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No good in Hollywood

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It's the holiday season for movies - small-budget beauties, that is.

Despite all the Oscar buzz and holiday film hoopla, Entertainment Weekly isn't going googly-eyed about Hollywood. The mag takes a dim view on the industry's ballooning movie budgets, even for blockbusters helmed by big-name directors such as Peter Jackson and Wolfgang Petersen. But it's full of praise for films that boast smaller budgets and greater creative risk - namely, gay cowboy flick "Brokeback Mountain" and the gender-swapping "Transamerica." The rest of the mag is chock-full of television, music and book reviews, many of them quick and easy hits.

Premiere is for true film buffs. It's not just about the stories on screen but the twists and turns leading to their creation, and their afterlife. Sometimes this obsession makes for great copy, such as a story on the thousands who make the pilgrimage to an Iowa baseball field hoping to find the magic in Kevin Costner's "Field of Dreams." On the other hand, how many people really care that the Toronto Film Festival is going through an "identity crisis"? However, its inside-Hollywood focus is put to good use in a holiday movie preview that is hard to beat for its thoroughness and behind-the-scenes access.

The January issue of Vanity Fair offers a cover adorned with the lovely Naomi Watts and two exhaustive pieces for anyone who has lived this year in a cave: one, on the disappearance of Natalee Holloway in Aruba, and another on the saga of The New York Times' Judy Miller. Both are fascinating reads, good for killing time on an airplane, but offer little in the way of new informa tion. The Miller story, however, forcefully raises the question of whether or not Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. will be come the next Howell Raines and lose his job. Elsewhere, a look at sex abuse and financial scandal at St. Paul's, an exclusive New Hampshire boarding school, is Vanity Fair at its best: an intriguing story of chicanery at one of the country's most elite institutions. The cover piece on Watts, though, is typical celebrity fluff.

When The New Yorker's veteran media reporter Ken Auletta writes, people read. In this week's issue, Auletta gets behind the mess of scandals that have plagued that supposedly venerable institution of American journalism, the New York Times. Auletta reports that Sulzberger and Executive Editor Bill Keller had been planning to oust Miller even before she was sent to the slammer for not outing her sources in the Valerie Plame leak investigation. As in most of his stories, Auletta offers a balanced but in- depth view of the Times and its struggle to re main relevant amid declining circulation and the migration of news con tent from the printed page to the Web. Also in this week's New Yorker is an exposé on Zalmay Khalilzad, the American ambassa dor to Iraq. The lengthy piece by Jon Lee Anderson portrays Khalilzad as a "viceroy or imperial high commissioner" in Iraq, holding the government there together. Khalilzad is a close confidant of President Bush and other powerful neoconservatives and one of the key supporters of the war. The profile explores how Khalilzad now has to deal with the consequences of a bloody conflict he helped start. The magazine also goes on a hunt to find the average New Yorker.

Time devotes its political space to a slightly disheartening story about what President Bush hopes to accomplish in the last two years of his presidency. On the agenda are grand plans for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Despite the modest proposals, the White House is planning to make 2006 a turning point for Bush. No mention of plans to end the war. Time also reports that Vice President Dick Cheney has scaled back his famously long hours at the White House because of health concerns. If you're not into reading, this week's issue devotes 48 pages to the best photojournalism of the year. The portfolio reminds us that 2005 will surely be remembered as the year of the natural disas ter.

News week does a little Bush bashing of its own with a cover package on "Bush's World." The multi story spread includes a long piece on what the magazine calls "the most isolated president in modern history." It cites Congressman Jack Murtha's public outcry against the Iraq war as an example that Bush ignores everyone but his most closest advisers. The magazine also carries a nice appreciation piece on the late Richard Pryor and an interesting interview with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko.

From the White House to Wall Street, immodest financial reporter Charles Gasparino scores a good story in this week's New York magazine about his favorite bigwig battle - the obsessive fight between wannabe governor Eliot Spitzer and billionaire Home Depot honcho Ken Langone. Spitzer says he wants to "put a spike through Langone's heart" while Langone says, "One way or another Spitzer's going to pay for what he's done to me and . . . the New York business climate." Should be fun to watch. New York also anoints its "Cultural Elite 2005," putting on its own version of the Academy Awards, Pulitzers, Emmys and Tonys, all in one magazine. It names Vigo Mortensen best actor, Michelle Williams best actress and "A History of Violence" as best movie. It also declares the best novelist in Queens to be Sam Lipsyte; the best gallery show title of the year to be "I Find a Burberry Scarf and a Matching Coat with a Whale Embroidered on It (Something a Little Kid Might Wear) and It's Covered With What Looks Like Dried Chocolate Syrup Crisscrossed Over the Front the best complicated plot on a TV show that has yet to unravel, "Prison Break and the best first sentence in a novel in 2005 - from "Windows on the World, by Frederic Beigbeder: "You know how it ends: Everybody dies."

Copyright 2004 NYP Holdings, Inc. All rights reserved.

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