GOSSIP SHOWS YANK LEDGER VIDEO

The syndicated gossip show Entertainment Tonight paid $200,000 for an amateur videotape of the late Heath Ledger talking about his former drug use but shelved the tape "under pressure from film insiders," the New York Daily News reported today (Thursday). The newspaper posted frames from the tape, bearing the "E.T." logo, on its website. According to the report, the tape was taken by an unknown cameraman following the SAG Awards ceremonies on Jan. 29, 2006 at a party at the Chateau Marmont hotel in West Hollywood, where an unidentified man is seen snorting cocaine from a coffee table in front of Ledger. "I shouldn't be here at all," Ledger remarks on the tape. "I used to smoke five joints a day for 20 years." (He was 26 at the time the video was shot.) The Daily News said that the tape was originally obtained by Australian TV network Channel 9, which aired it tonight (Thursday) and posted it on its website (http://news.ninemsn.com.au/article.aspx?id+373890). The Channel 9 reporter said that another syndicated U.S. show, The Insider, had also planned to broadcast the video but pulled it at the last moment. U.S. gossip commentator Sam Rubin, appearing in the Channel 9 report, maintained that the public relations agency that represented Ledger had threatened to refuse to provide other celebrity clients for the two shows in the future if they went ahead with plans to air the video.

HOLY HANNAH! MOVIE TICKETS SELL OUT FOR 3-D CONCERT

Online ticket sellers are reporting that many of the 684 theaters featuring 3-D screenings of Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert 3D this weekend have already sold out. The concert movie is due to premiere at midnight tonight and is due to be shown for one week only. The Dallas Morning News said that a check of ticket availability in the Dallas-Fort Worth area showed that tickets could be had only in "less desirable show times." Some theaters, it said, were selling them at $15 apiece. The Los Angeles Times reported tickets going for $20 apiece in its part of the world. Reuters said that Fandango.com and MovieTickets.com, the two principal online ticket sellers, were estimating that tickets to the concert movie were accounting for more than three-quarters of their sales. Fandango said that more than 1,000 screenings had been sold out as of Wednesday. Taking note of the number of tickets being sold for morning and afternoon performances on Friday, the Toronto Star commented that it looks as if "many fans are planning to get up early in the morning and play hooky from school to see their hero on the big screen."

MOVIES GET OFF TO THEIR BEST START IN YEARS

Hollywood got off to a roaring start in January with the domestic box office reporting ticket sales up 18 percent over January 2007. According to media-measurement firm Rentrak, total sales for the month came in at $773.4 million vs. $657.9 million a year ago. The box office also reported higher earnings than in 2006 ($703 million) and 2005 ($648 million). Particularly auspicious was the fact that three films crossed the $200-million mark in January, including 20th Century Fox's Alvin and the Chipmunks, Warner Bros.' I Am Legend, and Disney's National Treasure: Book of Secrets. Perhaps just as surprising, the Fox Searchlight movie Juno crossed the $100-million mark, an achievement that few independent films can boast about.

MATHEWS, NY DAILY NEWS FILM CRITIC, TO STEP DOWN

Jack Mathews, currently the film critic of the New York Daily News, sent an email message to friends and colleagues Wednesday announcing that he would be leaving the newspaper following the Academy Awards next month and moving to the Oregon coast -- "there to allow the view and the ocean air to clear my thoughts for the kind of creative writing I had in mind when I left graduate school at UCLA four decades ago." He wrote that he plans to write a "long-gestating novel about the college co-ed considered by many to have been the Zodiac's first victim (it was a murder I covered as a cub reporter)."

OSCAR BALLOTS IN THE MAIL

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences mailed out final ballots for next month's Oscar awards on Wednesday. They were sent to 5,829 voting members who must return them to the accounting firm of PriceWaterhouseCoopers by 5:00 p.m. on February 19, where they will be tallied. An elite group within the firm then prepares the envelopes containing the names of the winners, which will be revealed on Feb. 24 at the annual Oscars telecast.

JUNO SOUNDTRACK HITS NO. 1

The soundtrack to Juno has risen to No. 1 on the Billboard 200 album chart, making it the first time in memory that a soundtrack from a specialty film has ever reached the magazine's top spot. It was released by the quirky Rhino label, which has never had a No. 1 hit before. The last movie soundtrack to top the chart was from last year's DreamWorks film, Dreamgirls. Billboard noted that the last soundtrack from an Oscar nominee to hit No. 1 was 1998's Titanic..

Brian B. at Movieweb
Brian B.