With the announcement of the Oscar winners last week, awards season brings itself to an anti-climax, the big story being that the hotly tipped and very brilliant near-silent film The Artist came away with the big prizes. Some first time winners, including The Artist‘s Michel Hazanavicius and Jean Dujardin, will now be able to advertise their films as “from Academy Award winner” or “starring Academy Award nominee,” it also allows for Hollywood’s glitz and glamour to parade in front of cameras and salute the world’s most important art form and applaud the winners.
Over the course of the night the Academy handed out 24 separate awards from Best Picture to Best Cinematography to Best Sound Editing, accumulating around 30 – 40 actual winners, but the only true winner of the Academy Awards and Oscars as a whole, especially for the last couple of years and this year as well, is Harvey Weinstein.
During his stint at Miramax and now at The Weinstein Company, Harvey and his brother Bob became notorious Oscar campaigners, fearsomely putting all their weight behind interesting films and turning them into huge box office and awards successes.
Starting notably with Pulp Fiction right through to The Artist, if he doesn’t have a film in the Best Picture category then it is incredibly likely that we will have some influence in another major category, most notably the acting ones. For example, this year the two big names of the awards season have been The Artist and Meryl Streep, both of whom became winners in the respective categories of Best Picture and Best Actress. The man behind that: Harvey Weinstein.
It is true that he has knack for picking films or performances of remarkable quality but there’s another side to that as well. The man’s methods of getting those votes, have in the past been competitive and violent. Lynda Obst remembers a time when, as the head of Miramax, Weinstein would practically buy the Oscar votes for his films by holding the most ridiculous parties and in a very Mitt Romney-esque method, outspending every other studio on advertising.
1998 was the big year for Shakespeare in Love. It was a Miramax production and it won Harvey his first Oscar as a producer. The signs of his power over the awards season can be shown very simply here. Shakespeare in Love was considered by next to no critics to be a massive awards contender, though admittedly, the Tom Stoppard script was very well received and it was liked by many people. It was good for what it was, a fluffy romantic comedy that just happened to have the world’s greatest playwright at the centre. And yet it came away with 7 awards. Weinstein couldn’t do very much to stop Steven Spielberg from getting Best Director for Saving Private Ryan, a worthier contender in the eyes of the critics, but his campaign was enough to halt Spielberg from getting the Best Picture award.
Also in that year, Miramax was in charge of distributing Life is Beautiful, a grossly misjudged film that looks worse and worse as the years go on. But it was Harvey Weinstein‘s intense campaign which resulted in a Best Actor win for Roberto Benigni, which in my belief came out of Benigni having the Weinsteins on his side.
In 2002, Weinstein had 2 major Best Picture contenders in the race: Gangs of New York and Chicago. He was actually nominated for Gangs but for Chicago he wasn’t. Yet, despite that fact he was still there bear hugging Rob Marshall and producer Marty Richards when the announcement was made that Chicago had won the top prize. Chicago was a film that like Shakespeare in Love, wasn’t regarded by many to be a worthy Best Picture winner. Soon after, Academy rules dictated that the kinds of tactics being used by Weinstein to get votes were too excessive, so the lavishness was put to an end.
But Weinstein’s experience in the industry means that Academy rules are easy to get around and he still proves to dominate to this day. Take 2008, he and fellow furious Oscar campaigning producer Scott Rudin had a huge fall out over The Reader. Weinstein pushed and pushed Stephen Daldry to get the film out in time so it could qualify for Oscar success, it has been reported that he even embedded himself within the family of deceased producer Anthony Minghella in order to get editorial rights so he would get his way. Another of the film’s producers, Sydney Pollack, even tried to stop him before his death, realising that Harvey’s tactics had gone too far.
Rudin famously abandoned the project after a very angry falling out with Weinstein over these issues, he even accused Weinstein of saying this:
“If I can’t get a movie nominated that has Sydney’s and Anthony’s name on it this year, I should leave the business.”
The man has no sense of decency and he eventually did get his own way and got the film released in time. Rudin on the other hand went to work on Revolutionary Road, a rival Kate Winslet project that attempted to get into the race that same year to finally give Winslet the Best Actress Oscar she deserved. The Weinstein backed The Reader got her the nomination and ultimately the win, while Revolutionary Road was almost entirely shut out. The Sam Mendes helmed melodrama was restricted to Supporting Actor, Costume Design and Art Direction categories, whilst Weinstein’s The Reader got Best Picture and Director nominations.
Despite the fact Weinstein, due to Academy rules, can no longer effectively bribe the Oscar voters, he can certainly bully the filmmakers into getting exactly what he wants and then shove as much advertising as possible down the throats of voters (without breaching the rules) in order to get those Oscar wins. Remember last year the whole debacle with The King’s Speech and the MPAA rating? The man famously cut one of the film’s best sequences in order to broaden it out to a larger audience and gain a PG-13 rating.
The truth is that it wasn’t about ratings, that whole fiasco, was in the end, just more PR for the film and helped boost its profile before the Oscars. A shrewd move by the Weinsteins, but a factor that let him go unmentioned in Tom Hooper‘s acceptance speech for Best Director.
The Rudin/Weinstein feud was also continued last year with the fight between The Social Network and The King’s Speech. Rudin was backing the hotly tipped Facebook/Fincher film, while Harvey had a stuttering King. While The Social Network neatly cleaned up at the critics awards and the Golden Globes, it was The King’s Speech that claimed the Guild awards and the Oscars. This annoyed Rudin so much that he didn’t even show up on Oscar night, stating he had a play to promote in New York. But, had The Social Network been a dead cert for the Best Picture award, he would have been there with bells on. Once again, another example of Weinstein proving that he can push people away as easily as he can lure them.
Weinstein is so loathed amongst the community around this time of year that people will release mud throwing stories in order to squash any of his success. This year we had Kim Novak saying she felt “raped” by the use of the Vertigo score in The Artist. A news story which was probably given to the press by Scott Rudin, whose film Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close was the rival outsider in the Best Picture race. Yet in spite of this, it was no skin off his teeth and these stories seemingly have no effect on the behemothic Weinstein Company.
In light of more recent events, the power of Weinstein can be a force for good. If you’ve been following the story of Bully, a short documentary about the negative impacts of bullying, you’ll have seen how the man can throw his weight around to ultimately bring change for the right reason. The film received an R-rating but the company felt it should get a PG-13. They appealed but they were unsuccessful.
In the days following, The Weinstein Company produced a statement which suggested that they may take a course of action where they no longer submit any of their films to the MPAA. A very, very risky move. It means the film is sent to theatres Unrated, forcing some chains not to take them and thus limiting the box office takings. If he does do this, then he could very well expose the MPAA for the sham it is and it could lead to a big shake up in the system, which is in dire need of.
Let’s put it like this: Bully is designed for young people exactly in the age bracket that PG-13 movies are aimed at, it has a solid message that needs to be preached to that crowd and yet it has an R-rating. Meaning that, unless accompanied by an adult, people have to be over 17 to see it. Kill Bill is also R-rated, meaning the MPAA views these films on the same moral compass. This is ridiculous, but if Weinstein begins a big move to boycott the MPAA system, then we could see some very interesting changes being made as other studios could follow suit.
However, the points made earlier still stand. Awards season used to be fun. But thanks to Harvey Weinstein, it no longer is. If he backs a film, it is likely to win something and his overwhelming power in Hollywood allows him to persuade voters to his side. Yes, he occasionally has the right film at the right time but more often than not he has the power to turn a truly mediocre film into an awards triumph. We saw many faces walk up to the Oscar stage who were there thanks to Harvey Weinstein and in truth, their awards probably do belong to him.