Oscar Preview: The Ultimate Campaigner: Harvey Weinstein

Every week from now until the critics groups start giving out their prizes for the best of the year, I’m going to be spotlighting the big Oscar players and their chances at Oscar glory this year. (Note: My “Morning After” post has been delayed, so I’m moving up the Oscar Preview for today.)

He may not be up for any Oscars this year, but Harvey Weinstein’s importance to modern Academy history is undeniable.

As head of Miramax Films, Bob and Harvey Weinstein became one of the most powerful duos in film history. Although Bob was as much a part of the studio’s storied history as anyone, it was Harvey Weinstein whose remarkable talent at eliciting love from Academy voters that led Miramax to become the powerhouse it was even while many looked upon Harvey with scorn and disillusionment, especially critics and Oscar fans.

Founded in 1979 as an independent distributor and concert promoter, Miramax found prominence as an independent film distributor, and through a number of significant releases, began producing their own content. From the late 1980s through the early 1990s, they were one of the most important names in independent cinema, remaining one of the few indie houses not owned by a major studio. It was during this time that the brothers Weinstein released some of the key films of the modern independent movement starting with Errol Morris documentary The Thin Blue Line in 1988 and reaching a pinnacle in 1989 with two Oscar nominees sex, lies and videotape and My Left Foot which became the studio’s first Best Picture nominee and took home prizes for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress, marking the beginning of a string of very successful Oscar contenders.

Their Oscar clout continued well into the 1990s earning them Best Picture nominations in 1992 (The Crying Game), 1993 (The Piano), 1994 (Pulp Fiction and 1995 (Il Postino) before finally being award the big prize for 1996’s The English Patient.

Some might claim Walt Disney’s clout helped the studio after their purchase in 1993, but Harvey Weinstein used a number of tactics, including the most successful: building word of mouth through interactions with Academy members. But it wasn’t until 1998’s upset victory of the lighthearted Shakespeare in Love for Best Picture over that year’s big war epic directed by Steven Spielberg, Saving Private Ryan, that general animosity began building towards Weinstein. The following year, The Cider House Rules was named one of the five Best Pictures of the year by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. And although it received mostly positive reviewed, its prominence among the year-end best lists was not to the level of prior Miramax efforts and after the dismal Chocolat picked up a Best Picture nomination in 2001, the studio’s positive veneer had finally been smashed. Many felt that Weinstein would do anything to earn Oscar nominations and awards even if it meant pushing easily palatable, but ultimately inferior products on Academy voters and working his estimable magic with just enough voters to be declared victorious.

In 2005, after a very successful twelve-year partnership, Walt Disney Studios and the Weinstein brothers parted ways. Miramax would stay in Disney hands while the Weinsteins formed their own company, the uncreatively named The Weinstein Company. The Weinsteins had to rebuild their studio from scratch and after a slate of uninspired Oscar contenders, the Weinsteins performed their old tricks again and in 2008 earned a surprise Best Picture nomination for The Reader which received heavily mixed reviews, but earned an Oscar for long overdue Kate Winslet. 2009 didn’t see the same success duplicated as the musical gamble Nine was mostly maligned by critics and failed to muster much support with Academy voters, almost leading the Weinsteins to another bad year if it weren’t for Quentin Tarantino’s well received pic Inglourious Basterds on which Harvey hung his hopes to success. But 2010 proved 2009 was just a fluke win The Weinstein Company earned several Oscar nominations and the Best Picture prize for The King’s Speech.

Harvey Weinstein may not be well liked by critics or Oscar fans for introducing populist, but unexceptional work into the Oscar landscape, but there’s no denying that Harvey knows what he’s doing, turning under-performers into the golden geese that boost his company’s reputation and this year he looks to have finally picked up a certifiable hit, one which critics have been raving about since its release at Cannes this past year. In addition, this crowd pleaser could easily mark another entry in this year’s Best Picture race and one that might just win the whole thing. For weal or woe, Harvey and his brother Bob are here to stay and each of their films need to be considered contenders even if critics aren’t in love with them.

The Artist

This is their best chance at a Best Picture nomination this year. This crowd-pleaser from Cannes has been pleasing critics and audiences alike since its debut. And since there hasn’t been a silent film nominated for Best Picture in over 80 years, Academy members waxing nostalgic may throw it a bid just to show that the medium isn’t dead. It’s also bound to get several other nominations, though the weakest chance is actor Jean Dujardin. In spite of his Cannes prize for Best Actor, Dujardin has some very stiff competition in the Best Actor race this year, so he may get left behind in favor of more recognizable names.

Forecast Categories (where the film is most likely to compete): Picture, Director, Actor (Jean Dujardin), Original Screenplay, Original Score, Editing, Cinematography, Art Direction, Costume Design, Makeup

My Week with Marilyn

The film isn’t getting great notices, but Michelle Williams is. She’s become something of an indie Oscar darling, earning three previous nominations. And with Harvey’s influence, we could be looking at yet another Best Actress Oscar winner. The film has a handful of other prospects, but none more likely than Williams.

Forecast Categories (where the film is most likely to compete): Actress (Michelle Williams), Supporting Actor (Kenneth Branagh), Art Direction, Costume Design

Sarah’s Key

The film came and went, but because of the subject matter and a push by The Weinstein Company to get it some recognition, it might show up. However, Kristin Scott Thomas has been in Oscar absentia since her only nomination for The English Patient 15 years ago. The film’s modern setting may also keep it out of the way, but being a film indirectly about the Holocaust makes it Oscar fodder without question.

Forecast Categories (where the film is most likely to compete): Actress (Kristin Scott Thomas)

Harvey Weinstein’s Oscar History

Although Harvey only has two Oscar nominations to date (with his win for Shakespeare in Love his only actual Oscar), the list below contains only Miramax and Weinstein Company releases that received Oscar nominations or awards.

  • My Left Foot (1989) 5 / 2 [Picture, Director, Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis), Supporting Actress (Brenda Fricker), Adapted Screenplay]
  • Sex, Lies and Videotape (1989) 1 / 0 [Original Screenplay]
  • The Grifters (1990) 4 / 0 [Director, Actress (Anjelica Huston), Supporting Actress (Annette Bening), Adapted Screenplay]
  • Mr. & Mrs. Bridge (1990) 1 / 0 [Actress (Joanne Woodward)]
  • The Crying Game (1992) 5 / 1 [Picture, Director, Actor (Stephen Rea), Supporting Actor (Jaye Davidson), Original Screenplay]
  • Enchanted April (1992) 3 / 0 [Supporting Actress (Joan Plowright), Adapted Screenplay, Costume Design]
  • The Piano (1993) 8 / 3 [Picture, Director, Actress (Holly Hunter), Supporting Actress (Anna Paquin), Original Screenplay, Editing, Cinematography, Costume Design]
  • Bullets Over Broadway (1994) 7 / 1 [Director, Supporting Actor (Chazz Palminteri), Supporting Actress (Dianne Wiest), Supporting Actress (Jennifer Tilly), Original Screenplay, Art Direction, Costume Design]
  • Pulp Fiction (1994) 7 / 1 [Picture, Director, Actor (John Travolta), Supporting Actor (Samuel L. Jackson), Supporting Actress (Uma Thurman), Original Screenplay, Editing]
  • Georgia (1995) 1 / 0 [Supporting Actress (Mare Winningham)]
  • Mighty Aphrodite (1995) 2 / 1 [Supporting Actress (Mira Sorvino), Original Screenplay]
  • Il Postino (1995) 5 / 1 [Picture, Director, Actor (Massimo Troisi), Adapted Screenplay, Original Dramatic Score]
  • Emma (1996) 2 / 1 [Original Comedy/Musical Score, Costume Design]
  • The English Patient (1996) 12 / 9 [Picture, Director, Actor (Ralph Fiennes), Actress (Kristin Scott Thomas), Supporting Actress (Juliette Binoche), Adapted Screenplay, Original Dramatic Score, Editing, Cinematography, Art Direction, Costume Design, Sound]
  • Trainspotting (1996) 1 / 0 [Adapted Screenplay]
  • Children of Heaven (1997) 1 / 0 [Foreign Language Film]
  • Good Will Hunting (1997) 9 / 2 [Picture, Director, Actor (Matt Damon), Supporting Actor (Robin Williams), Supporting Actress (Minnie Driver), Original Screenplay, Original Dramatic Score, Original Song (“Miss Misery”), Editing]
  • Mrs. Brown (1997) 2 / 0 [Actress (Judi Dench), Makeup]
  • The Wings of the Dove (1997) 4 / 0 [Actress (Helena Bonham Carter), Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Costume Design]
  • Life Is Beautiful (1998) 7 / 3 [Picture, Director, Actor (Roberto Benigni), Original Screenplay, Original Dramatic Score, Editing, Foreign Language Film]
  • Shakespeare in Love (1998) 13 / 7 [Picture, Director, Actress (Gwyneth Paltrow), Supporting Actor (Geoffrey Rush), Supporting Actress (Judi Dench), Original Screenplay, Original Comedy/Musical Score, Editing, Cinematography, Art Direction, Costume Design, Sound]
  • Velvet Goldmine (1998) 1 / 0 [Costume Design]
  • The Cider House Rules (1999) 7 / 2 [Picture, Director, Supporting Actor (Michael Caine), Adapted Screenplay, Original Score, Editing, Art Direction]
  • Music of the Heart (1999) 2 / 0 [Actress (Meryl Streep), Original Song (“Music of My Heart”)]
  • The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) 5 / 0 [Supporting Actor (Jude Law), Adapted Screenplay, Original Score, Art Direction, Costume Design]
  • Malena (2000) 2 / 0 [Original Score, Cinematography]
  • Amelie (2001) 5 / 0 [Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Art Direction, Sound, Foreign Language Film]
  • Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001) 1 / 0 [Actress (Renee Zellweger)]
  • Chocolat (2001) 5 / 0 [Picture, Actress (Juliette Binoche), Supporting Actress (Judi Dench), Adapted Screenplay, Original Score]
  • In the Bedroom (2001) 5 / 0 [Picture, Actor (Tom Wilkinson), Actress (Sissy Spacek), Supporting Actress (Marisa Tomei), Adapted Screenplay]
  • Iris (2001) 3 / 1 [Actress (Judi Dench), Supporting Actor (Jim Broadbent), Supporting Actress (Kate Winslet)]
  • Chicago (2002) 13 / 6 [Picture, Director, Actress (Renee Zellweger), Supporting Actor (John C. Reilly), Supporting Actress (Queen Latifah), Supporting Actress (Catherine Zeta-Jones), Adapted Screenplay, Original Song (“I Move On”), Editing, Cinematography, Art Direction, Costume Design, Sound]
  • Frida (2002) 6 / 2 [Actress (Salma Hayek), Original Score, Original Song (“Burn It Blue”), Art Direction, Costume Design, Makeup]
  • Gangs of New York (2002) 10 / 0 [Picture, Director, Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis), Original Screenplay, Original Song (“The Hands That Built America”), Editing, Cinematography, Art DIrection, Costume Design, Sound]
  • The Barbarian Invasions (2003) 2 / 1 [Original Screenplay, Foreign Language Film]
  • City of God (2003) 4 / 0 [Director, Adapted Screenplay, Editing, Cinematography]
  • Cold Mountain (2003) 7 / 1 [Actor (Jude Law), Supporting Actress (Renee Zellweger), Original Score, Original Song (“Scarlet Tide”), Original Song (“You Will Be My Ain True Love”), Editing, Cinematography]
  • Dirty Pretty Things (2003) 1 / 0 [Original Screenplay]
  • The Hours (2003) 9 / 1 [Picture, Director, Actress (Kate Winslet), Supporting Actor (Ed Harris), Supporting Actress (Julianne Moore), Adapted Screenplay, Original Score, Editing, Costume Design]
  • Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003) 10 / 2 [Picture, Director, Editing, Cinematography, Art Direction, Costume Design, Makeup, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Visual Effects]
  • The Quiet American (2003) 1 / 0 [Actor (Michael Caine)]
  • The Aviator (2004) 11 / 5 [Picture, Director, Actor (Leonardo DiCaprio), Supporting Actor (Alan Alda), Supporting Actress (Cate Blanchett), Original Screenplay, Editing, Cinematography, Art Direction, Costume Design, Sound Mixing]
  • The Chorus (2004) 2 / 0 [Original Song (“Look to Your Path”), Foreign Language Film]
  • Finding Neverland (2004) 7 / 1 [Picture, Actor (Johnny Depp), Original Score, Adapted Screenplay, Editing, Art Direction, Costume Design]
  • Hero (2004) 1 / 0 [Foreign Language Film]
  • Mrs. Henderson Presents (2005) 2 / 0 [Actress (Judi Dench), Costume Design]
  • Transamerica (2005) 2 / 0 [Actress (Felicity Huffman), Original Song (“Travelin’ Thru”)]
  • Sicko (2007) 1 / 0 [Documentary Feature]
  • The Reader (2008) 5 / 1 [Picture, Director, Actress (Kate Winslet), Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography]
  • Inglourious Basterds (2009) 8 / 1 [Picture, Director, Supporting Actor (Christoph Waltz), Original Screenplay, Editing, Cinematography, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing]
  • Nine (2009) 4 / 0 [Supporting Actress (Penelope Cruz), Original Song (“Take It All”), Art Direction, Costume Design]
  • A Single Man (2009) 1 / 0 [Actor (Colin Firth)]
  • Blue Valentine (2010) 1 / 0 [Actress (Michelle Williams)]
  • The Fighter (2010) 7 / 2 [Picture, Director, Supporting Actor (Christian Bale), Supporting Actress (Amy Adams), Supporting Actress (Melissa Leo), Original Screenplay, Editing, ]
  • The King’s Speech (2010) 12 / 4 [Picture, Director, Actor (Colin Firth), Supporting Actor (Geoffrey Rush), Supporting Actress (Helena Bonham Carter), Original Screenplay, Original Score, Editing, Cinematography, Art Direction, Costume Design, Sound Mixing]
  • The Artist (2011)
  • My Week with Marilyn (2011)
  • Sarah’s Key (2011)

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