EXTRA: Are the Oscars Jinxed?

“Fight Club” wasn’t within spitting distance of a Best Picture nomination. But to the organizers of the 2000 Oscars, macho soap salesman Brad Pitt is a winner. Brad Pitt The actor has signed up to be a presenter at the 72nd Annual Academy Awards, organizers announced today. Now, normally this sort of thing is no big deal — it’s a rather routine gesture for the biggest stars in Hollywood — except for the fact Pitt reportedly had earlier declined the invite from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

And, oh yeah, it’s the only good Oscar-related news the Academy has received all week. (If not, all year.)

Call it the millennium jinx. Call it coincidence. Call it a string of bad luck.

Whichever, it started early, on Valentine’s Day, ironically. But love was not in the air when a popular Internet movie-gossip guru posted what purportedly was the top-secret list of Oscar nominees on his Web site, the night before the Academy made its official announcement. (It wasn’t, but it was a scare.)

And you can expect a few post-office jokes from Billy Crystal when he hosts the March 26 Oscars telecast.

In case you didn’t hear, a big boo-boo by the U.S. Postal Service last week briefly threatened to derail the usually smooth-running Oscar voting process. More than 4,000 Oscar ballots, stuffed into 10 gray mail sacks, were dropped off at the rear loading dock of the Beverly Hills post office last Wednesday by the Academy’s auditing firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers — only to disappear. Some of the ballots were found Tuesday; they turned up at a mail-distribution center in glamorous Bell, California. Seems that somebody at the post office thought the bags were full of third-class bulk mail, insult of insults.

The post-office made amends, but the Band-Aid didn’t heal the wound completely: the Academy had to extend the balloting deadline by two days, to March 23, to allow the voters enough time to make their heady choices. But take a look at the calendar: March 23 is only three days away from March 26 — D-Day. That’s called cutting it close.

To make matters worse (or more interesting, depending on your P.O.V.), the Academy is also contending with a real-life, bona-fide security breach — one that still looms, threatening to spoil the fun of the Oscars. Seems pesky journalists at the Wall Street Journal spent a week telephoning Oscar voters in late February, polling them for their votes in an effort to get the winners in the six major categories (Best Picture, Best Director, and the four acting awards) and “scoop” the Academy Awards, publishing the results before Oscar night.

The newspaper won’t confirm or deny that it’s working on such a story, but Academy president Rehme sent a letter out to the voters this week, saying the Journal has “made the most concerted attempt in history to predetermine the outcome of our awards.”

That’s a serious charge, but apparently there’s not much the Academy can do about it, except to wait and see when (or if) the Journal goes forward with the story.

And as if all this weren’t annoying enough, now the Oscars have to contend with those guys from “South Park.”

More specifically, they must figure how to handle “Blame Canada,” the Oscar-nominated song from the film “South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut,” which has become something of a primetime hot potato. The song lyrics contain the big “F” word, as well as the little “f” word (“fart”), and a line in which Canadian singer Anne Murray is called a “bitch.”

The song’s authors, Trey Parker and Marc Shaiman, will probably have to censor the potty-mouthed lyrics, although they’re not enthusiastic. The song, and the movie it came from, is a satire on censorship.

“We’ll figure out a creative way to make light of the whole situation,” Shaiman told Reuters. “It’s a song about censorship from a movie about censorship, so the irony is not lost on any of us that we’re being asked to censor the song.”

Well, here’s one bit of good news for the Academy: Anne Murray doesn’t mind being called a bitch. Apparently, she thinks it’s funny, or so says Bruce Davis, executive director of the Academy.

“Anne Murray has been very gracious about the reference to her and finds the song very amusing, so we probably will deliver that line,” Davis says. “We tried to get her to sing that line, but she’s on tour and can’t do it. But she liked the idea.”