Even half-watching the Golden Globes the other night, it was impossible to miss how the camera kept returning to Harvey Weinstein, the heavy-set man with the close-cropped hair and facial stubble who beamed and nodded when he was called "God" by Meryl Streep as she accepted her award for The Iron Lady. Madonna called him "The Punisher" when she got her best song award, and Weinstein was thanked by Michelle Williams for My Week with Marilyn and director Michel Hazanavicius for the French film The Artist.
A cynic might wonder if the shout-outs were orchestrated. Weinstein, a non-movie star who has been the subject of books, innumerable profiles, and a documentary by Toronto's Barry Avrich, is a master promoter. He's a flashy, foul-mouthed impresario with a reputed magic touch for awards – the "Oscar king" as Stephen Schaefer called him in the Boston Herald.
How many Oscars has Weinstein won? The number might surprise you. It's precisely one, for producing Shakespeare in Love back in 1999. He also had a nomination for Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York in 2002. Of the Golden Globe films that were labeled as Weinstein's films, only My Week with Marilyn was actually produced by The Weinstein Company, the studio he formed in 2005 after he left Miramax.
Harvey Weinstein and his brother, Bob, former rock promoters, changed the face of independent film in the last 30 years by investing in foreign films through pre-sales, acquiring already made films in some cases, reworking them and distributing them in a way that appeals to North American taste. He also changed the awards season through ferocious campaigning. During his years running Miramax as an independent division of Disney until 2005, the company earned 249 Oscar nominations and 60 wins for such films as Good Will Hunting, Shakespeare in Love, The English Patient and Chicago.
Back in 1999, when major studios might pay $2-million on a movie's Oscar campaign, Miramax paid $5-million to promote Shakespeare in Love. Among their techniques, they used publicists who were academy members to schmooze their academy colleagues. His strategies are generally credited with the academy imposing a crackdown on Oscar campaigning after the nominations are announced. He has also been accused of smear campaigns against rival films. When asked about the attacks on Slumdog Millionaire, he replied: "What can I say? When you're Billy the Kid and people around you die of natural causes, everyone thinks you shot them."
Weinstein, by promoting small-budget art-house films as though they were blockbusters, has also changed the media perception of the Oscars, which, a generation ago, had about as much news value as the Miss Universe contest, and is now covered as fervently as the Super Bowl. Not all of this has actually benefitted the academy. As smaller art-house films began to dominate the nominations, TV viewership has declined. As a consequence, the academy moved to expand the Best Picture nominations to 10 in 2009.
The Weinstein Company restructured in 2009, laying off employees after burning through about $1.2-billion from Goldman-Sachs funding. Since then, the company has increased staff, among other signs of recovery. And last year, Weinstein was back with The King's Speech, a $12-million inspirational British movie his company co-financed and distributed because he smelled Oscar contender. The film won an Oscar, the first Best Picture award for a Weinstein film since Chicago in 2003.
Now, with The Artist a front-runner for Best Picture, and Meryl Streep a shoo-in for Best Actress, we're going to be hearing a lot more about how Harvey got his groove back. It's a good comeback story, though like most players in the indie-movie scene, it's really more a case of Weinstein digging himself out of a ditch.
Note to readers This column has been changed to reflect the following correction: The Weinstein Company restructured in 2009 and laid off employees. Since then, the company has increased staff among other signs of recovery. Last year the company's film The King's Speech, a $12-million British movie which Mr. Weinstein co-financed and distributed, won the Oscar for Best Picture. Incorrect information appeared in an earlier version.
OPENING NEXT WEEK
The Grey Liam Neeson stars in this story about an oil-drilling team in Alaska who survive a plane crash to find themselves fending off relentless wolf attacks. Writer-director Joe Carnahan, a specialist in dudes-in-groups movies, previously made Narc and Smokin' Aces.
One for the Money Katherine Heigl employs a Joisey accent in her latest romantic comedy, as a newly divorced, unemployed lingerie saleswoman who accepts a job as a bail bondsman chasing a cop (Jason O'Mara) who's a former boyfriend. This is an all-female venture, from director Julie Anne Robinson, and the scriptwriters working the first in Janet Evanovich's 18 Stephanie Plum novels.
Man on a Ledge Avatar's Sam Worthington plays the title character – a former cop turned prisoner standing on a ledge of a New York hotel – with Elizabeth Banks as the police woman who tries to talk him down. Meanwhile, there's a diamond heist involving Jamie Bell as the cop's younger brother and Ed Harris as a multimillionaire developer.
Monsieur Lazhar Quebec director Philippe Falardeau's film – about an Algerian immigrant teacher (Mohamed Fellag) who must help his elementary-school class cope with grief – is short-listed for an Oscar nomination, the latest in a string of recent kudos.
Norwegian Wood Vietnamese director Tran Anh Hung ( The Scent of Green Papaya) takes on Haruki Murakami's much-loved 1987 cult novel, about a man recalling his life in the 1960s, his friend who killed himself, and his feelings for the friend's girlfriend and a fellow student.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story that appeared online and in Friday's newspaper incorrectly stated the budget of The King's Speech , the Weinstein Company's relationship to the film and Harvey Weinstein's record for recent Academy Award nominations. This version has been corrected.