Will Smith: Suicide, Career And Otherwise | Celebs Pay Big Bucks For Inauguration Party | First Real Oscar Predictors | Madoff’s House Arrest; Susan Lucci’s Hands; Aimee Mann’s Xmas Plans; ‘reader’ Music

Will Smith: Suicide, Career And Otherwise

"Seven Pounds," Will Smith’s holiday offering, is a relentlessly depressing, strange piece of cinema that really has no business being released at Christmas, if ever. If you thought Nazis trying to kill Hitler or couples fighting would bum you out right now, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

If you don’t want to know what happens in "Seven Pounds," then stop here. Otherwise, here’s the whole sordid story of a manipulative but clever film designed to tug heart strings even though it makes very little sense.

What you will see: a gaunt looking Smith, morose and ponderous, self righteous and self pitying, playing a man who’s planning his own suicide. That he carries it out at the end of the film is not so much of a surprise. (In the opening scene, he calls in his own suicide to 911.) It’s so graphic and elaborate all the scene is missing is a fat lady singing opera on the soundtrack.

The premise of "Seven Pounds" is that Smith’s character, Ben Thomas, has caused the deaths of seven people including his beloved wife or girlfriend in an auto accident. He can’t live with himself, so he plots a way to commit suicide and at the same time save the lives of seven strangers. This will be his redemption.

Among the seven strangers is a blind piano player, a young woman with a heart condition, an older woman who needs a liver transplant, and an abused woman and her children. Maybe they’re supposed to be a rainbow coalition, but it’s of note that none of the people Ben picks out is an African American man unless you count his character’s brother, played with maximum consternation by Michael Ealy.

There’s a standout performance in all this muck and melodrama from Rosario Dawson, who manages to be a beacon of light and air in the turgid renderings around her. The idea is that Ben inadvertently falls for her, and then must make his ultimate sacrifice for her. Dawson, to her credit, manages to set herself apart from Smith’s homage to wrongheaded heroism.

"Seven Pounds" weighs a lot more than the title would indicate, more like seven tons. In the audience you will hear weeping, and many hankies are pulled from sleeves and handbags as the multiple "surprise" endings and "twists" are revealed. Rarely has there been a more portentous movie — ominous melancholy music is as ceaseless as the movie is grim, and the look on Smith’s face never lets you forget it.

If the recession, Bernie Madoff, and two wars isn’t enough to depress you this Christmas, "Seven Pounds" should do the trick. If only it were plausible, or likeable. There’s something incredibly self-righteous about Ben’s predicament. Somehow, those seven deaths are all about him. I might have been more interested if the recipients of his largesse were somehow connected to the victims. They aren’t. And it’s hard to buy because it’s not Ben intended to kill these people. It was an accident. He’s not evil. He’s a good guy to whom a bad thing happened.

But Smith and director Gabriel Muccino — who collaborated on the more successful "Pursuit of Happyness" — are determined to make this work. Ben becomes frustratingly god-like in his pursuit of redemption. Even his advice to a neighbor on growing flowers works wonders! (Have you eve tried banana peels in the mulch?) That makes "Seven Pounds" very uncomfortable. But it tracks with recent Will Smith movies. No matter how his characters start out, they are "saviors." In the "I Am Legend" press materials, he’s described as "mankind’s last best hope." The title character in "Hancock" learns to be a saint after being a sinner. "I Robot," and "Pursuit of Happyness," same thing.

You could go deeper into the craziness at the center of "Seven Pounds." There’s no sense that Ben has been treated for depression, or that he’s even spoken to anyone about it. His life has fallen apart, and –as he’s lost faith — has been seemingly abandoned by everyone in his life. His brother — the Ealy character — is ineffectual at best because he can’t stand in the way of Ben’s ultimate sacrifices. I won’t even get into how improbably these things are, but suffice to say that viewers of TV soap operas know this terrain all too well.

It’s not like I have ice running through my veins, but I do think anyone with a brain will wonder how the hell this project came to be a Will Smith movie, and a holiday one at that. Not since Jim Carrey nosedived in "The Cable Guy" have I seen a more misguided star vehicle. To be in a Will Smith movie and not have one laugh for 90 minutes, and then a rueful one of foreshadowing, is really jaw dropping.

You could call "Seven Pounds" a courageous move for Smith, a bold choice, a way to stretch. "Hancock," a very bad movie, was a hit. It’s possible that Smiths’ Teflon moment will extend to this film, too, but I think it’s unlikely. "Seven Pounds" is just gruesome, a horrid misfire by a well intentioned actor who will definitely be able to bounce back. I hope.

Celebs Pay Big Bucks For Inauguration Party

Who wants to go the presidential inauguration? Why, all of us. But only a lucky few will get the really good tickets. And then again, some people are paying big bucks to see the ceremony with Aretha Franklin, pastor Rick Warren, and John Williams—not to mention Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

The contributors list, released today by the Inaugural Committee, contains a lot of well known names. The top donors start with the family of Democratic fundraiser and financier George Soros, at $200,000. Soros and three members of his family sent in $50,000 apiece. That should get them some good seats.

Carol Burnett is a political bundler. This is not to be confused with bungler, or with political blunders. A bundler groups together small political donations into one big one. Burnett has bundled up $187,500 to give to the Obama Inaugural Committee. The cap for bundling is $300,000. The cap for individual donors is $50,000.

Other bundlers so far for the inauguration in the $300,000 group: music exec Nicole Avant, New York movers and shakers Barbara Lee Diamondstein-Spielvogel and husband Carl; Washington DC fundraiser Mary Pat Bonner. Also bundling so far: RealPlayer founder Michael Parham ($150,000); Hollywood political image consultant Andy Spahn ($100,000); Chelsea Piers owners Tom and Andrea Bernstein ($150.000) and Santa Barbara Democratic powerhouse Nancy Koppelman ($100,000).

The $50,000 also includes a host of Hollywood names: Halle Berry, Sharon Stone, Jamie Lee Curtis and husband Chris Guest, Will Smith manager James Lassiter, director Ron Howard, Samuel L. Jackson, Jamie Foxx, “Back to the Future” director Robert Zemeckis, Muppets scion Lisa Henson, “West Wing” director Brad Whitford, Motown founder Berry Gordy, Global Green USA president Diane Meyer Simon (who enlists celebs like Leo DiCaprio for her causes), powerhouse attorney Skip Brittenham, “Cosby Show” producer Marcy Carsey, Harvard author Daniel Yergin, William Morris TV agent John Ferriter ("Project Runway," "Fear Factor") and commercial artist Dale Chihuly.

In the $25,000 group: director Reginald Hudlin, former Motown president and Democratic supporter Clarence Avant, Lionel Richie ex wife Brenda, James Farentino's ex-wife Debra, and “Terminator” producer Gale Hurd, who’s also the ex-wife of both Brian DePalma and James Cameron.

The best entry so far among donors: Keiran Brandabur Langer of San Anselmo, California. He sent in $250 and listed under “Employer”—“my kids.”

Oscars Get First Real Predictors

The Screen Actors Guild nominees are out, and so the Oscar race really starts.

SAG is the best predictor of Academy Award nominees and winners because the same group essentially votes twice.And the winners are, so far: "Slumdog Millionaire," "Milk," "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," "Doubt," and "Frost/Nixon."

But they're only winners in the sense that SAG doesn't have a Best Picture category. They vote for Best Ensemble in Acting. Still in the running for the Oscar's Best Picture are "The Reader," "Revolutionary Road," and "Gran Torino." Any one or more of them could knock out one of these SAG choices easily. So don't get too comfortable yet.

SAG also doesn't choose directors, screenwriters, or other types of nominees. So the Oscars are far from done deal. But the SAG acting choices are pretty much in line with what I thought. The only big omission is Clint Eastwood for Best Actor in "Gran Torino." Clearly, there's something lacking in Warner's campaign for Eastwood, since it was also snubbed by the Golden Globes. They'd better get cracking.

The list of acting nominees in movies follows:

Outstanding performance by a male actor in a leading role:

Richard Jenkins, "The Visitor"

Frank Langella, "Frost/Nixon"

Sean Penn, "Milk"

Brad Pitt, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"

Mickey Rourke, "The Wrestler"

Outstanding performance by a female actor in a leading role:

Anne Hathaway, "Rachel Getting Married"

Angelina Jolie, "Changeling"

Melissa Leo, "Frozen River"

Meryl Streep, "Doubt"

Kate Winslet, "Revolutionary Road"

Outstanding performance by a male actor in a supporting role:

Josh Brolin, "Milk"

Robert Downey Jr., "Tropic Thunder"

Philip Seymour Hoffman, "Doubt"

Heath Ledger, "The Dark Knight"

Dev Patel, "Slumdog Millionaire"

Outstanding performance by a female actor in a supporting role:

Amy Adams, "Doubt"

Penelope Cruz, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"

Viola Davis, "Doubt"

Taraji P. Henson, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"

Kate Winslet, "The Reader"

Madoff’s House Arrest; Susan Lucci’s Hands; Aimee Mann’s Xmas Plans; ‘Reader’ Music

Seeing pictures of disgraced alleged mega-thief Bernie Madoff on afternoon stroll yesterday brought back memories. Madoff, who’s accused of stealing $50 billion and ruining countless lives, is under house arrest on the Upper East Side. He was photographed smiling as he perambulated near his spread on 64th between Park and Third, where one of his neighbors is none other than Matt Lauer.

Why isn’t this man in jail?

The memory: of Sotheby’s Diana "DeeDee" Brooks, convicted of price fixing art works. I reported in this space some years ago that ran into her at Starbucks on Lex and 79th St. during her so-called incarceration. Like Madoff, she was confined to her zillion dollar apartment and allowed to wander about one of the most expensive nabes in the world. His ankle bracelet, like Brooks’s, might as well have come from Tiffany…

Meantime, it was only on November 4th, six weeks ago, that it was reported Madoff’s son, Andrew, purchased a luxury spread for $4.83 million not too far away on 74th Street and 1st Avenue… It’s a condo which means no board approval, no prying eyes into tax returns or other personal papers…

…Congrats to Tony Bennett’s son and manager Danny, and his beautiful wife Carrie. They welcomed their first child, a bouncing baby girl named Sadie, into this swingin’ world on November 30th…She’s said to sleeping through the night to the sounds of Grampa’s new Christmas album…

…You could have a busy time of it in Times Square tonight. At 7 p.m., Susan Lucci is putting her handprints in cement at Planet Hollywood. This is not to be missed. Susan’s been playing vixen Erica Kane on "All My Children" since 1910 — or so it would seem. But the real Lucci is a doll, a great lady and a lot of fun. You may have read that ABC forced her to take a massive pay cut recently as all soaps are on the decline. Frankly, without Lucci, and Erika Slezak on "One Life to Live" — there would be no ABC Daytime…

…Across the street at the Nokia Theater, the amazing Aimee Mann puts on her annual Xmas show at 8pm. She has a bunch of guest stars with her, but it’s Aimee we want to see and hear playing songs like "Voices Carry," "Say Anything" and tracks from her current wonderful CD, "@#%&*! Smilers"…if you can’t get there, download her, and check her out...

…Last week I told you about a lunch I went to for Stephen Daldry, director of "The Reader," at Café Carlyle. Our entertainment was 27-year-old composer Nico Muhly accompanied by violinist Nadia Sirota. Of course, like everything else, now that extraordinary performance has turned up on YouTube. (Who puts this stuff up, night and day?) Anyway, Muhly’s score is one of my favorites this year, along with Thomas Newman for "Revolutionary Road" and Howard Shore for "Doubt." Philip Glass, whose own score for Daldry’s "The Hours" was nominated in 2001, was there to cheer young Muhly on. Glass was Muhly’s mentor for six years.

… Condolences to our pal Laura Bickford, producer for Steven Soderbergh. Her husband, actor Sam Bottoms, passed away yesterday at age 53. Sam had a long list of credits including his debut at age 15 in Peter Bogdanovich’s "The Last Picture Show." His war against cancer was valiant. This year, he traveled with Laura to help promote Soderbergh’s "Che," winning new friends always with his charm and wit. He will be sorely missed …