Oscars are cyclical for studios, but this was clearly Miramax’s year.
After winning just one prize last year, the company easily dominated the Academy Award nominations this year, with 31 of its own bids, plus sharing in nine for “The Hours” with Paramount.
And on Sunday night, the company stepped into the winners circle for the big prize.
When Kirk and Michael Douglas jointly announced “Chicago” as the winner at Sunday’s kudofest, Miramax copped the prize that it previously won with “The English Patient” and “Shakespeare in Love.”
It wasn’t a clean sweep, as some had predicted. After the show, co-chairman Harvey Weinstein told Daily Variety, “It was a memorable evening. It was a year of great movies and many great movies, performances and achievements were honored. I am thrilled for ‘The Pianist,’ Almodovar and ‘Adaptation’ getting this recognition.”
Production topper Meryl Poster said the awards for several of the company’s projects were a heartening vindication after 2002’s slow start, with “Gangs of New York” constantly postponed and few other titles generating much attention. The company finished the year with a rush of highly regarded releases that countered a lot of negative press, capped by a critical profile of Weinstein in the New Yorker.
“We knew what we had in the can, but it feels great to have everyone else recognize it,” Poster said.
Despite losing out on some of the big prizes — director, actor and both screenplay races — Miramax brass still had plenty of reason to beam as “Chicago” snagged best picture, supporting actress, editing, art direction, costume design and sound.
“Chicago’s” win was one of nine total awards for Miramax-connected pics, out of 40 noms in 17 categories.
“Frida” won two more Oscars, and Nicole Kidman’s actress win added another from “The Hours,” which Miramax co-produced with Paramount.
“Chicago” had topped the noms with 13; runner-up with 10 was “Gangs of New York,” which got completely shut out.
Poster added, “We’re thrilled with what we have, but in any race, you want to win it all.” This year marked a triumphant return to the spotlight after three uncharacteristically lean years for Miramax.
Miramax films dominated the kudocasts of the 1990s, racking up noms, awards, critical regard and commercial success, powered by the company’s state-of-the-art Oscar campaigns. Those go-for-the-gold efforts routinely annoyed competitors, and transformed the Oscar business, while paying off handsomely for Miramax.
Weinstein acknowledged that in recent years he had become distracted by other concerns. He devoted time to Democratic politics (fund-raising in 2000 for Al Gore and Hillary Clinton), publishing (Miramax Books and the failed Talk magazine) and his health (a debilitating and somewhat mysterious bacterial infection that knocked him out for months).
But, Weinstein’s Oscar campaigns were still effective as ever, keeping unbroken a string of 11 years with at least one best picture nom, but the films those campaigns backed (“Cider House Rules,” “Chocolat,” “In the Bedroom”) weren’t nearly as formidable, and Oscar was a much less frequent visitor.
The late-year rush of Miramax releases led to some challenges for the company’s Oscar campaigning.
“It’s awkward,” Poster said. “It’s sort of like when you have a bunch of kids. You try to help this one along one day, another on the next and hope it all comes out even in the end.”
Company execs, aware of ongoing criticism about their campaigning, said they planned to meet with Acad leaders to discuss an oversight panel or other measures that would clarify and enforce campaign rules. Of course, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences carefully monitors campaigning, but the proposal is presumably for a group to assist the org.