Write a Book Already, Warren Beatty

Annette Bening | 'Ray'

Annette Tells Warren to Write a Book

Movie star and past Oscar nominee Annette Bening has advised her husband Warren Beatty to write a book already.

"He really should," Bening told me last night at the premiere of "Being Julia," her entry in the next Oscar race. "First of all, he started so young that he was at the end of the studio system. He has such wonderful stories about people like Rita Hayworth and the old stars.

"Of course, I think I've heard all of them," she added. "On the other hand, he's the most trustworthy person. No one keeps a secret like Warren, which is why he knows so much. I've told him he should write it, but you know you can't tell him what to do."

Bening has been married to Beatty for 13 years and they have four children. Of course, there are a lot of stories I'd bet she wouldn't want to see in print, but Beatty (the most fabled Lothario of Hollywood until he finally married Bening) will never tell those. It would ruin the illusion.

Still, as an Oscar-winning director (for "Reds") and a respected actor and writer, it would be a huge moment if he did put pen to paper.

Bening, who left Beatty home in Los Angeles with those four kids for the premiere, told me she often seeks her husband's advice on new scripts. But with "Being Julia," she didn't have to.

"I knew I would do it the minute I read the script," she said.

She doesn't work that often because of her family, so she made "Being Julia" last summer. Her two younger kids came with her to Budapest for the shoot. The two older ones joined them there after summer camp ended.

"They have wonderful memories of Budapest from things we did there, not shooting a movie," Bening said. "In the end, it's all about what's best for them."

Bening is so immersed in the role of Julia, it's hard to imagine how she snapped out of it to deal with kids. She did, though, and the betting money is on her not just for a nomination, but to win the Academy Award at last.

Her co-star Jeremy Irons should wind up with a Best Supporting nomination. It's his most restrained work in years.

It's so nice to be getting some Oscar-level movies and performances after nine miserable months. All memories of "Troy," "The Alamo" and "Jersey Girl" are slowly fading.

By the way, also at the "Being Julia" premiere last night: Glenn Close, looking more youthful and elegant than ever, and perennial favorite Michael Nouri, just back from a short stint as a cad on "The Young and the Restless," wearing such snazzy Alain Mikli glasses that he said even Steven Spielberg complimented him on them.

"I swindled everyone and left," he said of his soap-opera character. "The mother, the daughter, the whole gang."

He left alive, and was not killed off despite his villainy, so he could return in the future.

"It wouldn't matter if they had killed me. On soaps, you can always come back," Nouri said.

Will Jamie Foxx Unchain an Oscar?

I don't want to over-hype Jamie Foxx as the late singer Ray Charles in "Ray."

Certainly Foxx's performance in the Taylor Hackford movie had been over-hyped to me by just about everyone who'd seen it.

So when I finally caught a screening last night, I was prepared to be underwhelmed.

But let's face it: Foxx and Hackford have pulled off a little coup with this performance, not to mention with the movie itself.

While I have a couple of quibbles — mostly with the movie's length and some unnecessary ending — all in all, "Ray" is a smash hit. Foxx is on his way to an Oscar nomination.

"Ray," which was originally called (and I wish it still were) "Unchain My Heart: The Ray Charles Story," is a big movie.

Hackford is most famous for "An Officer and a Gentleman," but this labor of love is closer in spirit to his cult movie from 1980, "The Idolmaker."

In "Ray," Hackford gets to combine his love of music with the story arc of the rise, fall and redemption of a complex superstar.

Overall, it's probably his best work, part of a resume that also includes "Against All Odds," "The Devil's Advocate," "White Nights" and the great documentary "Chuck Berry: Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n' Roll."

A script that is too long and a little flat in places often bogs down Hackford. Luckily, when those moments come, Jamie Foxx is so compelling that it doesn't matter.

But the script — originally by James L. White — wants to include everything, which often means losing dramatic moments so that the next episode of Charles' life can be brought on. A lot of times you would like them all to stop so the characters can talk to each other.

When it comes to the music sequences, they are all incredibly well cut and very, very exciting and stylish. Of all the numbers, "Unchain My Heart" was a standout for me, with "What I'd Say" a close second.

Some are a little contrived, especially "Hit the Road Jack," but even then the actors (including Regina King's superb supporting performance as Ray's "road wife" and mother of one of his many illegitimate children) make it work.

There are lots of fine smaller roles, too, with Wendell Pierce, Larenz Tate (as Quincy Jones), Kerry Washington (as Bea , Ray's wife) and Bokeem Woodbine as the equally legendary and still very much alive keyboardist "Fathead" Newman leading the pack. Clifton Powell and Harry Lennix are also memorable as Charles's warring musical directors.

Atlantic Records founders Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler are sizeable roles, played respectively by Curtis Armstrong (previously known as the nudge-y nudge from "Moonlighting" and also "Risky Business") and Richard Schiff from "The West Wing."

Let's just say Atlantic Records gets a nice glossy rewrite in "Ray." For more in-depth information, we would all be better off buying the outstanding new documentary "Tom Dowd and the Language of Music," which was directed by Mark Moormann and recently released on DVD.

I don't know if "Ray" will be a Best Picture nominee — it's too soon to tell — but Jamie Foxx is the breakout star of the year.

We saw it last February when he performed at Clive Davis's pre-Grammy party. He's a classically trained musician, which brings incredible verisimilitude to his portray of Ray Charles. He's also a hell of an actor and he's done a mighty fine job preserving this legend.