Movie awards -- Oscar and its mate

In my normal, reasonable moments, I say the logical thing:

"The Social Network" is the year's best movie and it will almost (but not quite) win big Sunday at the Academy Awards. "The King's Speech" and its star (Colin Firth) will win for best picture and actor. Natalie Portman will deservedly get best actress for "Black Swan" and "The Fighter" will get both supporting awards. "Social Network" will settle for an Oscar for Aaron Sorkin's script.

There are times, however, when I have second thoughts about who deserves to win. Maybe the magnificent little "Winter's Bone" is the best picture; maybe its star, Jennifer Lawrence, is the best actress.

Shot on a micro-budget for $2 million, "Winter's Bone" catches the rich textures of a violent and impoverished world in which people have their own strong sense of right, wrong and decency. It's the kind of movie you remember long afterward.

At least, "Winter's Bone" has two chances this weekend -- the Independent Spirit awards on Saturday and the Academy Awards on Sunday. Here's a story I sent to papers, about the Spirit awards:


Each year, two opposite movie awards
share a weekend.

The Oscars have big budgets and
gorgeous gowns. The Independent Spirit Awards have something else.

“Independent film is more of a pure
art form,” said Joel McHale, who hosts the Spirit ceremony.

Those awards are for films with budgets
of less than $20 million – sometimes much less. “Winter's Bone”
cost $2 million – a tenth of the Spirit limit … a hundredth of
“Inception” or “Avatar.”

That's independent filmmaking, McHale
said. “You are more constricted by money, but less constricted in
your art.” And sometimes, these two worlds merge.

Look at this year's five Spirit
best-feature nominees and you'll see four – “Black Swan,” “127
Hours,” “The Kids Are All Right,” “Winter's Bone – among
the 10 Oscar nominees for best picture.

Then check the six Spirit nominees for
female lead: There are all five Oscar nominees for best actress.

(In both cases, the lone exception
involves the comedy “Greenberg.” It has Spirit nominations for
best feature and for its female lead, Greta Gerwig.)

On slim budgets, people make movies
that are simultaneously Oscar-worthy and Spirit-worthy. “Black
Swan” – an artful film about a troubled ballerina – has
approached $100 million at the box office, with Natalie Portman
dominating best-actress awards. “It's kind of crazy how good it
is,” McHale said.

And “Winter's Bone” may be the
ultimate example. With that tiny budget, director (and co-writer)
Debra Granik filmed in Ozark locations of Missouri where the novel
was set. She used local buildings, clothes and, often, people. “The
little girl actually lives on the property in the movie,” McHale

Some of its actors have TV credits.
Jennifer Lawrence and John Hawkes, both Oscar nominees, were the
daughter on “The Bill Engvall Show” and Sol on “Deadwood.”

Mostly, though, the actors are unknowns
– just as the setting is. “Winter's Bone” describes a violent
rural world that still has its own strong moral code and decency.
Within it, a teen (Lawrence) tries to find her dad – or prove he's
dead – because he put up their home for bail.

“It's a world most Americans are
unaware of,” McHale said. “I cried at the end. It was one of the
best and sweetest moments I have seen.”

His job description, however, doesn't
include weeping. McHale – star of NBC's “Community” and E's
“Soup” – will be there to be funny. “Most of it will be in
Spanish, just as a challenge,” he joked. “There will be an
opening (filmed) sketch …. Hopefully, there will be no major

Some people will emerge with awards.
The next day, they'll try for more at the Oscars.

– Independent Spirit Awards

– 10 p.m. to about 12:15 a.m.,
Independent Film Channel (generally via satellite or digital cable)

– Best feature: “Black Swan,”
“127 Hours,” “The Kids Are All Right,” “Winter's Bone,”

– Female lead: Natalie Portman,
“Black Swan”; Jennifer Lawrence, “Winter's Bone”; Annette
Bening, “The Kids Are All Right”; Nicole Kidman, “Rabbit Hole”;
Michelle Williams, “Blue Valentine”; Greta Gerwig, “Greenberg.”

– Male lead: James Franco, “127
Hours”; Ben Stiller, “Greenberg”; Aaron Eckhart, “Rabbit
Hole”; John Reilly, “Cyrus”; Ronald Bronstein, “Daddy

– Also: Categories for directors,
scripts, cinematography, foreign films (“The King's Speech” is
nominated), first features, low-budget films (under $500,000) and
more. See



Just a thought

Have you noticed that two of the most successful Monday TV shows are "House" (about a doctor named Gregory House) and "Castle" (about a crime-solving novelist named Richard Castle).

I'm pretty sure I see a trend here. I'm currently planning shows about a cop named Bradley Mansion and a lawyer named Harvey Condominium. 


Grammys -- a VERY big show

For most shows, this would have been the show-stopping finale -- five amazing divas, combining for a stunning tribute. For the Grammy awards, however, that was just the opening number.

There they were, in what was billed as both a Valentine's card and a get-well-soon card to Aretha Franklin. Jennifer Hudson, Christina Aguilera, Martina McBride, Florence Welch (from Florence and the Machine) and gospel great Yolanda Adams combined to sing Aretha songs. Franklin -- recovering in Detroit, after surgery for pancreatic cancer -- recorded a thank-you message.

This was great television -- and there were still three hours to go.

It was a night of surprises -- Esperanza Spalding topped Justin Bieber for best new artist, Arcade Fire topped both Ladys (Gaga and Antebellum) for album of the year -- and spectacle. Three different numbers used fire effects.

Still, great voices can top spectacle any time. Lady Gaga's epic number was OK, but not nearly as good as the one that preceded it -- those five divas, simply singing with raw power.

For me, some of the other highlights were:

-- Muse performing, with more energy and stagecraft than anything this side of the Egyptian revolution.

-- Cee Lo singing "F*** You" with Gwyneth Paltrow and a batch of Henson puppets.

-- The effort of whoever had the mute button. Cee Lo was muted at least three times; so was Eminem, who had a big night, including winning best rap album. And Cee Lo's single was discreetly titled "The Song Otherwise Known as 'Forget You.'"

-- More great pairings, including John Mayer with Norah Jones and Bruno Mars with B.o.B. and Janelle Monae.

-- A big night for country music, with Lady Antebellum getting three awards for "Need You Now," including best song (the songwriters' award) and best single.

-- A counterpoint to all those epic numbers. Miranda Lambert performed "The House That Built Me" simply and beautifully; a short time later, she won for best country female vocal performance.

-- And a burst of frenetic perfection. Mick Jagger controlled the stage and the show with his high-octane performance. At 67, he was giving his first live performance at the Grammys; maybe he had waited to make sure this rock career would last.






A Grammy nomination for Hank Williams?

You really don't expect to see much about Hank Williams at Grammy time. He died, after all, 18 years before the first Grammy telecast.

Still, Williams has won one Grammy -- in 1986, for a duet Hank Jr. did with his dad's voice. And now a project, based on a radio show he did 60 years ago, is up for another. Here's a story I sent to papers:


Some surprising names are scattered
through this year's Grammy nominations.

Woody Allen and Dweezil Zappa are
there. So are the Gyuto Monks of Tibet, the Estonian Philharmonic
Chamber Choir and Chanrika Krishnamurthy Tanden.

Still, the biggest surprise may be an
album focusing on Hank Williams. “This absolutely blows the
myth-spinners away,” Jett Williams, his daughter and one of the
album's producers, said by phone.

The myths involve a hard-drinking
pill-popper who died at 29. “You hear all these stories about Hank
Williams as a poor, forlorn figure,” Hank Jr. writes in the liner
notes, “but I'm here to tell you that's a bunch of crap. Believe
me, Hank Williams and the Drifting Cowboys knew how to have fun.”

That's evident in the album, Jett said.
“You hear how quick-witted he was, how relaxed he was.”

At 7:15 a.m. each weekday, he did “The
Mother's Best Flour Show” on WSM in Nashville. Most shows were
live; when he had a road trip coming, he would record some in

There are 72 recorded shows that
lingered almost 60 years, before getting new attention. “Hank
Williams: The Complete Mother's Best Recordings … Plus” is
nominated for Best Historical Album; it faces albums focusing on the
Beatles, Buddy Holly, Los Angeles in the 1960s and Haiti in the '30s.

The Williams project had to wait for a
ruling on who owned the tapes. “It was an eight-year court battle,”
Jett said. “I think this (nomination) vindicates us.”

She's used to legal battles. That's how
she became a part of the estate in the first place.

Jett said she always knew she was
adopted, but didn't learn until the 1980s who her father was. Her
lawyer dug out the documents: Hank Williams had signed an agreement
with singer Bobbie Jett, verifying that this was his daughter. She
was born five days after his death, then was raised by his mother,
who died two years later. Then came foster homes and adoption.

She won court rulings in 1985, '87 and
'90, getting half the Williams estate. After all those battles, she
and her half-brother had a common enemy. “Hank Jr. and I had to
find a way to work together.”

The question involved who owned those
“Mother's Best” shows. In 2006, they won and she took control of
the tapes. “When I first heard (them), my mouth fell open.”

Country-music historians have always
described immense talent and pain. “Williams lived a life as
troubled and reckless as that depicted in his songs,” Stephen
Erlewine wrote in “All Music Guide to Country” (Backbeat Books,

In “Legends of Country” (2007,
Dalmatian Press), Liz Mechem and Chris Carroll said in “six brief
years, Williams produced a body of work that defined country music
and set the stage for nearly all popular music to come …. His
brilliance and his self-destructive tendencies would fight within

The “Mother's Best” recordings,
however, show a calmer image – a man who could sing a raw and
lonesome song one moment, then joke casually the next.

After winning the rights, Jett and Hank
Jr. made a deal with Time-Life. She stayed on as producer.

In 2008, some of the songs were
released on three CD's. Then came the bigger project – a boxed set,
in the shape of an old-time radio. The 15 tapes include all 72
recorded shows, plus a book and an interview with people who had
worked on the original sessions.

Officially, the Grammy nomination lists
Jett Williams, two other producers and a mastering engineer;
unofficially, it's for Hank Williams. “He's already got a
Pulitzer,” Jett said.

That was 10 months ago, when the
Pulitzer Prize Board gave him a special, posthumous citation. Some 58
years after his death, this has been a good year for Hank Williams.



Simon's new show -- five million real dollars

I have to step out in a minute to start taking singing lessons. Also, charisma lessons. Also ...

Anyway, today Simon Cowell announced that he'll give a $5 million prize to the winner of "The X Factor," a show he'll produce and star in this fall. Cowell talked with reporters this afternoon; here's the story I sent to papers:


A competition show doesn't mean much,
Simon Cowell once said, “if there isn't a big prize at the end.”

Now he's guaranteeing there will be
one: The winner of “The X Factor” – which starts this fall on
Fox – will get a $5 million record deal.

That's real money, not just an
accounting trick, Cowell told reporters today (Monday). The winner
gets $1 million a year for five years, for record sales; nothing will
be subtracted for production and promotion and such.

“You've got to put your money where
your mouth is,” said Cowell, whose mouth was famous on “American
Idol.” Now he's gambling that his new show will find the success
“Idol” had with a Kelly Clarkson or Carrie Underwood … as
opposed to lower-selling winners in the Taylor Hicks mode.

The format has already worked in his
native England. When “X Factor” began there in 2004, said Cowell (the show's producer),
its season finale drew about 8 million viewers; the latest finale
drew 20 million.

For the U.S., the basics are:

– The minimum age goes down to 12.
Cowell admits he once opposed having young contestants, but changed
his mind. “We're starting to see a trend of what kids that age are
capable of.”

– There's no maximum age. “I don't
want there to be a lot of rules.”

– This is open to individuals or
vocal groups.

– The first auditions will be March
27, in Los Angeles. Others – with the dates not yet set – will be
in Chicago, Dallas, Miami, Seattle and New York or New Jersey.

– The auditions will have a large
audience, similar to the ones for his “America's Got Talent” and
“Britain's Got Talent.” The first ones will be at the Los Angeles
Sports Arena; others will be in sites of 4-6,000. In England, Cowell
said, the audition audience affected the judges' decisions and the
performances. “I don't believe Susan Boyle would have been
successful in a standard audition format,” he said of a famed
“Britain's Got Talent” runner-up.

– He'll be one of the judges, with
the other two announced in the next few weeks.

– The show will have a different tone
to it, Cowell said. “It has a craziness about it, an
unpredictability a bout it. It's very raw.”

– Eventually, each judge will mentor
three of the finalists. “It's important that you've got (judges)
who are very competitive with each other.”