Dakota Fanning and Bindi Sue Irwin sure grow up fast.

Inside the big picture show.
Jan. 12 2007 1:04 PM

Say It Ain't So, Dakota!

The child star has a new movie in which she gets raped.

Dakota Fanning. Click image to expand.
Dakota Fanning
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Paging Jodie Foster: There's a big brouhaha brewing—maybe—over an upcoming Dakota Fanning picture in which the child is depicted being raped.

The film in question, Hounddog, is scheduled to screen at the Sundance Film Festival this month. Some folks think allowing a child under 13 to star in a gritty film involving partial nudity, sex abuse, and rape constitutes poor judgment on the part of her mother and agent. The movie's writer-director, Deborah Kampmeier, has issued a statement urging critics to withhold judgment until they see the film.

Well, OK. But we do wonder which is worse—the fictional depiction of a child being raped or the real-life rapacious exploitation of Bindi Sue Irwin? The 8-year-old daughter of late Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin has been busy getting ready for her close-up even while she mourned her father, who died all of four months ago.

Little Bindi declared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show this week that her dad taught her to love animals and she hopes to do him proud. She'll attend a gala dinner with Russell Crowe and Naomi Watts, appear on Letterman, and perform a concert tribute to—what's his name?—oh, yes, her dad, with her backup band the Crocmen. She's also promoting a new video, Bindi Kidfitness, and she's got a television series. Not to be left out of the cash—we mean, act—Australia has just named little Bindi a tourism ambassador.

At 3, her baby brother may not be verbal enough just yet for the family business. On the other hand, he's already gone before the cameras. Some might recall that he was only 1 month old in 2004 when Dad held him in his arms while hand-feeding a chicken carcass to a 12.5-foot-long crocodile. A bit more of this and the poor boy might wish he'd been dropped. (link)

Crystal Ball:Nominations ballots for the Oscars are due on Saturday. The best-picture contenders are still in doubt, but let's call it this way: Dreamgirls, The Departed, Little Miss Sunshine, The Queen, and Babel.

Best actress: Helen Mirren and others. Best actor: Forest Whitaker and others.

A disclaimer: Prognosticating is silly and pointless, especially this year. But a spirit of foolishness grips the town annually around this time, and we do not claim immunity. Besides, some of the politicking is kind of fun.

The influential Directors Guild has revealed its nominees, and the news was not good for Clint Eastwood or United 93 director Paul Greengrass. The guild went with the directors of the films that we listed above as likely Oscar contenders for best picture. Some handicappers were surprised to see the guild nominate Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton, the wife-and-husband team that directed Little Miss Sunshine. The Directors Guild doesn't normally permit team directing (Robert Rodriguez has resigned over this in the past). Exceptions are made when a true and lasting collaboration has been established, often for brothers like Weitz and Coen. Since Faris and Dayton have been married for some years, the guild apparently gave them the benefit of the doubt.

Nominations for teams are not common: Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins won as a team for West Side Story in 1961. Three directors were nominated in 1962 for The Longest Day. The last time this happened was 1978, when Warren Beatty and Buck Henry were nominated for Heaven Can Wait.

Even as the best-picture nominees seem to come into sharper focus, there is a bit of pandemonium over who gets to hop up on the stage on Oscar night. This has been a touchy issue since a group the size of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir trooped up to claim the award for Shakespeare in Love in 1998.

The Producers Guild has tried to get a grip on the matter in recent years, creating an elaborate vetting system to decide who actually produced a film. Studios can confer the title on whomever they choose for the credits, but if a film is in contention for a guild award, the guild decides who did the work. The academy follows the guild's lead when it determines who can pick up the best-picture statuette—usually.

This year, the Producers Guild surprised itself by recognizing no fewer than five individuals as producers of Little Miss Sunshine. Even though all five passed the guild's test, the academy allows only three to have that moment of Oscar glory. So who gets left out? The news could be bad for two Sunshine producers: Ron Yerxa and Albert Berger. They're part of a team, so by the guild's standards they count as one producer. That means the academy—which does not seem inclined to bend the rule of three—can get to the desired number by taking advantage of an ampersand.

It may not seem fair, but there's another spat that may, in the minds of many industry folks, balance the academy's harsh justice. The guild refused to recognize Paramount chief Brad Grey as a producer on The Departed. (Brad Pitt was also passed over, too, leaving Graham King as the sole producer for purposes of the competition.) Grey has appealed the decision with support from director Martin Scorsese, to no avail.

An appeal has worked for Grey in the past, when the guild didn't want to recognize him as a producer of TheSopranos. Series creator David Chase went to bat for him, and the Guild relented. The difference between then and now is that Grey was not running Paramount during the argument over The Sopranos. It strikes some as unseemly for the head of one studio to seek an Oscar for a film released by another studio (The Departed came from Warner Bros.). Grey is said to be contemplating an appeal to the academy but few expect him to succeed. Considering that his studio—Paramount—has likely contenders in Dreamgirls and Babel, it seems awkward for Grey to clamor for more. On the positive side, it might not be so difficult for Grey to decide where to sit on Oscar night. Somewhere near Yerxa and Berger, perhaps. (link)

David Geffen. Click image to expand.
David Geffen

Hard Times Ahead: There it is again, in the New York Observer, the one that names martyred Los Angeles Times Editor Dean Baquet as Mensch of the Year: "The fantasy around the [Times] newsroom is that he'll be back! As Dean the Dream, working for DreamWorks executive and Dreamgirls producer David Geffen."

That reporting seems to be accurate, since two L.A. Times reporters—two of the paper's top-dog entertainment reporters, no less—said during a recent panel discussion that they believed Geffen would be the best owner for the paper.

With plenty of respect to both of those reporters, what could they be thinking? Is life under the Tribune Co. so nightmarish that Geffen seems like a dream? Both of them should know what Geffen can be like.

I've heard from multiple sources in L.A., including an editor at the Times, that Geffen told a Timesman that were he to succeed in buying the paper, his first order of business would be firing a reporter in the business section who had crossed him. If Geffen has that on his to-do list—much less at the top—he is the wrong man at the wrong Times. Yes, he has a canny eye for quality, from Joni Mitchell to Jackson Pollock. But he could make Wendy McCaw, the multimillionaire owner who has decimated the Santa Barbara News-Press, look Pulitzer-obsessed.

Those who have dealt with Geffen while covering this business should find that obvious. Geffen is famously vindictive. One reporter now at the Times once called me in tears after an encounter with him on the phone (one truly has to be on the receiving end of his verbal savagery to appreciate it). And does anyone think he'll tolerate articles that annoy him or his friends? And he has lots of friends—from Hollywood to Washington, from Steven Spielberg to Hillary Clinton.

Maybe Geffen has changed, but that seems doubtful. It was tragic when Tom King, the author of
The Operator: David Geffen Builds, Buys, and Sells the New Hollywood,
died suddenly in 2003 at the age of 39. Certainly, as a student of Geffen, King would have been fascinated by the notion of Geffen as newspaper savior—and he would have been fascinating on the subject. Maybe King would have thought it was a fine idea. Or maybe he would have told, again, how even those people who had Geffen's permission to talk to him didn't because they were too scared. Maybe he'd recount how Geffen agreed to cooperate with his book and then, after perhaps a year, went berserk when King tried to talk to Geffen's brother, Mitchell. In The Operator, King reported how Geffen screamed at him, threatened to stop cooperating with the book, and insisted that King had agreed never to interview his only sibling. King responded that he'd made no such agreement and reminded Geffen that just a week earlier, he'd directed King to ask his brother for an answer to a question. After that, King did not get to interview Geffen again. So, maybe Geffen starts out with good intentions but finds them hard to sustain when things get uncomfortable. And maybe if the Times folks want a savior with respect for a fair and balanced press, they should call Rupert Murdoch. They might be better off. (link)

Let the Handicapping Begin: When it comes to the Oscar race, this is the weirdest year in a long time.

December has essentially ended, and no one can predict with confidence which five films will be nominated for best picture, much less which will win. Usually, by now the best-picture contest has narrowed to one movie that's marching to victory (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King) or a couple of real contenders (Brokeback Mountain versus Crash, Million Dollar Baby versus The Aviator).

This year, it seems likely that nominations will go to Dreamgirls, The Departed, and The Queen. But a surprising number of films could still make the list: Letters From Iwo Jima, Babel, Little Miss Sunshine, Little Children … Who knows? There is no front-runner or even top two.

Dreamgirls was supposed to march like Sherman heading for the sea, but its legs are wobbly. The movie plays well in theaters—even at the screening for academy members, the audience burst into applause in the middle—but the reviews are not all adoring and the critics' groups have been snubbing it.

One could see the academy going for Dreamgirls, or finally cutting director Martin Scorsese a break by voting for The Departed, or cozying up to The Queen. The creative team behind The Queen has been invited to lunch at Buckingham Palace! That kind of thing could curl the toes of many academy voters.

The Los Angeles Times reports that one of the most accurate best-picture predictors in recent years has been the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association. In that case, United 93 is the winner, which would be astonishing considering that most members of the academy probably haven't brought themselves to watch it.

Babel was falling back when it picked up the leading number of Golden Globe nominations. But aside from the Chicago critics, it's not feeling much love.

Babel is the international version of Crash, with clever—or is that contrived?—interconnected stories. That big global canvas might explain its appeal to the inconsistently credentialed Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the group behind the distended annual Golden Globes extravaganza. The movie also stars the highly telegenic Brad Pitt. The HFPA is all about ratings for its television show and this group makes sure the stars come out. (That doesn't unravel the mystery of nominating Leonardo DiCaprio twice in the same category for The Departed and Blood Diamond. Seriously, he'd show up even if he were only nominated once!)

The Globes don't predict Oscar winners, but all that attention has to help Babel. It makes one wonder whether the race could come down to a strange echo of last year. If Dreamgirls doesn't win gold, some will contend that race was an issue, just as some thought Brokeback Mountain lost to Crash because the older voters of the academy were homophobic. (The academy is just recovering from a long history of snubbing African-American talent.)

Of course, if Dreamgirls loses, it might mean something or nothing. Consider Martin Scorsese. He's acknowledged as a great filmmaker, he's been in the on-deck circle for years, and he's got no Oscar to his name. All he's got is one lousy Golden Globe—and he won that for Gangs of New York. Which just goes to show, de gustibus non est disputandum. (link)

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