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Weinsteins Face Challenging Oscar 'Playbook'

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood November 28, 2012 at 6:00AM

The Weinsteins have long followed the same Oscar playbook: line up a thick stack of Oscar-worthy potential contenders, give them a shot and see what sticks. They're usually pretty sharp about what's going to play with Academy voters. Nobody does it better. But this year things may not be panning out as they had planned. The studios have mounted an arsenal of powerful players for the fourth quarter that have been eating into the indie share of the adult audience.
'Django Unchained'
'Django Unchained'

Not so fast, say the Weinstein Company, who are quite invested in making these films work. They point out that in recent years the Academy has solidly supported the little auteur over the studio competitor, from Kathryn Bigelow's "The Hurt Locker" vs. James Cameron's "Avatar" (gravitas beats epic tech achievement) to Tom Hooper's "The King's Speech" vs. David Fincher's "The Social Network" (heart beats head), not to mention Danny Boyle's "Slumdog Millionaire" (exotic Indian heart-tugging romance), Paul Haggis's "Crash" (socially conscious ensemble drama) and Michel Hazanavicius's "The Artist" (old-Hollywood silent heart-tugging romance). "Playbook" should pick up through the holidays, building momentum with Globe nominations and roll into Christmas into January. "There has been many a time that a small fresh voice picture beats out the big boys," says TWC's David Glasser. "It depends on the year."

Also well-received in Torontovwas "Quartet" (December 19), targeted at Academy seniors by member-of-the-club director Dustin Hoffman and starring Maggie Smith and Billy Connolly, which many have yet to see (I screen it this week). Will this be high on the voter screener piles? So far it is flying under the radar. And French pick-up "The Intouchables," whose Omar Sy beat Jean Dujardin for the Cesar, is already a sleeper summer hit ($13 million domestic, $400 million foreign) and frontrunner for a foreign Oscar nod. TWC also scooped up Norway's Oscar entry, survival adventure "Kon-Tiki," which has beeen screening well.

And last up is another Civil War era period piece, "Django Unchained" (wide release December 25), which is an audacious Quentin Tarantino epic that finally left the Todd AO final mixing bay Tuesday at 7 PM. At last report, the film was heading past two and a half hours and was ultra-violent. Several early guild screenings were canceled. The unveiling starts this Saturday December 1 at the LA Directors Guild, for DGA members and guests only. But the Weinsteins will need three more weeks to get their screeners up and out, which is really really late. Word is lead actor Christoph Waltz and supporting players Leonardo Di Caprio and Samuel L. Jackson steal the bloody show.

A vengeful spaghetti western about the ante-bellum South starring Jamie Foxx may not seem to be an Academy play, but who expected "Inglourious Basterds" to earn eight nominations and one win (supporting actor Waltz)? In that case, Tarantino debuted the film to much success at Cannes, which helped to change perception. That might have been a smart move in this case: audiences are going to have little preparation for this provocative slave subject matter, which is a long way from the Steven Spielberg/Tony Kushner approach. From the beginning I thought the Weinsteins were rushing this into Christmas when waiting for next year's Cannes might have been wise. Why not give Tarantino the time?

They probably needed to collect some holiday grosses.

This article is related to: Harvey Weinstein, Weinstein Co., Harvey Weinstein, Weinsteins, Awards, Awards, Oscars, Silver Linings Playbook, Django Unchained, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jamie Foxx

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.