Oscar Buzz Watch: Helen Hunt Is Definitely Getting Another Oscar Nomination

Okay, here’s how it’s going to go: you’re going to start hearing a lot of craaaazy talk in the upcoming weeks about Academy Award-winner Helen Hunt. About how she’s in a movie again, and that she’s actually really good, and that she’s on her way to a second career nomination. And your first instinct is going to be to not believe it. Not Helen Hunt! She’s history’s greatest monster! She won the 1997 Best Actress award for As Good As It Gets for being a prickly but warm-hearted waitress who had the good fortune to be the object of Jack Nicholson’s OCD affections. She beat such actresses as Judi Dench, Kate Winslet, Helena Bonham-Carter (back when she was a respectable star of English dramas and not an eccentric thatch of brambles), and Julie Christie.

At the time, it was not all that controversial a victory. As Good As It Gets was a crowd-pleaser and Hunt held her own with Nicholson (who also won the Oscar). She was also critically acclaimed for her TV work on Mad About You, and believe it or not, she had been considered overdue for an Emmy by the time she won in 1996. Of course, that was the first of four consecutive Emmys, and combined with four Golden Globes and that Oscar, it’s not all that surprising that the worm turned on her popularity. That Oscar win was looking more and more suspect. What did she even do in that movie besides sass at Jack and care for her sick kid? And what about the homerism of the one American in that category besting four Brits? Typical, right?

By the time 2000 rolled around and Hunt struck out on four high-profile releases in the final three months of the year, she had become something of a punch line among Serious Movie People and her Oscar win an object of scorn. That 2000 quartet is an interesting case study. Hunt ended up starring in two of the top five box-office hits of the year! How did it end up killing her career?? Well, her character in Cast Away wasn’t likeable, and it’s not like you could pin the success of that movie on anyone but Tom Hanks. Her chemistry with Mel Gibson was nonexistent in What Women Want, and back then, nobody could chalk that up to Gibson being a misogynist psychopath. Dr. T and the Women was a forgettable Robert Altman effort, though hardly worth sinking a career. But Pay It Forward… wow. Pay It Forward was such a complete flop commercially and critically that it sucked Hunt’s entire narrative down the toilet. The rest of the aughts saw her in only four more movies, five if you count the HBO adaptation of Empire Falls. As career nose-dives go, it was pretty dramatic, and it was proof positive for Hunt’s many detractors that she could neither act nor pick a good role.

Starting this weekend, Helen Hunt is back in theaters with The Sessions, Ben Lewin’s new movie about a polio-stricken John Hawkes who hires a "sex surrogate" (Hunt) to help him lose his virginity. It was a big ol’ hit at Sundance, and Hunt in particular got rave reviews. The positive critical notices continued at the Toronto and London film festivals, and what do you know? That old friend Oscar Buzz is back. This sounds, frankly, insane. Helen Hunt, who starred in the worst movie Woody Allen ever made (Curse of the Jade Scorpion), who cast herself in her directorial debut as Bette Midler’s daughter (the widely ignored Then She Found Me, though it should be noted that Rex Reed loved it!), is now Oscar-worthy, and possibly on a track to win her second Oscar?

As we learned with Ben Affleck last time, though, arc is everything in the Oscar race, and Helen Hunt’s comeback story gets better the more unlikely it seems. The prodigal daughter returns. And in The Sessions, she’s got a lot working for her chances at a nomination. She plays a good woman whose role in the film is to help a man achieve greatness, as reliable an Oscar niche as there is. That the "greatness" she helps Hawkes achieve has to do with having sex with a beautiful woman doesn’t hurt. She’s also, as of right now, due to be campaigned in the Supporting Actress category, despite the kind of screen time and story prominence that would support a Lead Actress claim. Ask Jennifer Connelly how that strategy worked out. (OMG, Jennifer Connelly! If Helen Hunt gets to shake off the dust of a terrible post-Oscar decade, won’t that give Jennifer so much hope that she might do the same??)

Here’s another Oscar tendency that works in Hunt’s favor: the Academy tends to hand out backup nominations every now and then, as if to prove that certain questionable award choices were justified. Remember all that grumbling about Marisa Tomei winning for My Cousin Vinny (grumbling that is TOTAL bullshit, by the way; Marisa was amazing in that movie)? Follow-up nominations for In the Bedroom and The Wrestler put that win in a different context. Charlize Theron’s win for Monster gets called a fluke? Follow-up nom for North Country. Hilary Swank and Sally Field managed to win on their follow-up nominations, so don’t think that can’t happen.

By the way, while we’re on the subject of The Sessions, John Hawkes’s chances for a second career nomination aren’t looking too shabby either. If you think the sex surrogate for a polio-stricken man in an iron lung trying to make it through like with dignity and wry humor is a winner of a role, try playing the guy with polio. It might be condescending, it might be tunnel-visioned, it might be cheap, but Oscar voters tend to leap at performances of disabilities.

I’m just saying you might want to be prepared. Try and remember how Helen Hunt looked on red carpets, because she’s coming back. (Does she still pretend to date Hank Azaria? That could be fun!)

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Links: Al Gore’s Sexual Abuse Allegations, Mariah Carey’s Dog Bill Accusations

● Al Gore was the focus of a sexual abuse investigation stemming from a “three-hour, $540 massage session” in Oregon. You can’t make this stuff up. [Page Six] ● Jerry Seinfeld continues to run his mouth about Lady Gaga: “You take one ‘A’ off of that and you’ve got ‘gag.’” Gross like a father poking fun at his daughter’s friends. [TIME] ● Everyone knows the internet is for toplessness, so sit back and enjoy the top 25 photos of Jack Nicholson without a shirt on — eating not recommended. [BuzzFeed]

● Mariah Carey has been sued by her veterinarian, who claims the singer owes $30,000 in unpaid bills for her three dogs. Thirty grand is like two weeks of babysitting for Nick Cannon. [PopEater] ● According to a new GQ profile, M.I.A. wants to wear a white suit to her wedding, because that’s what rebels do, and Billy Idol, too. [Celebuzz] ● U.S. soccer hero Landon Donovan’s last minute goal against Algeria has been appropriately remixed, demonstrating American might. [TDW]

Win Jack Nicholson’s Magic Tie

imageMy momma always told me I should put on a suit and tie, get a job, and stop taking bong hits with my Cheerios in the morning. I never listened — and now look at me (I haphazardly type this, shoeless and penniless, from a dingy cybercafe in Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, and my prospects don’t seem to be brightening, but I digress). At 32 years of age, it is far too late for me and my tie-less ways. Wall Street, Main Street, and several other prominent paved streets sadly passed me by without my learning how to tie a cravat. On the flipside, there are plenty of highly motivated people with stories of great tie-related success. And luckily for tie-strapped folks such as myself, they would like to bestow their suit-and tie-related winning ways on those less fortunate. That’s precisely where nonprofit org Career Gear comes in.

Starting June 5, they’ll begin auctioning off the autographed ties of celebs like Jack Nicholson (wrinkled yet oddly studly ties), Kevin Spacey (who must have a great tie closet), Eric Bana (Vegemite-stained ties) Patrick Dempsey (Sexiest Tie Alive?) Sean Avery (pugnacious, fashionable, yet a bit of an asshole ties?) and Andre 3000 (fresh, dapper, Hot-lanta ties) to raise money and awareness for their mission:

to assist disadvantaged men build a career, gain confidence, become community leaders and start a future for themselves and their families. The men Career Gear serves come from all walks-of-life, but are disconnected for one reason or another — and the gift of a suit and a tie can literally transform how they see themselves.

As you can tell, it’s a nifty cause, and you’ll get a sharp, actual celeb-worn tie, which I’m told are great conversation starters at both the office water cooler or when cashing your unemployment checks.

Links: Live Like Jack Nicholson, Sarah Jessica Parker Surrogate Scare

● Want to live like Jack Nicholson? Well, for the summer, you can rent his summer place in the Hamptons for a mere $400,000. [Newsday] ● The Kills singer Alison Mosshart would like everyone to know she didn’t get into a bar brawl with new Dead Weather bandmate Jack White. [NME] ● Morgan Freeman proves he’s a badass in the latest Vogue by doing an editorial with “it” model Lara Stone down in the Big Easy, shot by the great Bruce Weber. [Models]

● Sarah Jessica Parker is concerned over the safety for the surrogate who is carrying her twin girls. After the news broke, the surrogate’s telephone and computer have been hacked into, and she’s received threats. [Yahoo] ● In a new poll, Colin Farrell is the top sex symbol for the gays! The list also included the President Barack Obama and Jonathan Rhys Meyers. [Herald] ● Leonardo DiCaprio is taking singing lessons to perfect his Ol’ Blue Eyes voice, as he is now the front-runner for Martin Scorsese’s Frank Sinatra bio-pic. [thesun.co.uk]

Icons of Cool: The Cool Cats, Emile Hirsch & Jack Nicholson

There is a feral glint in the gaze of Emile Hirsch that conjures up the same spark of the scalawag in Jack Nicholson. Stylistically, the Hirsch that took on Into the Wild is the younger brother of back roads Jack in 1969’s Easy Rider. Both actors seem to belong to a physical and artistic open range. Sure, they will show up for premieres buffed and polished, but those airings are perfumed with an attitude that says flirtatiously, “What do you dare me to do?” Their natural habitat is more blue horizons than red carpet — more open bathrobe and overgrown hair, less creased pants and being on time for brunch.

But where Nicholson’s energies pulse with (barely) controlled animal hungers, Hirsch’s power is quieter, more aloof. We see Nicholson observing the absurdity of the world. But Hirsch is still taking things in, brewing a stiff pot of opinions to be poured out later. And where the icon is now something of a scripted loose cannon, the young upstart is a book waiting to be written. What the two share, however, is an intelligence and certitude that grounds each performance in a complex masculine strength. The boy within melds with the man outside and together they form a compelling presence that shifts with each role, like the roiling surf off the California coast.

Industry Insiders: Jason Scoppa, Party Princeling

LA party maestro Jason Scoppa gets down with Prince, protects his guests from Cali’s rabid paparazzi, name-drops his newest venue, then crashes on the couch with a slice.

Point of Origin: My friend and current business partner Alexi Yulish asked me if I wanted to run a door with him to make some extra cash. It was a Rodeo Drive kosher steak house called Prime Grill. At the time we both needed the bread, so I told him to set up a meeting. We took the meeting, and I said, “Why don’t you let us throw our own party?” We broke the patio dining furniture down and brought in any lounge furniture we could find. We brought in DJs and photo booths. It ended up being one of the most interesting Saturday nights in town for that summer.

Occupations: Green Door, Hollywood. When we started Green Door, it was your typical night in LA. I found it to be unfulfilling. Same DJs, same crowds, and it was boring me. When I moved from Detroit to Los Angeles, I expected that the crowd of influence in film, music, art, and fashion were one. Not so. I decided that there was a huge opportunity to approach nights differently and do something I was actually proud of. That’s when I put together Jazz Tuesdays. It has been an amazing success for us.

A few months later, another idea spawned — Lo Hi Fi Saturdays at Green Door. I wanted to do a throwback night inspired by rock. Chateau Marmont 1968, China Club New York City, you get the idea. It’s a rotating set of songs and accomplished musicians covering everything classic and everything that will be a classic. Guests can feel free to get up and play. Many of them have their instruments in the trunk of their car. “Can I get down with the band tonight?” or “I want to sing.” Jazz Tuesday is kind of the same thing. Prince shows up and gets down often; John Altman shows up with his midget sax when he’s in town. One of my favorite nights was when Rick Astley got up and blew everyone away.

Side Hustle: I have always had a better ear for listening to music than actually playing it. It’s nice to be working with somebody like Deron Johnson (Miles Davis’s protégé) on Tuesdays. I’ve been putting my ideas into his head about an album. I don’t fluently speak on his level of music language, but somehow he gets it. Hopefully, we will have something out by Inauguration Day.

Favorite Hangs: Honestly, I like to be on my sofa. If I’m not doing one of my nights and want to unwind with a drink I go to the Bronson Bar on Monday nights. My friend Sean Patrick has had that night running forever. I love the DJs, and it’s one of the only places in Los Angeles that reminds me of Detroit.

Industry Icons: Hahaha! There’s a lot of people who throw shade on this business. I’ll say that my admiration will always rest with the musicians that inspire the business and the guests that support different, interesting, and quality programming in an establishment.

Known Associates: Ryan Gosling is a great supporter of Jazz Tuesday. Jack Nicholson comes by. Prince loves to come and jam with the band. Robert Downey Jr. is a huge music guy and loves what we do. Last Tuesday, Ann Hathaway and Emily Blunt got up and sang. Actually, one of the toughest things to do is protect our guests from media and pap. So many weak stories can come out of a person going out and having a good time. Once a celebrity leaves, they get followed to their car. It’s fucking ridiculous. They find side, back, under-entrances and -exits. We probably have the best publicist in the world working with us though. At the end of the day, people are going to write what they want. We are grateful to have a publicist who understands that these are our guests, and we have to protect them. Nothing is pushed out on a PR level. If media contacts us, we respond with positivity with regard to our guests.

Projections: By the time this comes out, we will have already launched our new space, Bardot, in Hollywood. [Surprise! Bardot is slated to open the second week of September. -Ed.]

What are you doing tonight? Sofa and pizza.