Oscar Surprise!
Move over, Nicole, Russell and Tom. This year's Academy Awards shine a light on the new talent in town

The red carpet is ready to roll, party planning is well under way, and since the Academy Award nominations were announced on Jan. 27, the belles and gents of Hollywood officially started pondering the big question: What to wear? But hold on a second—there's something different about Oscar this year. The Lord of the Rings shocked no one by receiving 11 nominations, but small independent films did better than expected. While old pros were represented by the likes of Ben Kingsley (House of Sand and Fog), Sean Penn (Mystic River) and Diane Keaton (Something's Gotta Give), some big names—think Nicole Kidman in Cold Mountain, Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai and Russell Crowe in Master and Commander—were conspicuously missing from the lineup. This Oscar season, many lesser-known actors—Keisha Castle-Hughes (Whale Rider), Djimon Hounsou (In America) and Shohreh Aghdashloo (House of Sand and Fog)—will be scrambling for a stylist and makeup artist.

It was certainly a surprise for 13-year-old Castle-Hughes—the youngest-ever Best Actress nominee—when her mum woke her up at 3 a.m. in her native New Zealand to relate the news of her Oscar nod. "I thought I was still dreaming," says Castle-Hughes. "I was like, 'Oh yeah, I'll talk to you in the morning.' "

Some in Hollywood say that expanding the Oscar pool is overdue, and welcome Best Actress nominees like Naomi Watts (21 Grams) and Samantha Morton (In America) and Best Director nominee Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation). "People in our industry are crying for a change," says Master and Commander producer Samuel Goldwyn Jr., whose film earned 10 nominations—though not for lead actor Crowe.

Castle-Hughes isn't really thinking about any of that, though. What's on her mind now is what to wear to the awards ceremony Feb. 29 ("I like pink at the moment")-and Best Actor nominee Johnny Depp. "I'm hoping to meet him," she says. "He's like God."

Blair Hitch Project

Six months after they began dating, actress Selma Blair (Cruel Intentions, Legally Blonde) and actor-rocker Ahmet Zappa got married Jan. 24 at the Coldwater Canyon, Calif., home of actress Carrie Fisher. "The ceremony was so romantic, beautiful, elegant, a little goofy—exactly like them," says a friend who attended the nuptials. Heat lamps took the edge off the 50° temperature as Blair, 31, strode a candlelit walkway in a white satin tailor-made Karl Lagerfeld gown. Zappa, 29, son of the late musician Frank Zappa, greeted her in a black suit.

For the reception, Blair changed into a dress just like her wedding gown, only black. Approximately 70 guests enjoyed grilled salmon and a three-layer coconut wedding cake and danced to '80s pop tunes spun by a deejay. "They're so clearly in love," says a guest. "I can't imagine them not being together."

THE GUEST LIST
Dweezii Zappa, Moon Zappa, Carrie Fisher, Tracey Ullman, Ryan Phillippe, Reese Witherspoon, John Waters. Vincent Gallo

DREW ON THE TRAIL
You'd think people would be thrilled to see a genuine Charlie's Angel. Not the reporters on Wesley Clark's New Hampshire campaign trail. Drew Barrymore tried to get a seat on the candidate's campaign bus Jan. 26 but was dismissed by the seasoned journalists present, reports The Washington Post. Clark aides eventually found her a spot. Barrymore later questioned Clark for an independent film she is making about the presidential race.

Gest: Eighty Shots to the Head
The claims behind David Gest's $10 million lawsuit against his estranged wife, Liza Minnelli—he says she beat him, she's countersuing for $2 million—are at the heart of his Dateline interview with Stone Phillips airing Feb. 6. Among other things, Gest's neurologist Dr. Leo Maher describes some of the damage Minnelli allegedly inflicted, including head injuries resulting in migraines, which Maher treats by injecting his patient with up to 80 Botox shots every six to eight weeks. "Look what happened to my head!" Gest exclaims. "It's indented!" But perhaps the most painful portion of the broadcast is when Gest describes that magic moment when he kissed his bride at the altar: "Like I was sucking out her mouth, going in there...looking for...a treasure or something." On second thought, maybe this belongs on the Discovery Channel.

Johnny Depp: Club King No More?
In its heyday in the '90s, the Viper Room was the height of cool. The Sunset Boulevard nightspot, which gained notoriety in 1993 when River Phoenix collapsed outside from a drug overdose and later died, is owned in part by Johnny Depp. In recent years the club has lost some cachet—and now some say it may lose Depp. Attorneys for Anthony Fox, Depp's Viper partner, say that a judge is about to order the liquidation of the club, forcing the actor to sell his 51 percent stake. The two began battling over the club about eight years ago. Fox finally sued in 2000, claiming Depp hid portions of the club's assets from him. Fox mysteriously disappeared in December 2001. (His daughter Amanda, 19, may profit from the sale.) "The order speaks for itself," says David Esquibias, Fox's attorney. "It's really scathing against Depp." Depp's attorney Michael Eidel plans to appeal any order forcing the actor to sell, adding, "My client's primary interest in all of this has been to do right by Amanda."

TOGETHER AGAIN
Bobby Brown is due in court Feb. 4 to answer battery charges stemming from a Dec. 7 dustup with his wife, Whitney Houston, but the two seem to have made up. On Jan. 22 the couple spent three hours having dinner and drinks—green sour apple martinis for her, Budweisers for him—at Frankie's on the Prado in Atlanta.

The smoking gun

A Sopranos Settlement
It's better than a load of plasma TVs falling off the back of a truck: Eight actors on The Sopranos are each taking a cut of a $1.5 million payout from the electronics chain Best Buy. Last year James Gandolfini and several costars filed suit over a February 2002 Best Buy newspaper ad containing a cast photo, alleging that the company misappropriated their images. Recently the warring parties came to a seven-figure understanding, according to the confidential settlement agreement obtained by Court TV's The Smoking Gun. No word on whether the boss, Gandolfini, gets a bigger piece of the action.

POP QUIZ

Rosie O'Donnell

For a woman who lost $10 million in a Broadway musical—Taboo, set to close Feb. 8—Rosie O'Donnell, 41, was in good spirits when Scoop caught up with her at Manhattan's PS. 20, singing show tunes with fifth graders participating in music and dance classes funded by her Broadway Kids foundation.

You look tan.
I was in Florida. I went the day they announced the show would be closing, to sort of heal my soul. It was a difficult time. And I happened to return on the day Dan Brewster [CEO of G+J USA Publishing, her nemesis in the trial over the demise of Rosie magazine] was fired. So how 'bout that!

Have you recovered from the magazine trial?
No. I think that the timing of that [at the same time as] Taboo was, for me, a salvation. Boy George's talent and the beauty and the heart of the show kept me afloat in the tidal wave of that ridiculous lawsuit, a sort of public vilification.

You thought Taboo would be a hit?
I was sure that it would be. And I hope one day to make it into a film, and we're definitely releasing the soundtrack. I think there'll be a lot of Tony nominations.

What's next for you?
I'm doing an adaptation of the book that I wrote, Find Me, as a one-woman show with music, with Cyndi Lauper. We're going to rehearse in Miami this summer.

So you're moving on?
I gotta!

Any more books in you?
After the trial, I didn't want to do any more. I felt I had given enough of my private life.

What have you learned from your experiences in the past year?
Mr. Brewster felt he could attack me, and I would not stand up to him. And that America would believe that the woman they had watched for six years was in fact a horrible, cruel, yelling lesbian. Guess what? Here I am, and there he is. Karma is a boomerang, man.

ON THE BLOCK

CELEB CENTRAL
PRICE: $26 million
PLACE: Long Island
SPECS: Goose Creek, a 25,000-sq.-ft. waterfront mansion where many stars have spent the night, is being sold by producer Bryan Bantry. Jennifer Lopez vacationed there, Madonna had her 40th-birthday party there, and Jay-Z has been a guest at the house, which features a theater with a full service bar. Douglas Elliman is the broker.

  • Contributors:
  • Greg Adkins,
  • Mike Neill,
  • Marisa Wong,
  • Jennifer Wren,
  • Ron Arias,
  • Bill Bastone,
  • Alexis Chiu,
  • Michael Fleeman,
  • Eric Francis,
  • Deborah Geering,
  • Gail Nussbaum,
  • Monica Rizzo.