Oscar plans a few surprises

Hidden hosts, film reunions set for kudocast

So you know they hired the smash hit director and producer of “Dreamgirls” (Bill Condon and Laurence Mark) to restore Oscar’s glory. Here are a few projected changes which are, of course, considered “disrespectful” by traditionalists. Sunday’s presenters names are being kept top secret. Some stars will sneak backstage, not enter on the red carpet.

Most of the nominated “best film” contenders have not enjoyed an exciting box office. So Condon and Mark are determined to entertain in other ways. They are setting it all up as an intimate family reunion of Hollywood greats. And they may turn away from large Roman columns, the big staircase, even the 20-foot Oscars onstage.

Condon and Mark will shake up the running order and try to tell a story through various segments. The three best song nominees (Two from “Slumdog Millionaire” and Peter Gabriel’s track from “Wall-E” will be combined into one giant musical number.)

Clunky banter between presenters and awkward pre-recorded sketches and TV comics from the past will be erased. The host, the sexy Hugh Jackman, will perform in a musical number staged by his “Australia” director Baz Luhrmann.

Winning speeches are limited to 45 seconds. (Good luck with that !)

THERE’S BEEN a rumor that Kate Winslet was irked because Harvey Weinstein would not wait to release “The Reader”–so that meant her film “Revolutionary Road,” directed by hubby Sam Mendes, was in theaters at the same time. It was considered significant Kate didn’t thank Harvey at the Golden Globes (but she also forgot to mention Angelina Jolie, in lauding other nominees at the GG’s — Kate was very flustered!) Still, as our own Cindy Adams reported last week, Kate and Harvey lunched here in NYC. If there was an irksome moment, it has passed, apparently.

TALK MAY be cheap but there’s plenty of it about the coming Broadway production “Impressionism” which will star Joan Allen, Jeremy Irons, Marsha Mason and an excellent cast, opening March 12. No wonder, it is being directed by the genius Jack O’Brien and was written by Michael Jacobs. Now here’s a story. Producer Bill Haber recently heard from a woman he’d represented 30 years ago, Susan Harris. He describes her as “the creator of ‘Soap,’ ‘Golden Girls,’ ‘Empty Nest’ and a billion dollars worth of other writing. She is considered one of the smartest of all TV people.” Susan said she’d seen the ad for “Impressionism” and talked CAA into lending her a script. She wanted Bill to know that the play “is the finest I’ve read in years. I went back and read it again! Who is this guy — Michael Jacobs. I’m going to stop writing plays since I can never match this. Thanks for doing something this adverturesome, courageous and sensitive.” Now that’s the kind of pre-inside talk everybody wants. Haber says, “This moved me and reminded me again why we’re doing this play.”

“BABY, WHEN you stop being nervous, you better start worrying!” That was AmFar honoree Liza Minnelli, calming the jitters of young Renee Olstead last week at the AIDS Foundation’s annual gala at Cipriani in NYC. Miss Olstead, a veteran jazz chanteuse at 19, out with a new CD, “Skylark,” felt she should have been calmer. But after a day at the Donna Karan salon selecting a gown — a delicious pink parfait number — and worrying over her rendition of “Thanks for the Boogie Ride,” Renee was a wee bit tense. (Fretting over her fashion choice, she glanced over at one of the evening’s presenters, Vogue’s Anna Wintour and said, “Do you think Anna will approve?”) Even Harry Belafonte was moved to reassure the usually composed Renee. He told her, “It’s good to be nervous. That means you’re going to give a great performance.” Wisdom from her elders proved the perfect balm. Renee went out there and knocked the crowd for a loop! That crowd included Mary J. Blige, Cheyenne Jackson, Dick Cavett and Calvin Klein. This was a big night for AmFAR, hosted by Stanley Tucci; raising over $800,000 for research. Liza, Karan, Howard and Cindy Rachofsky were recognized for their efforts in the fight against AIDS.

The highlight of the evening was — of course! — Liza. Designer Kenneth Cole presented the great star with her award. She made a few heartfelt remarks, and then sang her full acceptance speech! Later, Cole, who is also AmFAR’s tireless chairman of the board, auctioned off a pair of Cartier love bracelets. He egged the bidding by promising a performance by Liza. The jewels went for $90,000, and Liza, glittering in sequins, sang a powerful rendition of “I Would Never Leave You.” (Kenneth designed Liza’s outfit, which really was a stunner.)

By the way, don’t miss my cover story on Liza for Parade magazine, March 1. Mostly, Liza loves to talk about her work, and give credit to others (she is quite modest for a living legend) but I got her onto to a few other subjects. She was in splendid form for our chat.

FOR THE next James Bond thriller I am betting on the return of the characters Q, who creates 007’s galaxy of gadgets and Miss Moneypenny, who is the efficient secretary to M. They’ve been missing for some outings. Dame Judi Dench who now plays M — the head of all security and spying — and Daniel Craig (“the name is Bond, James Bond”) want to see the characters revived. Judi says she’d like to see John Cleese as Q and Samantha Bond as Moneypenny, in the roles they have played previously. When columnist Tim Walker asked Judi if she will also return as M, she said: “You bet. As M you get to treat this powerful man very, very badly.”

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