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Will Awards Season Reward Harvey Weinstein’s Hustle?

Tentpoles be damned, star-driven biopics lead the Weinstein Co. film slate

This is the time of year when the film industry re-defines itself. Suddenly the dialogue is no longer fixated on franchise fatigue; instead the chatter is about festivals and awards strategy.

And that, of course, means it’s Harvey time.

Most of the screening invitations this week seemed to come from the Weinstein Co. So did most of the news stories, real or rumored: Harvey will produce a new film series with Disney (weren’t they once enemies?); he’s considering potential co-ventures with the remnants of his old Miramax company; and he waged a noisy war with Warner Bros. over a film title, “The Butler” (it was an expensive fight, but it generated loads of publicity for his Lee Daniels film).

More important is that the Weinstein Co. has mobilized an intriguing array of eight films that are primed for awards-season combat. The movies include biopics on Nelson Mandela and Princess Grace of Monaco, as well as an adaptation of the darkly comic play “August: Osage County” — his annual Meryl Streep Oscar contender.

Harvey’s formidable presence once again defies Wall Street’s doctrine that no company can survive today unless it’s built on a slate of superhero sequels. His New York-based indie is about serious pictures, with a few genre programmers mixed in via brother Bob’s Dimension label. Multiplatform releases from the company’s newer offshoot, Radius-TWC, include the bow of Linda Lovelace biopic “Lovelace” on Aug. 9. Harvey also expects to pump out at least six television series in the coming year, including the venerable “Project Runway,” as well as “Mob Wives” and “Million Dollar Shoppers.”

This column will instantly infuriate those Harvey haters who dutifully insist that the Weinstein Co. has cash-flow issues. True, Harvey has an idiosyncratic way of doing business. On the other hand, he continues, year after year, to generate bold ideas and innovative movies, two things corporate Hollywood is short on.

It’s always amusing, and bewildering, to try to determine which titles Harvey is personally betting on for awards bounty. Clearly his biggest financial wager rests on the bigscreen adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize winner “August: Osage County,” which comes out later this year. But he says he also likes a dark horse titled “One Chance,” a film about a Welsh amateur opera singer who won TV reality show “Britain’s Got Talent” (David Frankel directed). The film is slated for a December release.

A cool strategist, Harvey tends to bank on imposing performances at awards time: Judi Dench playing a woman searching for a long-lost son in “Philomena”; Nicole Kidman as a scandal-skirting Grace of Monaco; Forest Whitaker portraying a man who served several presidents in “The Butler”; Idris Elba cast as the title character in “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom”; and Michael B. Jordan already making an impact as the star of “Fruitvale Station.”

Starting at next month’s Toronto Film Festival, Harvey and his battle-toughened soldiers can be counted on to marshal maximum promotion (and occasional controversy) for their slate. The films will surely not disappear into the void despite that the gathering fosters some 372 movies.

Of all Harvey’s recent moves, none has stirred more surprise than his decision to go back into business with Disney to produce movies based on “Artemis Fowl,” a bestselling series of children’s books. He
says his own young kids are smitten with the adventures of its 12-year-old protagonist — a lad who is brilliant, rich and a crook.

Harvey had an acrimonious divorce from the Disney empire when then-Disney boss Michael Eisner second-guessed his budgets and refused to release “Fahrenheit 9/11.” But the indie has a solid relationship with Alan Horn, who now presides over the Disney movie studio. The joint project’s business model provides the Weinstein Co. a financial partner for the costly fi lms and a generous stake in the gross.

Written by Eoin Colfer, the “Artemis Fowl” series was originally published by Miramax Books (now Weinstein Books), and sold 21 million copies.

Since many elements in his life go full circle, Harvey would be delighted if he could relive some of the dark-horse triumphs of his Miramax era. Just one more “Shakespeare in Love,” perhaps?

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