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THE BIG PICTURE

Many unhappy returns in 2003

December 23, 2003|PATRICK GOLDSTEIN

Even without a new Madonna movie, it was another embarrassing year for Hollywood. What else could you say about a year in which a Los Angeles Police Department captain was charged with peddling bootleg DVDs, Britney Spears posed on the cover of Entertainment Weekly wearing a white bustier with a red cabala bracelet and a sizable contingent of Hollywood celebs was exposed after they'd raked in free jewelry and jet trips for appearing at charity fundraisers?

There were more substantial embarrassments as well. At the height of the Oscar race this spring, Miramax was caught having one of its publicists script a gushy testimonial from aged director Robert Wise singing the praises of "Gangs of New York" director Martin Scorsese. Jack Valenti's fabled Oscar screener ban ended as a crushing defeat for the outgoing MPAA czar, with two months of scathing criticism culminating in a federal judge's surprise decision to effectively quash the ban.

Then there was media martyr Mel Gibson, who complained bitterly that academics and critics were attacking his religious epic, "The Passion," sight unseen -- but would only show the film to the most carefully selected friendly audiences, including everyone from Harry Knowles to the pope. (Apparently he was unable to locate Robert Wise.)

At least Mel still has hopes of turning the critics around before the film's Feb. 25 release. Imagine what it must have been like to wake up and read the reviews if you were Ben Affleck and J.Lo in "Gigli," Mike Myers in "The Cat in the Hat," Cameron Diaz or Drew Barrymore in "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle," Kate Hudson in "Alex & Emma," Paul Walker in "Timeline," Hilary Swank in "The Core," Heath Ledger in "The Order" or Angelina Jolie in, well, anything she did this year.

And when it came to bad press, how about the 5,791 stories devoted to the ins and outs of Ben and J.Lo's non-wedding, which by my rough estimate represented about 5,000 more stories than were written about the war on terrorism or the ballooning federal budget deficit.

But, hey, in Hollywood everybody has his priorities straight. Perhaps that's why staffers at the Fox Cable Network were threatened with criminal charges last month -- not because they were selling pirated DVDs but because someone was disseminating an e-mail that listed the take-home pay of everybody who worked in their division. Here's our annual look at some of the year's dubious achievements and other strange-but-true moments:

Imagine what would've happened if he'd thought he was an agent for Endeavor: Awaiting trial for murder after killing filmmaker Jawed Wassel, cutting up his body and packing the parts in boxes, producer Nathan Chandler Powell told Newsday that he killed Wassel because he suffered from post-Sept. 11 traumatic stress and "I suspected he was an agent for the Taliban."

Maybe he hasn't looked at his recent reviews: Asked what he thought of Arnold Schwarzenegger's election as governor of California, Ben Affleck told Entertainment Weekly: "I suppose it means that if I did run for office, no one could say I was the worst actor ever to be elected."

If only Rush Limbaugh had this good an explanation: When Courtney Love was taken by police to a hospital for a suspected drug overdose after breaking windows in an attempt to enter her boyfriend's Beverly Hills home, her publicist explained the incident by saying that Love had taken a dose of prescription medication "she thought was 2 milligrams and turned out to be 20, became alarmed and went to a hospital, where she spent several hours reading a biography of Marlon Brando."

And the video of his heart bypass was a lot funnier than "Gigli": The day after Vincent Gallo told Cannes Film Festival reporters that he wasn't sorry about anything he had said about the negative critical reaction to his film "Brown Bunny," except for putting a curse on Roger Ebert's colon, Ebert responded: "When I had my last colonoscopy they let me watch it on a little TV, and it was far more entertaining than 'Brown Bunny.' "

Whoops, we thought there was at least one Hollywood movie in production that wasn't based on a comic book: This summer Premiere magazine ran a correction saying: "In our Power List, we stated that producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura's upcoming project, 'Constantine,' is based on the life of the Roman emperor. It is, in fact, based on the DC Comics comic-book character, John Constantine."

And that was before she tied me up and made me watch the Paris Hilton sex tape: In a $10-million divorce court filing against Liza Minnelli this fall, producer David Gest called himself "a victim of domestic violence," citing an incident in which Gest says Minnelli drank a bottle of vodka before "berating him and beating him about the head and face with her fists without relenting."

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