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Brendan Fraser arrives at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party on Sunday, March 12, 2023, at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Brendan Fraser wins best actor Oscar in career comeback

LOS ANGELES — Brendan Fraser won the best actor Oscar for “The Whale,” a transformative role in which he revived a career that was once so bright.

“I started in this business 30 years ago and things didn’t come easily to me,” said an emotional Fraser, breathing heavily on stage Sunday night. “I just want to say thank you for this acknowledgement.”

Fraser was one of five first-time nominees in the category, the first time that had happened since 1935. Fraser beat out Austin Butler of “Elvis,” Colin Farrell of “The Banshees of Inisherin,” Paul Mescal of “Aftersun,” and Bill Nighy of “Living.”

Fraser figures the role of Charlie, a 600-pound reclusive gay English teacher who tries to restore his relationship with his teenage daughter, found him at the perfect time.

Any earlier in his career and Fraser has said he wouldn't have had the life experience or heartache to authentically play a character who lives with sadness, pain and life-threatening obesity.

“I think it’s a film that’s going to change some hearts and minds, and that feels really good,” he said backstage.

Fraser's portrayal earned him standing ovations at film festivals in Venice and Toronto, and the early praise continued building through the fall and winter. In addition to receiving the best reviews of his career, he earned a SAG Award for his performance. Along the way, he's given emotional acceptance speeches, unafraid to cry at times.

His eyes were rimmed red as he clutched his Oscar in one hand, clearly moved by the reaction from his Hollywood peers .

“This has been incredibly rewarding and affirming,” he said backstage, “and it’s given me a lesson in humility and gratitude.”

It's a career comeback , which Hollywood has always loved.

The 54-year-old Canadian American actor broke out in the early 1990s with the comedy “Encino Man” and the drama “School Ties.” He was the face on movie posters for "George of the Jungle” and “The Mummy” trilogy, where he worked with fellow Oscar nominee Michelle Yeoh. He did dramatic turns in “Gods and Monsters,” “The Quiet American” and 2006 best picture winner “Crash.”

He had his share of projects that bombed, too.

Then Fraser all but disappeared.

He was off the big screen for several years dealing with a series of personal issues involving divorce, his mother's death, health problems and an alleged assault by the then-president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. He boycotted this year's Golden Globes as a result.

He regained career momentum with a series of cable TV shows before appearing in director Steven Soderbergh's movie “No Sudden Move” two years ago.

Now, he owns one of the biggest prizes in movies.

“I hope I live up to this,” he said.

This image released by Paramount Pictures shows Tom Cruise as Capt. Pete "Maverick" Mitchell in "Top Gun: Maverick." (Paramount Pictures via AP)

Tom Cruise shaded at Oscars with Scientology joke and Nicole Kidman being there instead of him

Even though Steven Spielberg said that Tom Cruise “saved Hollywood’s ass” last year by delivering top-flight, in-theater entertainment with “Top Gun: Maverick,” the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences didn’t seem so inclined to show its reverence Sunday.

At its Oscars ceremony, host Jimmy Kimmel cracked some jokes about Cruise’s famous intensity and ties to the controversial Church of Scientology, while announcing that the actor wasn’t even going to make it to the show. It’s not known why Cruise didn’t attend the ceremony. He had every right to be there as the star and one of the producers for “Top Gun,” which was nominated for best picture. It’s Cruise’s fourth Oscar nomination, but his first in 23 years, since he was nominated for best supporting actor in Paul Thomas Anderson’s film “Magnolia.”

Curiously, the Academy invited Cruise’s ex-wife Nicole Kidman to help present the best director award. Cruise and Kidman’s 2001 divorce was particularly bitter, with allegations that Scientology leader David Miscavige ordered executives to help break up the marriage and to turn their two children against Kidman, a non-believer.

Given the potential for the exes to have some kind of uncomfortable interaction in front of a live global audience, it’s hard to believe that the Academy would have invited Kidman if Cruise planned to be present — a reminder of the actor’s messy personal life. Perhaps, the Academy long knew Cruise would forego the show because he correctly predicted that “Everything Everywhere All At Once” would prevail in the best picture race. Or, perhaps the Academy wasn’t sure about Cruise’s attendance but invited Kidman anyway as a past Oscar winner — not at all concerned about whether it would make things awkward for Cruise.

Most notable is that the Academy had no problem with Kimmel taking aim at some of Cruise’s well-known eccentricities in his monologue — something that awards shows and hosts shied away from in the past.

The show opened happily enough with a direct nod to “Top Gun.” Host Jimmy Kimmel digitally insert himself into the film’s climatic dogfight scene, riding being Cruise’s Maverick character in the cockpit, with Cruise’s Maverick intensely urging him to “eject, eject, eject!”

“Why are you like this, Tom?” Kimmel asks, no doubt referring to Cruise’s reputation for being aggressively type-A.

After Kimmel parachute-landed onto the Dolby stage, he launched into his monologue, in which he jokingly referred to “a small independent film called ‘Top Gun.'”

“The movie that saved the movies,” Kimmel said, repeating Spielberg’s proclamation at the Oscars nominees luncheon in February.

“Everyone loved ‘Top Gun,'” Kimmel continued. “Tom Cruise with his shirt off in that beach football scene. L Ron Hubba-hubba.”

Kimmel’s joke about L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology’s founder, is another sign that people in Hollywood no longer seem worried about getting on the wrong side of Cruise or of the famously litigious organization. Scientology critics speculate that the church’s power could be on the wane, judging from the jokes thrown its way this awards season. New York Times writer Kyle Buchanan asked whether Cruise’s no-show at the Oscars was due to concern that he could be the target of jokes about Scientology or his messy personal life.

Starting at the Golden Globes Awards in January, comedian and host Jerrod Carmichael skewered Cruise by asking whether his Scientology membership makes him the paragon of morality he’s portrayed himself to be. Cruise wasn’t at the Golden Globes either, probably because of the position he took in 2021 when the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the organizers of the Golden Globes, were engulfed in a racial controversy. Cruised responded to the controversy by returning the three Golden Globes he won for performances in “Born on the Fourth of July,” “Jerry Maguire,” and “Magnolia.”

Carmichael suggested that Cruise, as a devout member of Scientology, shouldn’t be judging anyone else for their conduct. He came out on stage carrying three Golden Globe awards and said, “Backstage I found these three awards that Tom Cruise returned.”

Carmichael then joked: “Look, I’m just the host briefly or whatever, but I have a pitch. I think maybe we take these three things and exchange them for the safe return of Shelly Miscavige.”

Carmichael was referring to Shelly Miscavige, the wife of David Miscavige. Shelly Miscavige has not been seen in public since 2007. Her whereabouts have long been the subject of speculation, with prominent former Scientologists, including Leah Remini, alleging that the church was involved in some kind of cover-up. Because Cruise is known to be close friends with Miscavige, Scientology critics say he might know of Shelly Miscavige’s whereabouts and should be aware of some of the church alleged abuses.

Cruise’s Scientology devotion has dogged him in other ways the past couple months. Even when Spielberg praised him for shepherding “Top Gun: Maverick” into a $1.48 billion worldwide theatrical blockbuster, people were reminded that the actor and the director had a falling out in 2005, in part due to the actor’s high-profile advocacy for Scientology and its controversial opposition to psychiatry and medications for ADHD and mental health disorders. Spielberg reportedly was upset that Cruise’s volatile appearances on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and the “Today” show overshadowed publicity for their film, “War of the Worlds.”

At the Directors Guild of America Awards Feb. 18, producer and director Judd Apatow also roasted Tom Cruise about his Scientology beliefs. Apatow, the DGA awards host, even took not-so-subtle aim at Cruise’s alleged choice to distance himself from his daughter Suri following his 2012 divorce from his third wife Katie Holmes. Vanity Fair first reported in 2012 that Holmes left Cruise in part because she didn’t want their daughter, now 16, to be raised in the Church of Scientology.

In roasting Cruise, Apatow first cracked some of the usual jokes about the 5-foot-7-inch actor’s height, his infamous couch jumping on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and his desire to do increasingly dangerous-looking movie stunts himself, such as riding a motorcycle off a cliff. Apatow then turned to the actor’s controversial statements about psychiatry and medications and made a searing reference to his personal life and his choices as a father.

“The only thing he seems to be afraid of is co-parenting and antidepressants,” Apatow quipped. “I doubled my Prozac today just for this. I doubled it! Do you think if Tom Cruise took antidepressants, he’d be like, ‘I’m not jumping out of a (expletive) cliff. I’m rich!’”

Karen Pressley, who spent two decades as a recruiter in Scientology’s Celebrity Center, said in a podcast interview last month that Apatow’s reference to Cruise’s alleged estrangement from his daughter was “huge, really huge” in terms of people feeling increasingly free to criticize Cruise for adhering to Scientology’s practices.

“Everyone who works with Cruise on a professional level: They see his brand,” Pressley said in the interview with journalist Tony Ortega, a leading Scientology critic. “He is a guy who is now showing up in jokes because he has ditched his daughter, he has broken up three marriages and he supports a cult that’s involved in lawsuits for human trafficking, slavery, sexual abuse and on and on and on.”

“That’s his values,” Pressley continued. “And, yet he’s a fabulous movie maker. On a professional level, his brand is superlative — when it comes to movie making. But when it gets down to his personal values, he’s branded as a vile human being. … I think he really deserves that because his values are at the bottom. He turns a blind eye to crimes and oppression.”

Venue issues first statement after GloRilla concert deaths

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Operators of the western New York concert venue where three people were trampled to death in a crowd surge after a show by the rapper GloRilla say they are “devastated by the events” and cooperating with the city as it investigates.

A statement issued Saturday on behalf of the Rochester Main Street Armory and owner Scott Donaldson said Donaldson has consented to the city’s request to inspect the venue and is confident it followed all city codes.

The city temporarily shut down the former military armory by refusing to renew its entertainment license while criminal and regulatory investigations are underway.

Aisha Stephens, 35, of Syracuse, Rhondesia Belton, 33, of Buffalo, and Brandy Miller, 35, of Rochester, died and at least six people were injured after being caught up in a crush of concertgoers who surged toward the exits after the March 5 show.

Police said concertgoers described hearing what they believed to be gunshots, but no evidence of gunfire has been found. The venue's main arena holds about 5,000 people.

“The Main Street Armory, Scott Donaldson, and his team are devastated by the events that occurred March 5, 2023. Our deepest condolences go out to the families, friends and loved ones of Rhondesia Belton, Brandy Miller and Aisha Stephens,” the written statement released by the law office Gallo & Iacovangelo said in part. “Over the years, the Armory has successfully hosted hundreds of events.”

It was the first public statement from the venue since the concert.

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