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CAN'T WAIT FOR 'PHANTOM'

"He who believes he can't be destroyed, destroys himself," writes Bernie Brillstein, Hollywood entrepreneur, in his new book "The Little Stuff Matters Most." You can be sure Michael Ovitz never read this book, but if you aspire to a career in show biz, you should read it.

And now for something entirely different. I want to talk about a movie that I think will surely be nominated for an Academy Award whether anyone believes me.

When the history of movies has come and gone, there'll be more than a footnote about its opening Dec. 6 in London and on Dec. 12 in the United States, plus a worldwide opening Dec. 22. "The Phantom of the Opera" is going to be an unforgettable movie hit.

And Hollywood probably is already biting itself in exasperation because it may have to think of a best picture Oscar for the film's intrepid producer, Andrew Lloyd Webber of Great Britain. Like Mel Gibson before him, Andrew has personally put up the entire amount of money -- $90 million -- to make his great stage opus into a magnificent film that La La Land cannot possibly ignore. (Mel had to ante up only $20 million to make his controversial and troublesome -- to Hollywood -- "The Passion of the Christ." Both of these unusual mountings of private bankrolls rank way up there in film history as belief in one's vision.)

Webber is not popular here nor in Great Britain. He is too successful, and he touches a mainstream approval that always unnerves the cognoscenti. But his "Phantom" opened on London's West End stage in 1986 and then came to Broadway in 1988. It is still running in both cities and in many other places around the globe. This incredible musical has grossed $3 billion, more than any mere movie has ever earned!

When Webber was a child, his theater-mad auntie took him to see the musicals of Rodgers and Hammerstein. He experienced film versions of both "Carousel" and "Oklahoma!" which were unlike their stage creations. Later, Andrew decided if ever his "Phantom" was put on film, he would show moviegoers the same kind of Phantom they can see in a legit theater.

And now millions of people who have never been lucky enough to discover this show on a stage, will see the "Phantom" story for the first time. Others will be revisiting its epic thrill. I have seen just 15 minutes of this coming movie musical spectacle. I didn't have to see more. It is incredibly beautiful, tantalizing and stunning.

If there is an ounce of justice at the Oscars, they'll just give up and hand Andrew the prize. "The Phantom of the Opera" is a fabled movie moment coming now and stretching back to Lon Chaney's silent original.

Fannie Flagg's latest novel, the touching "A Redbird Christmas," has been optioned by Jon Avnet's Brooklyn Films. Avnet and Flagg collaborated on her acclaimed screen hit "Fried Green Tomatoes." Avnet will produce and direct. The famous writer and the movie man are thrilled to be working together again ... THE LOCALE most often mentioned for Americans saying they would abandon the United States if George W. Bush was re-elected is New Zealand. Well, officials of the country say honestly that their remote English-speaking nation has exploded since Nov. 3 with most inquiries coming from San Francisco and Los Angeles. New Zealand, which has been on a popular roll ever since the Oscars saluted "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, will not send further troops to Iraq and regards U.S. immigration as "highly desirable.

When Queen Latifah discovered that the MPAA ratings board was giving her upcoming film "Beauty Shop" an R, she royally took matters into her own hands. She flew to L.A. and petitioned the board. The Queen's charm and common sense won out. The movie opens March 30 as a PG-13 (Latifah co-produced, so there are matters other than artistic here)

Hot on the bookshelves: Jon Meacham's "Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship." This has just hit The New York Times' bestselling paperback list. Meacham is known as something of a boy genius and No. 2 at Newsweek. For what it's worth, Karl Rove and President Bush both loved this book about two truly great men ... NICOLAS CAGE'S adventure-thriller "National Treasure" will be screened at the 92nd Street Y.

Channel surfing: There I was switching between "Day of Destruction: Part I" and the "American Music Awards." Surreal? You bet. But I managed to jump from one cataclysm to another, without missing much. And when Anna Nicole Smith took the AMA stage, I realized she was on the wrong channel. She definitely symbolized "Day of Destruction." Stunningly sad.

Tribune Media Services

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