Who knew that Will Smith could deliver the year’s most unexpected and profoundly moving love story? He plays Ben a man with a deep dark secret that leads him help seven complete strangers each with their own particular set of circumstances. Constructed like a jigsaw puzzle we slowly get clues to the traumatic events that cause Ben to contact these people and change their lives in ways they never could have anticipated. What he doesn’t expect is to fall in love with one of them -- Emily Posa (Rosario Dawson) a cardiac patient whose heart may be weak but is clearly strong enough to make a difference in the way Ben looks at things. It’s this relationship that becomes the center of Grant Nieporte’s compelling screenplay but as it continues it’s obvious there is more to what Ben is doing a mystery not revealed until the final moments and one you will not easily forget. Will Smith is at his best. He may be the world’s No. 1 movie star at the moment but he’s continually proving himself to be a brilliant actor as well. Reteaming with director Gabriele Muccino who led him to a Best Actor Oscar nomination in The Pursuit of Happyness Smith once again finds his dramatic mojo in the role of a man whose life has been shattered by something so profoundly affecting that he reaches out to strangers in an effort to redeem himself. You will be hard-pressed to find the loveable Will Smith persona anywhere within this character. Dawson also has a career best as the spunky and courageous Emily a role that could have been sloppily sentimentalized and maudlin. She’s a revelation delivering a flawless and luminous performance. And best among the various recipients of Ben’s kindness is Woody Harrelson as a blind man he encounters. Also quite good is Barry Pepper as Ben’s childhood friend who is the only other person “in” on Ben’s master plan helping him to achieve his goal. He rips your heart out when he gets the call from Ben who says “It’s time.” Gabriele Muccino puts it all out there. He is an unapologetically emotional director and some will probably find fault with his style but as the Italian filmmaker proved in Pursuit of Happyness he knows exactly what he’s doing and where he’s taking the story. He’s most successful here in building suspense and an air of mystery around Smith’s character and then bringing it all home in a whopper of a final act. Clearly story acting and gut-level feeling are the three things that drive Muccino and his distinctive stamp and European approach is evident throughout. Most of all he has given Smith and Dawson a real showcase finding the meat of a story that’s one from the heart and good for the soul.
Could Madonna be digging out that white lacy wedding gown from her "Like a Virgin" days anytime soon?
Maybe. The pop diva reportedly told Britain's Mirror that marriage "may lie in the future" for she and her boyfriend, director Guy Ritchie ("Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels").
To be sure, the couple made their first big public outing at the premiere of the M One's new film, "The Next Best Thing". And she recently set up home in Ritchie's native London with 3-year-old daughter Lourdes.
In many a recent interview, the 41-year-old singer-actress has happily declared she's off the market but has been cagey about discussing that "Next Step" -- the one she took with Sean Penn 14 years ago. (Their marriage ended in 1989 after less than four years.)
"It's a serious relationship," she says of Ritchie, a reported 31, in this week's People magazine. "It's excellent. I have an enormous amount of respect for him as a person, his work, his talent. He's very bright."
But does she discuss wedding bells? She only says, "We'll cross that bridge when we get to it. If we get to it."
THE OUTSIDER: The film on his life may be up for seven Academy Awards, but "The Insider" himself -- one Jeffrey Wigand -- has yet to receive an invitation to the ceremony.
The controversial film's nods even include one for Russell Crowe, who portrays tobacco industry whistle-blower Wigand. Still, the real-life Wigand says no one from the production has said a word to him about Oscar night.
According to USA Today, Wigand called the Academy himself but was told the Oscar ceremony "wasn't the Super Bowl" and that tickets were in short supply.
Maybe Wigand needs to start hustling. Oscar buffs may recall that another controversial biopic figure, Hustler publisher Larry Flynt, wrangled an invite to the 1997 ceremonies through nominee Woody Harrelson, who played him in the nominated film"The People vs. Larry Flynt."
OSCAR WATCH: Okay, so Jeffrey Wigand doesn't have a ticket, but "Ally McBeal" vixen and future "Charlie's Angel" Lucy Liu does. She'll make her Oscar debut as a presenter at the March 26 ceremony.
In other Oscar news, Kenny Ortega has been named choreographer for the ABC telecast. Now we know that producers have promised no dance productions, so what will Kenny do? "Several special surprise sequences," the Academy promises. As long as this doesn't equate to a Lord of the Dance production or a Rob Lowe-Snow White duet, we're good.
QUICK TAKES: Jerry Seinfeld and new bride Jessica Sklar reportedly have bought Billy Joel's 12-acre honeymoon cottage in New York's exclusive East Hampton for $40 million. It's a Spanish-style manor house on the ocean with a guest house, a pool and a barn ...
... Claudia Schiffer and Tim Jeffries have set May 20 as the date for their nuptials, according to the German magazine Bild. They will marry in a small church on the Spanish island of Majorca. The New York Post adds that the supermodel may insist the London gallery owner sign a prenup ...
... "Spin City" cast member Michael Boatman isn't so happy about the show's upcoming move to Los Angeles to accommodate new star Charlie Sheen. On Wednesday's edition of Howard Stern's radio show, Boatman complained that the move will be disruptive to cast members whose families set roots in New York to work on the sitcom. "It's kind of a big mess," he said.
JUST CAUSE: "Today" host Katie Couric has joined forces with Hollywood stalwart Lilly Tartikoff and the Entertainment Industry Foundation to form the National Colorectal Cancer Research Alliance. The organization, officially launched Wednesday in New York, hopes to increase awareness of colon cancer and raise research funds.
Couric's husband, cable news legal analyst Jay Monohan, died of colon cancer in 1998, while Tartikoff's husband, NBC president Brandon Tartikoff, died of Hodgkin's lymphoma in 1997. The late Charles Schulz had agreed to participate in the campaign before his colon cancer-related death, and his family plans to carry out his commitment.
WEEKLY RUMOR ROUNDUP: A photograph of Jennifer Lopez in her plunging sheer green Versace dress was downloaded 642,917 times the day after the ceremony on the official Grammy Web site, and 1 million times by the following week, says the Post. We're afraid of what this means for future award-show dress codes ...
... Did they or didn't they? Sarah Michelle Gellar was seen on the arm of "Mission to Mars" star Jerry O'Connell many times in 1998 and 1999, but the vampire slayer told TV Guide: "No, [we didn't date]. We went to high school together." But when Fashion Wire Daily approached O'Connell, he said: "Yeah, I went out with Sarah, I did ... I wanted to keep going out with her! I was just too much of an idiot to keep it going. But I'm trying ... I'm working on my attention-span issues, I'm working on my commitment issues, I'm working on my communication issues." Didya hear that, Sarah?