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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Lady Gaga Wants Rosario Dawson or Marisa Tomei to Play Her in a Biopic

Lady Gaga had an interview on Sirius radio this morning and said that she’s “destined for the screen.” And if a movie were to be made about her life, she would cast Rosario Dawson or Marisa Tomei to portray her. Marisa Tomei is great, but she’s twice Gaga’s age. And also, seriously? The Lady also revealed that she spent Valentine’s Day “in bed with tons of shoes. I was holding all my shoes, my Valentine’s.” You keep doing you, girl.

Could be a little premature to get into this, but the only person suitable for the role of Lady Gaga is Gaga herself. Nobody else could pull it off. Can you imagine Marisa Tomei in this outfit? image

No way. Now that I’m thinking about it, the Lady Gaga biopic should go super-arty. She should play all of the characters, including the ghost of Madonna circa 1984, who will torment her dreams. There will be a long Godardian middle section that’s just her lying in bed with all her shoes, mixed in with outtakes from the “Alejandro” video.

Elsewhere in the interview, Gaga agreed with me regarding the Grammys, describing Cee-Lo and Gwyneth’s performance as “wonderful,” and disclosed that she’s on the “drunk diet.” Me too!

Movie Reviews: ‘Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky,’ ‘Life During Wartime,’ ‘Cyrus’

Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky opens with a fleeting glimpse of a youthful Coco Chanel (Anna Mouglalis) battling her corset, a feminine symbol she later trades for a signature style: polished androgyny. Chanel is first exposed to Russian composer Stravinsky’s misunderstood genius at the premiere of The Rite of Spring at Paris’s Théatre des Champs-Elysées. Chanel is instantly smitten with Stravinsky (Mads Mikkelsen), even as she enters the heyday of her renown. At her insistence, he relocates his wife and four small children from a dingy tenement to her picturesque country home. Their romance deepens as Stravinsky’s wife battles tuberculosis and suffers from the strain of her husband’s betrayal. The affair is brief, but director Jan Kounen locates, with magnificent precision, the passion and intensity that forever changed their lives. (June) —Eiseley Tauginas

Winter’s Bone – This year’s winner of the Sundance Grand Jury Prize for dramatic film, Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone is an exploration of human endurance. The drama follows Ree (Jennifer Lawrence), a strong-willed, 17-year-old loner, as she bravely defies her rural community’s code of silence in a quest to hunt down her meth-making, bail bond-ditching father and save her family. Along the way, she battles drugs, moonshine and a bevy of other impoverished mountain life clichés. With restrained direction and subtle, compelling performances from Lawrence and John Hawkes (as her uncle, Teardrop), the film never feels hammy or maudlin. Winter’s Bone is as chilling, saturnine and breathtakingly barren as its title suggests. (June) —Ashley Simpson

Life During Wartime – History haunts the characters in Todd Solondz’s Life During Wartime, the pseudo-sequel to his much-praised 1998 ensemble feature, Happiness. Purists might be perplexed to find that Solondz has recast each role in the new film—Ally Sheedy replaces Lara Flynn Boyle; Allison Janney, Cynthia Stevenson; Shirley Henderson, Jane Adams—but that shouldn’t detract from the thrill of the ride. Life During Wartime highlights the twisted but talented writer-director’s darkly acerbic humor and sideways exploration of upper-class American suburbia. Narrative threads weave in and out of each other as the film’s oddball characters grapple with divorce, newfound romance, pedophilia, mental illness and suicide in a way that is both wry and suffused with pathos. A son’s recrimination of his child-abusing father (Ciarán Hinds in the role once played by Dylan Baker) is simultaneously hilarious and tragic. Darker than night, yes, but absolutely delicious. (July) —Michael Jordan

Cyrus – What can a few million extra bucks buy you in Hollywood? Well, John C. Reilly, Marisa Tomei and Jonah Hill, for starters. And that’s all Mumblecore grads Jay and Mark Duplass need to elevate Cyrus from a quaint indie flick into a highly watchable, slightly warped romantic comedy. It’s the Duplass Brothers’ first film with major studio backing, and besides a crisper stock and wider release, it’s got their distinct mark, all embarrassing moments and start-stop dialogue. Cyrus takes its name from Hill’s character, whose Oedipal relationship with his mother, Molly (a radiant Tomei), stands as the primary obstacle to her finding happiness with glum divorcé John (Reilly). The rivalry between the two man-children, as they battle for Molly’s affections, is at once hilarious, unsettling and truthful. (June) —Ben Barna

Charlize Theron on ‘Vogue,’ Marisa Tomei’s One of the Boys

Vogue’s September issue cover may have leaked and, if so, actress Charlize Theron has landed the coveted title of cover girl for the fashion magazine’s biggest annual issue. Although that’s figuratively speaking of course, as this year’s ad sales are the lowest Vogue has seen in years (meaning the issue is 200+ pages thinner than the infamous September issue documented in the soon-to-be-released RJ Cutler documentary). Sadly, little feels special about the image itself; it’s the same close-up of an actress from the waist up in a formal gown we’ve seen from Vogue for years.


A distinctly fresher image can be found in Scott Sterberg’s FW09 ads for Boy. His female counterpart collection to Band of Outsiders pictures actress Marisa Tomei. The latter is wielding a knife in the kitchen of LA’s Chateau Marmont. Save for the cut-out, lace-up boots with knit tights (oh so 2009), Tomei’s style looks decidedly Hitchcock 60s heroine (which isn’t surprising considering Sternberg is a bona fide cinephile). What’s perhaps most interesting about the photo, however, is the fact that Tome isn’t touched up; after all, the picture is a Polaroid in typical Band of Outsiders and Boy style.

Marisa Tomei & Lit’s 7th Anniversary

imageLast night I watched the Academy Awards over at Aspen Social and Amalia event coordinator Kevin Crawford’s house with the last of my Life-era friends. I was scheduled to DJ over at Southside, but I only found out about the gig through a Facebook flier so I opted out when I realized I had to see the Oscars with the old gang. Everybody had a Mickey Rourke story, but I had a Marisa Tomei story. When I started that Monday-night bowling thing over at Bowlmor Lanes back in the day, Marisa always came by, being friendly, enthusiastic, and real. One day she was hanging out and chatting with me as I was buying my bowling ball in the old pro shop that used to be there. As the guy was engraving my ball “Steve,” he realized that my companion was the Academy Award-winning actress, and he slipped up; the engraving came out as “Sneve” instead. That became my nickname for quite awhile. She’s as fun and cool and genuine as she seems, and it was wonderful to see her honored once again.

Our little Oscars party had lots of club types from the old days and the present, like Octavia, Robert Escalera, Teagan, and my good friend Dean Winters, who was once a bartender and now is doing great as an actor. We all squealed when Wass, Marquee’s door king, appeared in a commercial. For many, clubs are a means of support while developing a career. At cocktail parties, when you hear people say “I’m an actor,” someone invariably quips, “What restaurant do you work at?” This economic downturn can have a secondary affect — if talented and aspiring art types can’t find employment in hospitality, then they may not flock here. The old lyric “if you can make it here you can make it anywhere” may become too difficult to challenge. Dustin Hoffman, Bruce Willis, Debbie Harry, Keith Haring, and so many more paid the bills with nightclubs before they made it.

Anyway, after a brief “hello I’m alive but I’m too late to DJ” appearance at that wonderful Southside Sunday party, I went over to Lit for their 7th anniversary soiree. Here I was actually scheduled to DJ. My boy Eric Foss who owns the joint asked me to spin, not having ever heard me — he’s a brave man. In his invitation he mentioned some of my past “heroics” but threw in a stint at Studio 54 that wasn’t me (that was Steve Rubell). I’m only half the man he was (although I am taller). Eric was also amused by a New Yorker piece that showed a single patron at his bar with a storyline about the bad economy’s affect on such places. The story implied that Lit wasn’t Lit anymore, but that’s junk. Lit is vibrant, packed, and relevant. It is my favorite joint, and the 7th anniversary was off the hook.

I entered the DJ booth as the last of about 10 DJs, and Carlo McCormick of Paper Magazine was to ping-pong with me. I put on one record and he the next in a sort of sparring match. I was ready to rumble. But, alas, Carlo was off doing Carlo things, so Leo Fitzpatrick, an extraordinary DJ talent, showed me how to use all the knobs and hi-tech things. With the onset of the Serato computer era, I am finding that each joint I spin in has a different setup for the CDs as fewer guys use them. Last week, at Southside, the setup was on the floor, so I had to do a squat every time I changed a disc. It’s better than going to the gym. I offered up punk, punk, and more punk, and the tattooed gals on the dance floor seemed to love every minute, although it was late and I’m sure they were quite drunk. How drunk? One of them told me I was cute.

Week in Divas: Oscars Edition

imageWith just over 48 hours to go, all our favorite leading ladies are frenetically booking last-minute lipos, emergency colonics, and marathon pilates classes — while simultaneously managing miracle master cleanses. All of this in order to assure that they’re able to squeeze into constrictive gowns while showing off a demure gait on the red carpet when Sunday rolls around. And while this year’s best ladies (and their supporting counterparts) effortlessly snag one headline after another, even past grande dames of Oscar prominence are enjoying an uptick of increased notoriety. Sure, we won’t care about more than three percent of all the winners come Monday morning (or today if you’re betting by this leaked list of winners), but we can revel in everyone’s temporary relevance anyway.

● Whoopi Goldberg makes Bill O’Reilly squirm. [Gawker]

● Win or lose, should Kate Winslet’s newfound Oscar glory up her quota and her ability to enforce non-nudity clauses in her contracts make her elusive to less powerful auteurs, she’s got a couple of sisters who also happen to be actors, but they “toil in obscurity.” [Daily Mail]

● Should Winslet win, she still wouldn’t dethrone Meryl Streep as the Oscar queen, who has 15 nominations to her name. [AFP]

● No one will ever one-up Björk’s avian attire from the 2001 Oscars. Ever. But that’s no reason to harp on her. [The Daily Sound]

Apparently unbankable Halle Berry’s next role: Portraying jewel thief Doris Payne, who’s responsible for some of the biggest Tiffany’s heists in history. Chances for another Oscar? Quite favorable. She’ll need to shave her head for the role. We all know how much those little gold men love a good make-over. [MTV]

The Wrestler star Marisa Tomei, like Charlize Theron, Elisabeth Shue, and Liz Taylor before her, appears to be part of a vast Hollywood conspiracy to honor women who have no qualms about zipping up a pair of thigh-highs to play hookers or strippers. [Jezebel]

● “On one of the songs, [Tilda Swinton] plays the part of my mum, who’s found me at the end of a self-destructive period of my life. She’s trying to tell me that I look like death, absolutely sick and disgusting, and to snap out of it. When I told my mum she called up her friends and was like, ‘Oh, an Oscar winner is playing me on this album!'” — Patrick Wolf [Pitchfork]

● And finally, if the excitement of the Oscars is far too much for your withered little heart to handle, just pretend like you didn’t catch wind of Reese Witherspoon possibly becoming engaged to Jake Gyllenhaal. [The Insider]

Good Night Mr Lewis: The Strike Zone

I haven’t had sex in eight months. To be honest, I now prefer to go bowling. — Lil’ Kim

Lucky Strike Lanes, an ultra-hip bowling lounge, opened last night with a suave soiree’ hosted by its marketing arm, the Strategic Group. I chatted up Strategic honcho Noah Tepperberg, and asked him, “Why bowling?” He replied, “Chicks and celebrities love bowling.” And so it goes. Crashing pins instead of crashing bores, and if a dude strikes out while trying to impress a girl, it’s a good thing. DJ Vice could be almost heard over the pin din and squealing models. The place is posh and new and clean, and it looks to be way more sophisticated than Bowlmor, where I’ve been throwing hooks into gutters for decades.

I started a Monday night party at Bowlmor, I think in 1995, that lasted a year or two. Lots of celebrities and lots of girls were into it — that Noah knows his stuff. I started getting pretty good at it, so my boys and I all got our own balls — mine was red with white swirls, and I was having my name engraved on it while the actress, Marisa Tomei, watched. She was a semi-regular and quite famous at the time. Right as he started to engrave, the pro shop dude recognized the Academy Award-winning actress. Well, “Steve” ended up “Sneve,” and there was no way to fix it, so I was Sneve from then on at Bowlmor.

Last night’s at Lucky Strike Lanes was packed with a crowd you come to expect from Strategic (Marquee, Tao, Lavo, etc.) — hip, monied, pretty, it was all there. Everyone was having fun; some were even bowling. A fabulous young girl said she “loved it all,” but asked “why it was all the way over here, in the middle of nowhere” (12th Avenue and 42nd Street). I replied with a straight face that, “the crashing pins and balls were real loud, so it had to be a little bit away from everything.” She accepted my explanation, sipped her sticky drink, and went off to squeal. Bowling is fun; it’s communal, and you don’t have to be any good to enjoy it. Bowling clothes are sexy, so it figures to be a home run … er, strike. Noah and Danny A. will host Halloween there.

I didn’t attend last night’s opening of the new Cain — photos of giant elephant tusks turned me off. I have heard mixed reports. Some say they’re real, some say they’re fake. If they are real, it’s not only a disgrace, but I believe very illegal. I consider the players over there friends and I sincerely hope the tusks are reproductions.

Instead, I went to Ella for the opening of “Soul Glo.” I was told by a reliable source that DJ Moma is the real deal. I was told, “He has a real job during the day, like an engineer or something, and he does this at night.” Moma wrecked the place. The downstairs was packed with a hip crowd, and everyone was feeling it. An urgent text message brought me next to the Eldridge, where a really hot crowd was also enjoying great music. This time, DJ Mos was wheeling and dealing, and I had a shot of something gooey and dark and potent with Jason and some of the Eldridge staff. I had to sit down after that, and Matt Levine had me at his table. Chris Noth was high-fiving him, and supermodels swayed back and forth, without squealing, at least; but I could still hear bowling pins crashing in my head, and so I headed home.

I had started the night at the opening of the restaurant my partner, Marc Dizon, and I had just completed in Times Square. Aspen Social began and, as far as I could tell, people were liking it. I spent many months conceptualizing — identifying fabrics and fixtures, and chairs and art, etc. — and I would like to thank all the people who were patient with me, as it tends to be all-consuming. The experience exhausted me, as we only had two months and a few days to build out this large restaurant/lounge. The MisShapes played an amazing set. I’ve heard them before, but really appreciated the music they offered to a crowd which wasn’t necessarily what they were used to. It didn’t feel out of place in Times Square. As Greg Brier has proven at Highbar and Amalia, it’s safe to go to Midtown. It stands to reason if they’ll come to Times Square, they’ll go to bowl over on 12th Ave.

Places are opening now, and the gloom of just a few weeks ago seems to be showing signs of hope, of growth, of new. I told this to some nice lady in a suit; she looked at me with deep, down, Dow Jones-y eyes and said, “You ain’t seen nothing yet.” I looked at her with that look I reserve for cabbies who take me through Union Square at 5 p.m. and said, “I’ve seen a lot.” My phone is ringing. Lots of people are talking about opening a restaurant, a club, and even a hotel or two. Suddenly, there’s loot to build. It’s as if they’ve identified the bottom — or is money coming out of the stock market looking for a place to breathe? I’ve been through a recession or two. People are going to go out, they’ll drink, they’ll dance, and they might even bowl.