Harvey Weinstein on the Awards Season Crunch: "Everybody Cannibalized Each Other" (Guest Column)

The Weinstein Company co-chief weighs in on the marginalization of movies released outside of awards season, the Rooney Mara category debate, the underperformance of 'Burnt' and more.
Associated Press
Harvey Weinstein

Harvey Weinstein, the co-chief of The Weinstein Co., wrote the following op-ed for The Hollywood Reporter.

As a veteran of many awards seasons, I have a pretty unique perspective on this annual madness — but rather than wax poetic about the ups and downs of awards campaigning, I would like to write about a specific pet peeve that's been bothering me more and more each year.

The fall has become so dominated, so top-heavy with adult-driven awards releases that it has made it almost impossible for quality films to reach their full potential unless they dare release at another time of year, where they are quickly forgotten come awards season. Dozens of adult dramas opened in October, and everybody cannibalized each other. Every distributor — from the big studios to the little independents — has a horse or three in the race, and almost everyone has lost this year. We're all going for the same audience, trying to grab the attention of both smart adult film lovers and the awards voters, and because of that no one is able to make a huge impression.

Don't get me wrong: Awards recognition is extremely important. I know that as well as anyone, given how important nominations have been to my releases over the years.‎ But one look at all of the great films and amazing performances that are underappreciated because of this glut shows that we're on a dangerous track as an industry.

Fox Searchlight's Far from the Madding Crowd is a movie I loved, but I haven't read anything in the last few months about Matthias Schoenaerts' amazing performance. Roadside Attractions/Miramax's Mr. Holmes is a movie I also thoroughly enjoyed, and Ian McKellen is amazing in it. Lily Tomlin is better than ever in Sony Classics' Grandma, but because the film was released over the summer, it gets less attention than it would if it were released during awards season.

I've released two films in the "off season" this year, Woman in Gold and Southpaw, that feature unbelievable lead performances from Helen Mirren and Jake Gyllenhaal, respectively, both worthy of all the adulation and respect they received from critics and audiences at the time of their release — but because of the stigma of their release dates, aren't taken as seriously as they should be. I am thrilled Helen gave a completely different but equally brilliant performance more recently in Bleecker Street's Trumbo so voters keep her at the top of their minds. However, it's completely puzzling, and I have to say a bit maddening, to read prognosticator lists of performances that "may" get nominated and not see Jake’s name included. These are the same people who wrote only months earlier that he gave an awards-worthy performance and should be recognized come Oscar time! He deserved a nomination last year for Open Road's Nightcrawler, and he deserves one this year.

We also have Burnt, which is in the comedy category at the Golden Globes. While people were split on the movie, one thing that was clear as a bell to me is how great Bradley Cooper was. Yes, I’m prejudiced. But, in audience survey after survey, a tremendous number of people responded to his versatility and humor — the many shades he offered were astounding. But the movie was released in October, right in the middle of everything, and just got lost. (The same thing happened with Sandra Bullock’s great performance in Warner Bros.' Our Brand Is Crisis, a political movie — which are way too rare — that was brilliantly produced by George Clooney and Grant Heslov.) I can only hope that somewhere down the line, people will appreciate what Bradley did in this film, no matter what they think of the movie itself. This was a project that I shepherded, so if there is any blame being given there’s only one place for it — that’s with me.

I know there’s been controversy about Rooney Mara competing in the best supporting actress category for Carol. We, as a company, went back and forth and concluded, at the end of the day, that it was the right decision. That said, we produced a movie called The Reader, for which Kate Winslet was campaigned as a supporting actress but was nominated for and won best actress, so we know as well as anyone that you never know what will happen. But, as far as decision-making goes, we decided, for the good of the movie, that we had to play as a team with this one.

Speaking of supporting actresses, in my opinion Marion Cotillard, in Macbeth, transforms Lady Macbeth from venal to vulnerable, strong, caring, and passionate — a woman with reasons — in a scintillating performance. And Jennifer Jason Leigh kills it in Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight — not literally, well maybe, but maybe not — a movie both wildly ambitious and wildly entertaining. I think, and Quentin thinks, there’s a strong theme that may make for his most political and, for Quentin, his most personal film.

The one thing I can say about Quentin is that he loves what he does and he is the most generous of people. I’ve been with him in many, many situations where he’s supported filmmakers. He has a history of playing a part in the lives of veteran actors and making sure they have good work while helping them be rediscovered. And there’s no better cheerleader for the art of movies. His incredible love of cinema brought back Super Panavision, the lenses from Ben-Hur, in a Herculean effort to show The Hateful Eight in the best possible conditions. It meant working with Kodak, investing in companies and working with sister studios and sister distributors — all of whom had the best of reasons emotionally, nostalgically and artistically to support the idea of film and movies. Ironically, Carol was shot on Super 16 to get a grainy effect. Film, which even I thought pretty much had disappeared, seems to be making a comeback and that’s great for all of us. The challenge ahead for exhibition will be there, but at least the audience knows we are trying and I’m sure the fans will go support it.

With Carol winning the New York Film Critics Circle's best film prize, while also honoring Hateful Eight composer Ennio Morricone, and the National Board of Review giving Hateful Eight two prizes and picking it as one of the best 10 films of the year, it's extremely fortunate for us that our timing worked out. Still, for the sake of the industry, I'd like to know that if we released Carol in August or Hateful Eight in July, we could have the same results while spreading out the marketplace.

As distributors, we need to continue releasing smart and bold films year-round. We need to support independent film distribution (and, in turn, independent film culture) 12 months a year, not just the last four. And we need to be loud about these films and make sure audiences stay engaged and motivated to interact with the films theatrically. Otherwise, our worst fears will be realized, with intelligent, daring adult dramas marginalized and cannibalized, and nothing but tentpoles left in their wake.

The same should go for critics, journalists, pundits and awards prognosticators. Be as loud a champion for a film in March — for its merits, its box office potential and its awards promise — as in December. Give equal credit to contenders that are released in May as those released in November when putting together top 10 lists and Oscar predictions. Don't take a film less seriously, or think that a distributor isn't confident in a film's potential, because of the time of year it was released. It's simply not the case.

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