SPAMISH INQUISITION

Broadway critics have not yet weighed in on "Monty Python's Spamalot," a new musical based on the classic 1975 film "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," but by the time they do, a great many audiences will have delivered their own verdict.

Off to the Races

Still, predictable as it was, the announcement of 2005 Oscar nominees had a few things worth noting. Here are the eight most interesting things about this year's list--or, at least, the most interesting things to me:1.

NEWSMAKERS

Q&A: Jamie Lynn SpearsBritney's kid sister, 13-year-old Jamie Lynn Spears, now has her own sitcom, "Zoey 101," on Nickelodeon. (Her character's a girl at a previously all-boys school.) More than a million-and-a-half kids watched the premiere.

IS 'NUMBERS' PRIME? DO THE MATH!

With "CSI," "CSI: Miami," "CSI: New York," "Law & Order," "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," "Law & Order: Criminal Intent," "Without a Trace," "Navy NCIS" and "Medical Investigation" currently parked on prime-time TV, it tickles me to think that someone at CBS woke up in the middle of the night and cried out, "I know what this network needs!

THANKS FOR THE ANGST

The 24-year-old singer-songwriter Conor Oberst, who records with a rotating cast of players under the name Bright Eyes, inspires one of two emotions among indie-rock fans: reverence or disdain.

HOLLYWOOD UNPLUGGED

Since we're all still a bit warm and fuzzy from the holidays, let's start with a charitable take on "Unscripted," the new, documentary-style HBO series about struggling actors in Hollywood from director George Clooney and producer Steven Soderbergh: it's better than "K Street." The duo's disastrously received 2003 show about political consultants--which, like "Unscripted," featured real people improvising fake story lines--was a classic case of two well-meaning naifs wandering into foreign turf...

STATE OF GRACE

Someday soon, Topher Grace will be an award-winning actor. He will be a movie star, one of those guys about whom directors and producers and studio chiefs say fondly, "He can do anything." If every planet aligns, he'll inherit American cinema's Everyman throne passed down from Jimmy Stewart to Jack Lemmon to Tom Hanks--actors whom Grace, 26, has long revered.

THE FARMER'S DAUGHTER

The town of Winthrop, Iowa, a tiny farming nook in the state's northeast corner, has a population of 772. In high school, Michelle Monaghan, now 27, was voted class president, a credential that's diminished slightly by the fact that a majority required just 18 votes.

MOVIES: INDECENT PROPOSALS

"Van Helsing" aside, movies today could be worse. Much worse. In October an anonymous Hollywood talent manager decided it was wrong to throw away the hilariously awful script pitches he reads weekly.

Oscar's Burning Questions

If you're like most moviegoers, meaning you don't live in a big city and you don't get to the art-house theater every month, you're probably wondering one thing this week: what the heck is so great about this "Sideways" movie?

BOOKS: POP GOES THE POSTER

Concert posters, as any rockologist will tell you, are the Van Goghs and Matisses of the music scene. And in 1987, author Paul Grushkin cobbled together an encyclopedia of the genre's best in an eight-pound hernia of a book called "The Art of Rock." In the 17 years since, the rise of graphic-art technology, digital music and local indie-rock scenes has sparked a second wave of eye-popping posters.

LEAPIN' WIZARDS!

Is there anyone in the world more psyched about "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" extended edition than Christopher Lee? The only sour moment in the trilogy's public run came when Lee, who plays the turncoat wizard Saruman, blasted director Peter Jackson for cutting him out of the theatrical version of "ROTK." Lee, now 82 and a cult figure among horror fans, felt he'd earned his gory swansong in "ROTK." Now thanks to the DVD, he's got it back.

CRACKING THE 'CODE'

One of the virtues of "The Da Vinci Code," author Dan Brown's gajillion-selling thriller about a Harvard symbologist in hot pursuit of the Holy Grail, is its breathlessness.

POLAR EXPEDITION

Director Robert Zemeckis and a team of 500 visual-effects specialists at Sony Imageworks have been working on the computer-generated family-film "The Polar Express" for three years, but only recently did they make a perilous discovery: Tom Hanks has fat fingers.

AN 'OFFICE' FAREWELL PARTY

The good folks at the BBC have performed twin acts of kindness for U.S. viewers over the last two years. First, via BBC America, they exported their marvelous faux documentary series "The Office." And now--the second act--they've killed it off.

MOVIES: CHEERING FOR 'VERA'

The last three women to win best-actress Oscars did it by playing a suicidal author, a dirt-poor mother grieving for her dead son and a serial-killing prostitute.

Fast Chat: Writing From The 'Hip'

Did you know that the term "hip" comes from a West African Wolof tribal word meaning "to see"? That Charlie Parker so adored Woody Woodpecker that Bird mimicked the bird's laugh in his sax solos?

Newsmakers

Q&A: Tracey UllmanShe's played a lot of kooks in her career, but never one quite like this: in director John Waters's latest film "A Dirty Shame," Tracey Ullman plays an uptight mom who gets conked on the head and becomes a sex addict.

GOLD RUSH

At 7:52 p.m., 19-year-old Michael Phelps touched the wall after the 200-meter butterfly final last week, then looked up and found the familiar "1" next to his name on the scoreboard.

OF GODS AND GAMES

Before Sydney in 2000, the world was dazzled by the city's harbor with its soaring opera house. But the run-up to the Athens Olympics has been relentlessly bleak.

FINALLY, THE OLYMPICS MAKE IT BACK TO THE LAND WHERE THEY BEGAN

"Don't worry," the Greeks kept saying, again and again, as the weeks and months ticked by, "we'll be ready." It was a gasping, feverish race to the finish, and the edges were left plenty rough, but when the curtain went up on the 2004 Summer Olympics last Friday night, the people of Athens made believers out of the world.

MIGHTY MICHAEL

When Michael Phelps was 16, he struck a deal with his mother. An endorsement contract with Speedo had made him a good bit wealthier than the average Baltimore teenager, and Debbie Phelps wanted to instill a sense of fiscal prudence in her son.

Call the Lifeguard

As the U.S. swimming team's Olympic fortnight got rolling over the weekend, heat was the overriding theme in all of the media accounts and on everybody's minds.

ANOTHER TO WATCH: NATALIE COUGHLIN: SWIMMING

If you want to get off to a bad start with Natalie Coughlin, just compare her to Michael Phelps. "It's so uncreative! The one commonality we have is that we both swim several strokes," she says, "but they're not even the same strokes!

Seventh Heaven?

If Michael Phelps's pursuit next week of seven gold medals and beyond were a Hollywood movie, it would go something like this:His easy events--the 200-meter and 400-meter individual medley, the 200-meter butterfly--would come early.

NEWSMAKERS

Q&A: Kathy BatesKathy Bates scared the bejesus out of us in "Misery" and transfixed us in "About Schmidt." Now she's playing a fallen talk-show host in "Little Black Book," with Brittany Murphy.

WANT TO DIRECT?

Kevin Hickman was going to be the next Spielberg. After film school at the North Carolina School of the Arts, he'd direct a few blockbusters, then win an Oscar or two.

BAT OUT OF HELL

The only major cast member on the set of the new "Batman" movie who doesn't have his own private trailer with his name on the door is Batman himself, actor Christian Bale.

NEWSMAKERS

Curb Your Disbelief News flash: Larry David helped someone. Even more unbelievable--we're not making this up--he saved a guy from a murder rap. Juan Catalan was in jail for the murder of a 16-year-old girl in L.A.

At The Head Of Her Class

Jena Malone is doing everything wrong. Teenage starlets--like, say, Hilary Duff or Lindsay Lohan or the two-headed Olsen monster--are expected to behave a certain way.

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