Weinstein Co. Awards Plans Come Into Focus: What Are Their Oscar Frontrunners?

Weinstein Co. Awards Plans Come Into Focus: What Are Their Oscar Frontrunners?
Weinstein Co. Awards Plans Come Into Focus: What Are Their Oscar Frontrunners?

Dating a film says a lot about a distributor’s plans. So the later the film comes out–in the thick of the most congested season of the year– the more willing the company is to step up and promote. It means they have skin in the Oscar game. There’s no other reason to put out a limited-release movie in that time frame.

Every year, Hollywood looks to the Weinstein Co. to put several awards-season players in the race. A wide release (such as Dimension’s “Frank Miller’s Sin City: A Dame to Kill For,” set for August 22, and Christmas opener “Paddington Bear”) bespeaks less confidence in award-season play, which usually involves sticking around in theaters for a while.

At Cannes this May, Harvey Weinstein hosted his usual dog and pony show at the Hotel Majestic to promote his upcoming slate. There was plenty to savor. But it was hard to tell which of these high-strutters had the right stuff to go all the way. 

Check out the TWC release slate for fall 2014, below.

The company released French designer biopic “Yves Saint Laurent” to little fanfare on June 25 (Metacritic score: 50). That’s unlikely to resurface on critics’ ten-best lists or be the French Oscar submission. 

Their lineup includes a quartet of premieres from last year’s Toronto Film Festival that were not deemed ready for 2013 prime time. John Carney’s “Begin Again,” starring Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley, while a commercial and critical success, seems unlikely to yield any Oscar fruit outside the original song category. That’s one reason why the company put it out on June 27. True story “One Chance,” starring Brit theater star James Corden as a Welsh miner turned opera-singer, earned so-so reviews at TIFF and opens August 29.

TWC’s most likely awards contenders are opening in September and beyond. John Curran’s well-reviewed true desert trek Tracks,” starring the incandescent Mia Wasikowska, is set for September 19. She has a Best Actress shot. So far the combined single film version of Ned Benson romance The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and Her,” starring respected actors James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain (limited September 26), earned strong reviews out of Cannes. Critics will need to be rapturous going forward. 

Not getting a festival berth is veteran Philip Noyce’s “The Giver,” slated for release on August 15th, based on Lois Lowry’s bestselling 1983 young adult classic, which inspired such follow-ups as “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent.” This time, grey-haired Meryl Streep (resembling long-tressed Holly Hunter in “Top of the Lake”) is in the Kate Winslet Fascist leader role and Jeff Bridges plays an older wise man much like the one he played in “Tron: Legacy.” Brenton Thwaite (“Maleficent”), Alexander Skarsgard and Katie Holmes co-star.  While Noyce could pull off a winner–reviews will tell the tale–this may prove too genre-oriented for the Academy. (My Comic-Con coverage here.)

The fact that broad comedy “St Vincent,” starring Bill Murray, Naomi Watts and Melissa McCarthy, is going wide on October 24 reveals more confidence in its commercial than awards chances. It’s not likely to hang around.

The last two films on the TWC docket are what they consider to be their strongest awards performers. Benedict Cumberbatch-starrer The Imitation Game,” Morten Tyldum’s World War II nail-biter about decoder Alan Turing that co-stars Knightley, has been booked on the fall festival circuit, including Toronto and London (it’s the opener). TWC plunked down a hefty advance of $7 million out of the Berlin market last February. So they’re looking to get some of that back. Time for Cumberbatch to land his first Oscar nomination? 

Last out of the box on Christmas Day is Tim Burton’s “Big Eyes,” a colorful 50s biopic, written by Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander, and starring two Oscar perennials, Christoph Waltz and Amy Adams. He plays a sexist credit grabber who refuses to admit that his wife (Adams) created the signature “Keane” paintings. This looks like a return to idiosyncratic indie form for Burton, and never count out Waltz and Adams, but this needs to be seen to be appreciated. TWC can decide which route to take depending on how the film turns out–they can go commercial with it and open it wider, or stick it out in limited release if they get strong reviews through the height of awards campaigning. 

Notably missing from the 2014 slate is Justin Kurzel’s moody Shakespeare drama “Macbeth” starring Michael Fassbender in the title role as the future King of Scotland. Marion Cotillard plays Lady Macbeth. The film is currently set for 2015, along with four other high-profile films that are still in production–or in the editing room.

That includes Olivier Dahan’s Cannes opener “Grace of Monaco,” starring Nicole Kidman as the Hollywood princess. Right before Cannes Harvey Weinstein closed a deal to release the movie at a reduced fee. He and Dahan are working together on a new cut–a release date is not yet set. One objective of the North American edit would be to placate Monaco’s royal family the Grimaldis, who were not pleased with the Cannes version.

Still in production are Simon Curtis’s true story “Woman in Gold,” about Jewish WWII survivor Maria Altmann’s rescue of a Gustav Klimt painting stolen during the war, starring Helen Mirren as Altmann, Ryan Reynolds as a Jewish restitution lawyer, and Daniel Bruhl as his opponent. Also in the production stage is Antoine Fuqua’s promising fighter flick “Southpaw” starring Jake Gyllenhaal in awesome physical condition, and World War II heart-tugger “Suite Francaise,” based on the novel by Irène Némirovsky, starring Weinstein regular Michelle Williams, Kristin Scott-Thomas and Sam Riley.

Never expect Weinstein to hang onto this schedule, however. If any one of these movies arrives in an award-worthy state, all bets are off. 

YVES SAINT LAURENT – 6/25/14 Limited
BEGIN AGAIN – 6/27/14 Exclusive, 7/2/14 Limited, 7/11/14 Expansions
THE GIVER – 8/15/14 Wide
ONE CHANCE – 8/29/14 Limited
TRACKS – 9/19/14 Limited
ST VINCENT – 10/24/14 Wide
BIG EYES – 12/25/14, Moderate
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