The Genius of the Weinsteins

It’s one of those things looking back now that makes you say, “Duh.”

should have seen it coming, my bad

should have seen it coming, my bad

In September, when The King’s Speech screened at the Toronto Film Festival, there was best picture buzz, but it was scant. That was about the same time that Social Network came out and stole every ounce of the Oscar talk — rightfully so. The Social Network had all of the momentum through January, but come February, King’s Speech started grabbing some. Then it got more. And more. Personally, I ignored that push for two major reasons: 1. I didn’t think it was a best-picture-worthy movie. 2. English prestige films rarely win best picture Oscars.

What everyone failed to notice was who the distribution company was behind King’s Speech — The Weinstein Company.

Harvey and Bob Weinstein have taken far less movies to greater Oscar heights with brilliant marketing campaigns and an almost maniacal determination to get that top prize. Whereas other studios see the Oscar as a cherry on top of a great movie, the Weinsteins have used the Oscar as a marketing tool to increase business on their products — and they’ve gone to almost ridiculous measures to get it. This time around, the company did two really impressive, behind-the-scenes type things that go unnoticed by the public, for the most part.

First, it decided it only wanted to have one major Oscar contender this year. So when Oscar buzz started to build around the company’s other December release — The Company Men, which from the trailer, didn’t look like as much of a slam-dunk Oscar contender as King’s Speech — the Weinsteins decided to push Company Men into January and concentrate on mounting the ultimate King’s Speech Oscar blitz.

Even though the company kept Blue Valentine as a 2010 release, they knew like everyone else that the subject matter was too dark to really contend for a best picture nomination. Blue Valentine got its completely well-deserved acting nomination for Michelle Williams even though Ryan Gosling somehow missed out. Maybe because he was going against Colin Firth and the Weinsteins didn’t want to run the risk of splitting the vote?

when their name is on the movie, there's a chance for a best picture

when their name is on the movie, there's a chance for a best picture

Then the studio righted the wrong of a silly R-rating for King’s Speech by re-cutting the film for a PG-13 rating to make it more accessible. I haven’t seen the PG-13 cut, but I’d imagine it’s nothing more than taking an F-bomb or two out of the cursing scene which didn’t have much purpose other than comic relief in the first place anyway. More access, more box office money, more attention — brilliant.

This ain’t the Weinstein’s first rodeo. There was talk one of its 2008 movies — The Reader — could sneak away with the best picture just because they were so good at making things like that happen. But the real accomplishment of that year was getting it nominated ahead of Dark Knight, The Wrestler and Doubt even though it was a weak 61 on Rotten Tomatoes. The Weinstein Surprise started at the 1999 Oscars when Shakespeare in Love somehow managed to win over Saving Private Ryan. It’s not surprising lightning struck again with another English prestige movie produced by the Weinsteins.

Since 1996, three decidedly English prestige movies have won the best picture Oscar — The English Patient, Shakespeare in Love and King’s Speech. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that Miramax/The Weinstein Company produced them all. So when they announce plans to produce a movie about a chimney sweep that lives in the sewer and treats rats as his children, and everyone laughs, just remember what they’ve done in the past.

Some other final Oscar thoughts:

–Unless you were a fan of one of three movies — King’s Speech, Social Network or The Fighter — you had a pretty boring night. Some of the notable snubs: Kids Are All Right, True Grit, Winter’s Bone and 127 Hours, all of which received wads of nominations but couldn’t manage one major (or even minor) win.  

–Speaking of a boring night, this is the first year I watched almost all of the entire Oscars broadcast because I wanted to try out some live tweeting. If you want to get down on James Franco and Anne Hathaway, that’s fine, but there just isn’t that much to work with on these broadcasts. The formula is the same as it has been for 30 or 40 years, and it seems like the Academy has no desire to switch anything up. So what you’re left with is same show, different people from something you’ve seen 20 times already. And when they do try and switch things up — like Franco and Hathaway inserting themselves into movies during a taped opening — it comes off more like the MTV Video Awards or a YouTube video with better production values instead of an Oscars broadcast.

–The ratings were destined to be down for this Oscars because of the Avatar-less factor. There was no big, sweeping, crowd-pleasing, straight-forward LCD movie that people could get behind. The only thing close was Toy Story 3, but about 60 percent of its audience is under 8 and can’t even spell Oscar let alone watch it past 9 p.m. No Avatar, no big ratings. And looking at the 2011 slate of blockbusters, the 2012 show won’t be drawing record ratings either. Here’s to you, 2013 Oscars!

oh yeah. it's a shame everyone forgot about this guy.

oh yeah. it's a shame everyone forgot about this guy.

–There are a few rules in life. One of them is that when Celine Dion is on camera, I’m gone. So I had no idea Corey Haim got snubbed during the in memoriam, and actually, had no idea how to spell “memoriam” until I just looked it up. There’s one every year that gets left out, this time it was Haim’s turn. How can the Academy forget Corey Haim? What, are you telling me they never saw License to Drive? So this is what we’ve come to. We’re worried about the kid from Lucas, who turned to soft-core porn by the mid-90s, being left out of a silly, antiquated Oscars tradition that people turn off when they see it coming? Anyone who writes a story about this or even thinks about complaining over that should be on their knees in Mass every day this week thanking whomever they want to thank that this is the worst thing in their life. If people keep complaining about this, the Academy is going to start charging the families of those honored for time in the presentation like newspapers do with obits anymore.

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