It was a pretty good weekend for Harvey Weinstein and his crop of awards season hopefuls. On Saturday, “August: Osage County” – coming off a dominant showing at the Capri, Hollywood Film Festival in Italy – was recognized at the annual Palm Springs International Film Festival Awards Gala with honors for stars Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts. The Weinstein Company honcho also held a private little after-soiree that was full of talent not just from his films but others as well.
Sunday night, it was a Kirk Douglas Award presentation for “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” star Forest Whitaker in advance of the 29th annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival (which will feature another accolade in the form of the Montecito Award for, well, Montecito resident Oprah Winfrey). A big boost of visibility for the SAG nominee.
The legendary awards strategist – who recently placed number one on HitFix’s inaugural Oscar Power List with ease – has a typically loaded slate of films this year and he’s making all the right moves on their behalf. “August,” “The Butler,” “Fruitvale Station,” “Philomena” and “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” have all been represented on the circuit (though perhaps the best of them, in my opinion – “Mandela” – has received short shrift). Yet despite SAG and WGA attention, it seems more and more like Weinstein will have his first off year in the Best Picture ranks since finally cutting through with “The Reader” in 2008.
I’ve written about Weinstein’s success and my genuine awe at his having resurrected an awards season machine from the ashes of another. The new company started up in 2005 and needed some time to get the engine revved, but once “The Reader” lit the fuse, it was off to the races. That run included back-to-back Best Picture wins for “The King’s Speech” and “The Artist” (a feat not achieved by a studio since the one-two DreamWorks punch of “American Beauty” and “Gladiator” over a decade ago). But if the Academy’s Best Picture category is set to reflect a Weinstein-less line-up much like the PGA’s, well…what happened?
Most will tell you he spread himself too thin on this year’s slate. But it’s worth noting that his strategy has always been to throw a lot at the wall and see what sticks. The only problem is, nothing seems to be sticking this year on the same level as crowd-pleasers like the aforementioned Best Picture winners and others like “Inglourious Basterds” and “Silver Linings Playbook.” Each of the 2013 films consistently needed the kind of nourishment that is typically reserved for one declared thoroughbred, and Weinstein just didn’t have that this year.
It seemed early on like it might be “The Butler,” but while I concede that it’s the kind of film a group like the Academy would respond to…we anticipated this. Other, better films were coming down the pike to overshadow the August release (which, by the way, made a killing at the box office).
Later in the season, “August: Osage County” and “Fruitvale Station” found their champions, but it’s “Philomena” that remains a potential spoiler in the race. The Golden Globe Best Picture nominee really plays to the Academy, particularly on screener, and while the strategy with something like “August” is to bank on the support of the actors and writers branches, there is passion to be mined for Stephen Frears’ little effort.
I say all that because it’s most certainly not over. A Weinstein movie, or two, may well pop up on the list, and as ever, it’ll be a new phase two ballgame for Harvey once, if, that happens. But most signs are pointing to a miss this year, despite the quantity.
If so, well, so be it. He’ll certainly be back with a vengeance and his place at the top of our Oscar Power List will remain unquestioned. Because this is the guy who invented the game everyone else is playing. And don’t you forget it.
Switching gears a bit, the DGA nominees will be announced tomorrow. In all likelihood, “American Hustle” will then become the only film recognized with significant nominations from every major guild: SAG ensemble, PGA, WGA, DGA. That will set it up for a real solid angle on this race, one that we already covered at the end of the year. With titans like “12 Years a Slave” and “Gravity” duking it out, a lane is opening up in the middle, and the middle is where the preferential ballot matters.
But one other film has been so fortunate on the guild circuit as well: “Dallas Buyers Club.” And I have to say, it would be great to see Jean-Marc Vallée show up with a surprise mention from the directors tomorrow. Because for all of the talk of two central, amazing performances, for all of the talk of bringing this film in at a tiny $5 million budget and in an all-too-brief 28 days, who do you think was steering that ship? THE DIRECTOR.
Vallée is a super laid-back guy who likely isn’t getting in undies in a twist over any of this, but he’s been pretty stunningly ignored throughout the season. I don’t just mean in an awards capacity, I mean he’s just been this phantom figure behind the thing, who put a 20-year-languishing project together and made it look easy. Maybe that’s why he’s not getting his due; “Dallas Buyers Club” is so invisibly but impeccably crafted, after all. But if somehow his fellow helmers saw fit to tip their hat to him tomorrow morning, I’d be the first to cheer.
That campaign has moved along swimmingly throughout the season, perhaps getting a lot out of the “last hurrah” thing as the Focus Features we’ve known and loved for so long prepares to become something else entirely. Though I might reserve high marks for “campaign of the year” for Paramount’s “Nebraska” push, which has been classy and steady since Cannes and has never reached or gotten too sweaty. Either way, it’s nice to see these two indie movies finding their way on the circuit.
I have a number of other thoughts before getting to the Jan. 16 nominations announcement. Like the fact that, despite a lifeline tossed by the National Society of Film Critics over the weekend, “Inside Llewyn Davis” seems poised to be the great Academy embarrassment of the year. Or the idea that guild love for “The Wolf of Wall Street” could be indicative of youth influx in those groups (ditto “Her”), which may or may not translate to the Academy. But let’s let it sit for just one more week. We’ll get into final thoughts and predictions next Monday.
For now, the Contenders section has been tweaked. Also, don’t forget to sign up for HitFix Oscar Picks and make your own predictions before the big day.