
Truly, I could not figure out in these two hours why for God's sake she was so depressed. Character development would have been of no small assistance.
Winning the Oscar at an early age can also be problematic for an actor. Paltrow's win for "Shakespeare in Love" leaves her in the awkward position of having to try to top herself. Unfortunately, her choices have left us to wonder who's doing the picking.
"Bounce" was terrible. "Shallow Hal" was unfortunate. "Possession" was a good attempt but didn't work. Now, with "Proof," currently shooting in London, Paltrow has a chance to do some excellent work.
The material is certainly top-notch. I'm rooting for her to find a groove and knock out some consecutive hits and Oscar nominees. I've no doubt she'll do it.