Gold Derby nuggets: Oscars countdown | James Cameron OK with 'Avatar' Oscars spoof | Oscar gold equals box office green
• Sandy Cohen reports, "Oscar producers Adam Shankman and Bill Mechanic are bridging stage and screen with an advanced, automated set at the Kodak Theatre and a super high-tech program planned for TV viewers. After days of technical tests on their stage setup, Shankman and Mechanic moved into the Kodak Theatre Wednesday, where they're seeing their whole show come to life in person and on screen. 'Today's the first day we're up fully running,' Mechanic says. 'We had three days of tech and now it's camera...' 'Camera, scripting, scenic transition, we're camera-blocking some stuff,' Shankman says, finishing his partner's sentence. 'This is probably as technically advanced a show as you've ever seen or as you will have ever seen,' Mechanic says. 'But what I really like about it, and yes that's true,' Shankman says. 'But on the monitors it actually looks much more simple in a weird way. It's elegant and it is more advanced but it's actually very focused and very simple.' " AP
• Half a dozen Oscar nominees have the added pressure of presenting on Sunday's big show. Two of the six already have Oscars on their shelves. Both supporting-actor contender Matt Damon ("Invictus") and writer-director Quentin Tarantino ("Inglourious Basterds") won original-screenplay Oscars, Tarantino in 1994 for "Pulp Fiction" and Damon three years later for "Good Will Hunting." Five-time nominee Jeff Bridges ("Crazy Heart") is the favorite in the lead-actor race this year, as is first-time nominee Sandra Bullock ("The Blind Side") in the lead-actress race. Also presenting are first-time nominees Carey Mulligan ("An Education") and Anna Kendrick ("Up in the Air"). AMPAS
• Oscar nominee Lee Daniels ("Precious") tells Donna Freydkin that "work has been a welcome distraction from the madness of awards season. 'Simultaneously I'm working on a pilot for HBO. It pulls me away from having to think about the Oscars. It's God's way of pulling me away.' Daniels is very busy prepping the feature film 'Selma' about the civil rights struggle and says, 'I have to really start casting the movie because we're shooting it soon. The only person I've nailed in for sure is Hugh Jackman. It's all over the place.' " USA TODAY
• Cristina Gibson says, "At least one person wouldn't mind an 'Avatar' Academy Awards this Sunday. James Cameron. The Oscar-nominated director told me this exclusively tonight at the Global Green party at Avalon. Cameron said he wasn't aware that a proposed 'Avatar' sketch involving Ben Stiller and Sacha Baron Cohen had been cut from the show, presumably to avoid upsetting the director. 'I don't know anything about that. ... I don't produce the Oscars. If they want to poke fun at 'Avatar' Sunday, that's OK by me,' said Cameron, 'I'm sure we'll laugh.' " E ONLINE
• The second edition of "The Oprah Winfrey Oscars Special" on ABC -- which paired up Oscar champs and nominees like Halle Berry ("Monster's Ball") and Penelope Cruz ("Nine") as well as James Cameron and his "Avatar" cast for intimate conversations with narration by Winfrey -- was a bust in the ratings Wednesday, down 19% from the recently canceled "Ugly Betty" in the time slot. THE LIVE FEED
• Had Winfrey worked the late-night circuit like Barbara Walters has been doing in advance of her final Oscar-night special, she might have reaped more ratings points. Walters did the top 10 on Wednesday's "Late Show With David Letterman" and then dropped by "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" to dish on her decision to stop these gabfests after 29 years.
• As Zachary Pincus-Roth discovers, "In recent years, a number of Oscar-nominated performances have involved some form of low-talking, be it mumbling, muttering, slurring, or a lack of volume, either because of the actor's choice or the requirements of the role. It's not that they're completely unintelligible -- it's that on the spectrum that runs from Laurence Olivier in 'Richard III' to the Olsen twins in 'Full House,' they're a few standard deviations toward the latter. Every year, there are at least one or two acting nominees who are in this category, and this year it's Jeff Bridges and the tight-lipped Gabourey Sidibe in 'Precious.' Last year, it was Frank Langella's gravelly former president in 'Frost/Nixon' and Robert Downey, Jr.'s white actor pretending to be black in 'Tropic Thunder.' Recent low-talking winners include Tim Robbins in 'Mystic River,' Javier Bardem in 'No Country for Old Men,' Renée Zellweger in 'Cold Mountain,' Benicio Del Toro in 'Traffic,' and Jamie Foxx in "Ray.'" THE DAILY BEAST
• In a fascinating read, Michael Cieply writes, "When the estimated salaries of all 10 of the top acting nominees are combined, the total is only a little larger than the $20 million that went to Julia Roberts for her appearance in 'Erin Brockovich,' a best-picture nominee in 2001, or to Russell Crowe for 'Master and Commander,' nominated in 2004." As Michael reports, "the fashionable deal now is called 'CB zero.' It stands for “cash-break zero,” and refers to an arrangement under which the star or filmmaker begins collecting a share of profits after the studio has reached the break-even point. Such deals can be extremely lucrative when they give stars a substantial share in home-video revenue. So Sandra Bullock, who cut her usual $10 million fee to just $5 million for 'The Blind Side,' another of this year’s nominees, will eventually make $20 million or more from the movie because it was a hit. Mr. Clooney similarly stands to make additional millions when all the revenue from 'Up in the Air' is finally counted." NEW YORK TIMES
• Everyone can predict the winners in at least a couple of the Oscar races this year -- supporting actor and actress for a start. But getting them all wrong -- that takes talent. Sasha Stone is running a contest looking for someone to score 0 out of 24. But be warned for, as Sasha writes, " It is a lot harder than you might think. My friend Ed is the one who does this every year, and despite his best intentions, last year he actually got a few right." AWARDS DAILY
• That sassy Tariq Khan is not content just to be aces at predicting the Oscars; now he wants to be part of the action and has offered up some jokes for your consideration. As he writes, "Hosting the Oscars is no easy task. Just ask David Letterman. (Remember the “Uma …Oprah” bit?) Keeping the show moving and the audience laughing for as long as four hours requires a lot of humor. But not just any humor -- OSCAR humor. To help out this year’s co-hosts Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin, Fox411 has come up with some award-worthy jokes. We think they’re pretty funny and bet that the Academy (and Oscar audience) will, too. So Steve and Alec -- please feel free to read, laugh and lift from the list below. And if you use any of them, maybe you can give 411 a little plug. That’s not too complicated, is it?" FOX 411
Top photo: Academy
Award statues. Credit: AMPAS
Middle photo: James Cameron on the set of "Avatar." Credit: Fox
Bottom photo: Sandra Bullock in "The Blind Side."