Mel Versus the Mental Midgets

In yet another of Hollywood’s gross miscalculations, the filmmaker whom the Industry declared dead and buried this summer is back on life support because he has a hit film on his hands this December. According to tracking, Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto is creeping past both Leo DiCaprio’s well-intentioned Blood Diamond and Cameron Diaz’s lifeless The Holiday. (All three films open December 8.) Disney, the distributor of Mel’s self-financed Maya epic, was hoping that Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ audience would reward the film with their moviegoing loyalty (and not hold his drunken, anti-Semitic ranting against him like Hollywood has done). If even a third of the Passion audience turns out, that’s healthy box office.

Always the contrarian, Gibson turned conventional wisdom on its ear with his marketing strategy for Apocalypto: Instead of hiding, he placed himself front and center in a series of TV ads meant to appeal directly to his Passion base because the film itself has no stars. But I have to laugh at the way the trade and mainstream press are finally waking up to the issue I raised back on September 24: whether, once Apocalypto garnered critical raves, Oscar voters would judge Mel’s film fairly. The mental midgets who make up the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are supposed to judge the merits of the movies and not the assholes behind them. But I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: If a litmus test were given for behavior, then nobody would ever work in Hollywood again.

Every day, the denizens of this town do and say stupid stuff (even Gwyneth Paltrow, an icon only in her own mind), and they’re still nominated. But Academy voters ignored Gibson’s Passion when it came to the big noms (instead, it got Best Cinematography, Best Makeup and Best Music nods) because of the movie’s Jews-killed-Jesus depiction. True, Apocalypto is Mel’s Mexican Braveheart, and Braveheart won a ton of Oscars. But the Maya movie’s Academy Award chances are probably nil because of what happened in Malibu. Mel needs to look on the bright side: This is yet more fodder for his persecution complex, which is the source of his brilliant filmmaking, even if it does make him a sucky human being.

Deaf, Not Def, When It Comes to Diamonds

Warner Bros.’ Blood Diamond and its stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Connelly did not garner their usual share of glossy mag coverage even though ’tis the season for such shameless promotion. But that’s because those media outlets depend on full-page advertising from the diamond cartel, which, as I reported in my “Blood From Stones” column on November 1, has been working overtime to discredit Ed Zwick’s opus. On the other hand, doing a great job of discrediting himself is Russell Simmons, who spent the past week trotting around Africa on a trip paid for by the De Beers–led World Diamond Council and clouding the conflict-diamonds issue (concerning gems mined in war zones and sold to finance civil wars in underdeveloped countries) with pathological self-promotion for his own line of overpriced bling.

Before departing on November 15, Simmons got an earful — finally — about the human-rights issues related to the diamond cartel from reps of Amnesty International and Global Witness. But those groups, which have been working in the African trenches for decades, were quickly ignored when Simmons cast himself upon his arrival as the Dark Continent’s messianic savior and made a bizarre statement describing his tour in terms of a divine pilgrimage with references to Farrakhan and God. (Imagine how that must have freaked the diamond cartel.) Simmons was issuing daily press releases, putting up a video on YouTube and announcing some vague initiative he’ll spearhead for purely PR purposes. As for the movie Blood Diamond, Warner’s is worried by the lack of buzz. The studio has traditionally loathed message marketing, so its TV ads make it look like just another heist pic. Then there’s the problem with Africa being overused as one big photo op by celebs, with publicists in tow, who are eager to demonstrate their compassion. The kind of attention, support and funding that continent needs in so many areas takes long-term projects, commitment and intelligence, none of which the entertainment industry is normally known for. This terrain is too complex for the typical movie trailer.

Calling Planet Hollywood

So I’ve read The Hollywood Reporter’s annual list of sky-high-earning actresses, and all I can say about some in the top 10: on what planet? Here are my reasons:

1. Nicole Kidman: Makes $16 mil–$17 mil per picture. What she should be earning: less than $1 mil.

That’s right, I’m saying that Nicole should practically be paying film companies to hire her, not the other way around. That’s because she’s poison at the box office, the female equivalent of Sean Penn. Women dislike her, men don’t think she’s sexy, and those Chanel ads induce nausea. My guess is Nicole’s rate dates back to Sony Pictures overpaying her for that bomb Bewitched. Since then, she’s been doing smaller films, but is signing for studio projects right now. Note to majors: Save your $$$ and hire Reese or Angelina.

2. Reese Witherspoon: $15 mil. What she should be earning: $25 mil.

Reese can do no wrong. Women love her, men love her, and the camera loves her. And she’s smart: When she was looking for a new agency, she lamented not owning her Legally Blonde character because it’ll be Broadway bound. Which doesn’t mean all her films are great, but she’s always great in them. She opens a movie. ’Nuff said.

3. Renée Zellweger: $15 mil. What she should be earning: $5 mil.

Renée doesn’t open movies, unless the material is Bridget Jones–cloned. She’s fine as the wife or girlfriend, but her price needs to be cut to a third. Worse, audiences are sick of her changing hair color whenever she changes parts. That’s a dye job, not an acting job. Sadly, she’s lost her once-winning girl-next-door quality; now she’s trying to be a fashion diva. Ugh.

4. Drew Barrymore: $15 mil. What she should be earning: $3 mil.

Drew has never been able to open a movie, and she never will. That doesn’t mean she isn’t sweet onscreen, but lately her roles have been too saccharine. If only she’d bring back that Poison Ivy edginess she once had. Women like her, but they don’t want to be her (or even briefly married to Tom Green), whereas men don’t think she’s hot anymore. Drew’s price should go up when she grows up.

5. Cameron Diaz: $15 mil. What she should be earning: $7 mil.

Put her in a bikini, and she’s worth it. Put her in a chick flick (In Her Shoes, The Holiday), and she’s not. Everyone finds her sexy, but women don’t like her. (It’s jealousy. And not just because of Justin.) Plus, from the neck up, she simply doesn’t have much range as an actress.

6. Halle Berry: $14 mil. What she should be earning: $5 mil.

Once she lost her shot at launching a new franchise as 007’s Jinx, she lost what should have been her biggest paydays. Alas, she’s now the wrong side of 40, and Hollywood is cruel that way.

7. Charlize Theron: $10 mil. What she should be earning: $10 mil.

A smart actress, surrounded by smart people, doing smart roles. Just don’t fuck it up with too many vanity projects.

8. Angelina Jolie: $10 mil. What she should be earning: $25 mil.

There’s no one hotter and cooler right now than Angelina onscreen and off (just ask the stalkarazzi), but that could change if she starts auditioning for sainthood by making too many message movies. Let’s hope she’s too badass for that.

9. Kirsten Dunst: $8 mil–$10 mil. What she should be earning: $1 mil.

Eventually, the Spider-Man franchise will end. Marie Antoinette dying in theaters didn’t help her price. She was an idiot not to star in Bring It On sequels for big bucks. She’s not sexy enough and she won’t age well with audiences. This is a career about to end.

10. Jennifer Aniston: $8 mil. What she should be earning: $1 mil.

She’s not a movie star. She’s a TV star. Big difference. Most of all, she’s not an interesting actress. She can’t open a movie, and her choice of material is abysmal. Sure, The Break-Up did okay business, but that was because of Vince and in spite of her. Soon she’ll be lucky to score the next Lifetime movie.

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