The Groundbreakers: Film

Brilliant. Powerful. Cunning. Volatile. Demanding. Ruthless. Bullying. Competitive. Oscar-winning.

Scott Rudin is all of the above. That’s why, 26 years after his first solo producer credit on “I’m Dancing as Fast as I Can,” the 50-year-old reigns as Hollywood’s pre-eminent tastemaker and protector of the film industry’s most endangered genre: the quality drama.

While even studio specialty divisions are hedging their bets, Rudin — who moved over to Disney in 2005 after 15 years at Paramount when chairman Sherry Lansing ankled the studio — keeps acquiring the best literary properties, no matter how uncommercial they may seem, from Michael Chabon (“Wonder Boys”) and Jonathan Franzen (“The Corrections”) to Frank McCourt (“Angela’s Ashes”) and Cormac McCarthy. Who knew that in the hands of the right filmmakers, “No Country for Old Men” would not only win four Oscars but score more than $161 million worldwide? Rudin sent the book to the Coen brothers to adapt and brokered a co-venture between Miramax and Paramount Vantage.

Disney offers Rudin a two-tiered home with a robust specialty division to accommodate his highbrow taste. At Miramax, Rudin’s “The Queen” won an Oscar for Helen Mirren. Miramax and Vantage co-financed Paul Thomas Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood,” which scored an Oscar for Daniel Day-Lewis.

Rudin’s output is so prolific that he often finds himself in year-end jams. In 2008, he’s juggling release plans on “Doubt” and “Revolutionary Road.”

After Rudin’s second heavyweight bout with rival New York mogul Harvey Weinstein over a Stephen Daldry/David Hare film (“The Hours” was the first), Rudin dropped the ball on TWC’s “The Reader.” The producer wanted to give Daldry more time to edit and not go head-to-head with his other Kate Winslet film, while Weinstein insisted on releasing the Holocaust drama in 2008. Finally, Rudin withdrew from the fray. “It’s as simple as, there can only be one control freak on a movie,” Steven Soderbergh observed back in 2002.

Meanwhile, there’s no slacking for Rudin. He has some 10 announced projects in various stages of pre- or post-production, from new Nancy Meyers and Cameron Crowe pics to Wes Anderson’s animated “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” starring George Clooney and Meryl Streep. He’s putting together David Mamet’s “High and Low” at Miramax, with Mike Nichols directing.

Someday, he insists, Paramount will greenlight Chabon’s comicbook adventure “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay” with Daldry; the Coens are beavering away on adapting the writer’s latest, “The Yiddish Policeman’s Union,” as well as the Western classic “True Grit.” Maybe Rudin’s passion project, “The Duke of Deception,” will finally get made with Steve Zaillian, who is also adapting “A Thousand Splendid Suns” at Sony; or “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” at Miramax with Walter Salles.

Someone has to keep producing high-profile literate movies for adult moviegoers.

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