Johnny Depp Remembers Heath--And Other Oscar Treats

Showstoppers and rip-offs in the blowsy movie musical. Plus: Paper's Nightlife Awards

Nine is splashy but not always persuasive, with a lot of Hollywood razzle-dazzle dredged up to camouflage the rather second-tier score of this adaptation of the Broadway musical about Fellini's movie about moviemaking. Did all the wildly diverse actors really sing that score and without any enhancement? We'll never know, but at the very least, they're all really good lip-synchers and that's nothing to scoff at, bambinos.

More of a problem is that presenting the numbers as mindscapes on a soundstage only adds to the profound artificiality in the air, but I must say the opening number that introduces all the women is sensational, and even better is Penélope Cruz's sexy showstopper, not to mention her way with a line like, "I'll be here waiting for you with my legs open."

With her eyes open, Judi Dench is made to play the once-French producer part as a British costumer, then weirdly trot out a froggie accent for her "Folies Bergère" song. Fergie belts "Be Italian" well and looks right as the blowsy whore, but her chair-dancing number comes off as a blatant rip-off of (sorry, homage to) "Mein Herr" from Cabaret. And though Kate Hudson is adorable as the goo-goo-eyed Vogue reporter, she has to do a shimmery, Vegas-type number that feels extraneous and better suited to the awards shows where it's no doubt destined.

Marion Cotillard touches (and strips) as Guido's fading co-star in life, and Sophia Loren adds a big bowl of classy authenticity as mama, but an uncharacteristically underplaying Daniel Day-Lewis looks down a lot and almost gets lost in the shuffle of feathers and sunglasses. By the end, Nine becomes a muddy self-help story—more Oprah than Fellini. I'd give it a six.

Meanwhile, Day-Lewis can step back right now and let Colin Firth bank the Oscar for A Single Man. After all, Firth is straight. (At least, I assume he is. He never sucked my cock.) And Oscar loves nothing more than a hetero playing an LGBT. (Witness William Hurt, Tom Hanks, Hilary Swank, Charlize Theron, and Sean Penn. Heath and Jake were exceptions, I swear.) They love it even more if it's a sad gay who has suffered some major loss, as in this film. Besides, he's amazing. But, oops, along comes Jeff Bridges.

And, wait, you've also got Morgan Freeman oozing Oscar-style dignity in Invictus, which I haven't seen yet, though I can just picture the meeting that green-lighted it: "Mandela's life isn't really dramatic enough in itself. Is there a hot-looking white hero we can hang his story on? Yeah, we'll get Matt Damon to play the trailblazing captain of the rugby team! He'll look great in shorts!"

Heath is hetero in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (not to be confused with Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium), which is . . . well, I can't say yet, though I might reveal that there's a poignant scene right after Johnny Depp has replaced the tragically departed Ledger. Wistfully looking at images of dead icons like Lady Di and James Dean, Depp says, "They're forever young. They're gods."

The young get exterminated in The Lovely Bones, just another holiday movie about a family that's killed, chased, hospitalized, and chokes on twigs. Of course, some say it's the wig dresser who should be knocked off. (Update: The general release has been moved to January. Fun!)

And a young lady grasps at survival in The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond, an earnest movie based on a never-before-filmed Tennessee Williams screenplay. At a Museum of the Moving Image talk about Williams's work at the Times Center, star Bryce Dallas Howard said that for research, she studied the character of Blanche DuBois from A Streetcar Named Desire "and imagined this is her, 15 years earlier, when she still had a chance." Fellow panelist Elaine Stritch took us on a time-travel journey of her own, remembering how she charmed Williams into getting her a free seat at the sold-out original run of Streetcar. The playwright instructed the box office to set up a chair for Stritch in the aisle, lying and saying, "She's going to understudy Stella." "And I never asked him if the understudy part was taken," laughed Stritch.

Pull up a chair on a plane for It's Complicated, a sunny rom-com in which middle-aged white people do wild things like share puffs on a joint and say the word "semen." Meryl Streep—once again a cook—even sits on a bed with her kids and gives them such a rousing talk that it leads to an impromptu group hug. At the after-party, the ever-reliable Zoe Kazan—one of the kids—told me, "My sister said, 'I'd like to be in that family, where everyone's so happy and well-adjusted!' " Kazan's own family involves filmmaker parents and the late Elia Kazan as a granddad, but the perks haven't always been so perky. While making her first movie, Fracture, a friend of the producer gushed to Zoe, "You're Hollywood royalty!" "I thought, Hollywood royalty?" Zoe related to me. "Here I am in my eighth of a trailer and getting very little money." She went on to Revolutionary Road ("You saw my tits") and The Seagull on Broadway, but then came I Hate Valentine's Day, the '09 turkey that made you hate Nia Vardalos. "I didn't see it," Zoe admitted. "I ran into Judah Friedlander the other day and he said, 'I only saw 20 minutes of it.' I said, 'You're better than me.' But I'm a theater actor, and I need to pay rent. It's not always for art!"

On Broadway, Oscar winner Catherine Zeta-Jones goes for art as a roving theater actor in A Little Night Music, the exquisite show with untoppable Sondheim thoughts like, "Perpetual sunset is rather an unsettling thing." Zeta-Jones plays it lusty and large, then manages to wring fresh poignancy out of "Send in the Clowns." But having seen the impeccably gorgeous original production, I'm a little over the current, scaled-down trend, an act of economic urgency posing as theatrical vision. There's already talk of a minimalist Show Boat, which is being dubbed either Rowboat or No Boat, and I'm sure we can also brace ourselves for recession titles like 51 Dalmations, Six Wives for Three Brothers, and the immortal Not Very Big River.

A lotta night music was honored at the Paper Nightlife Awards at M2. (Disclosure: I got inducted into their Hall of Fame that night. I knew that if I went to 3,756 parties, someone would notice.) Among the highlights, drag star Harry (a/k/a Harriet Holloway) presented the Best Promoter Award and remarked, "Promoters have the best coke—or, as I call it, powder cardio." Amanda Lepore cooed that, thanks to her surgeon, "I'll look the same in 2033." And the human sparkplug known as Ladyfag won Future Face of Nightlife, telling the crowd that all the drink tickets she gives to gay guys don't always direct them to her nibbly bits. By the way, I hope this award boosts the Lady's desperate attempt to organize a fundraiser to help her buy an $8,000 pair of shoes she wants. Nothing's more important than the right footwear!

Lepore showed off her face at a birthday dinner at BonBon, where we all posed with cookies shaped like her giant lips, then dutifully ate them. At my table, dandy Patrick McDonald pursed his lips and told me he didn't get along with his assigned design partner on the reality show Launch My Line. "When I got to know him," said McDonald, "a Cher song came to mind: 'Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves.' "

Well, I'm sitting here singing "Song for the Lonely" with my legs open.

musto@villagevoice.com

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