Cannes: Harvey Weinstein Shows Off A Star-Packed Film Slate

Harvey Weinstein Cannes - P 2013
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Nicole Kidman joins him at the Majestic as he previews footage from "Grace of Monaco."

It might as well have been the unofficial start of the 2013 Oscar race. In what has become an annual Cannes ritual, impresario Harvey Weinstein summoned a crowd full of press and buyers Friday night to the Majestic Hotel for a show-and-tell spotlighting upcoming features from The Weinstein Company.

Admitting that when he and his brother Bob first tried to recreate the success they had enjoyed at Miramax by founding TWC seven years ago, they hit a rocky patch, he celebrated their turn-around, saying, “Last year was as good a year as we ever had at Miramax.”

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Django Unchained and Silver Linings Playbook, which Weinstein first trumpeted at last year’s Cannes, broke through at the box office and also took home Oscars. And as Weinstein introduced trailers and clips from TWC’s 2013 slate, it looks as if his cupboard is again bursting with potential awards contenders. There’s The Butler, Lee Daniels’ portrait of a long-serving White House butler, starring Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey, with a host of celebrity cameos, coming to theaters Aug. 16; August: Osage County, the John Wells-directed adaptation of Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play about a dysfunctional family, starring Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, set for a Nov. 8 release; Grace of Monaco, starring Nicole Kidman as the actress-turned-monarch, which is scheduled for an awards-qualifying run beginning Dec. 27; and Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, with Idris Elba as Nelson Mandela and Naomie Harris as his wife Winnie, produced by Anant Singh.

To sweeten the pot further, TWC concluded a $6.5 million deal Thursday, picking up U.S., Canada and Spain rights to Stephen FrearsPhilomena, starring Judi Dench in the true story of an Irish woman searching for the son she was forced to give up for adoption, although it did not immediately announce a release date.

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Friday night, Weinstein lavished special attention on Grace, noting it was the seventh movie he’s made with Kidman, who skipped out from her jury duties for a moment to attest, “I got to know Grace very, very well, researched her and fell in love with her.” With that she headed off to a jury meeting, “hopefully,” cracked Weinstein, “to decide which movie of mine wins the Palme d’Or -- I’ve certainly given [jury head] Steven [Spielberg] enough money over the years.”

Clips from Grace showed Kidman-as-Grace attempting to settle into the role of a lifetime, only to be tempted by a return to the screen when Alfred Hitchcock -- this time around played by Roger Ashton-Griffiths -- shows up to offer her the starring role in Marnie.

Weinstein enthused over Shane Salerno’s Salinger, a new documentary about J.D. Salinger, which, from the snippets of the movie shown, appears to argue that the reclusive author never stopped writing and left several completed manuscripts behind when he died.

He showed off four films he has playing in the festival: James Gray’s period movie The Immigrant, starring Marion Cottillard, Joaquin Phoenix and Jeremy Renner, and Nicolas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives, both of which are in the official competition: Ryan Coogler’s Sundance hit Fruitvale Station, which proved a sensation when it played the Certain Regard sidebar Thursday night; and David Lowery’s outlaw drama Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, for which TWC is handling foreign. Calling Rooney Mara, who appears in that movie to the stage when the presentation ended, he teased he’d love to make Charade 2 with the Audrey Hepburn-like actress.

The presentation also included footage from David Frankel’s One Chance, in which James Cordon plays Paul Potts, the British tenor who vaulted from obscurity when he won Britain’s Got Talent. And it included a trailer for Wong Kar Wai’s martial arts pic The Grandmaster, opening in the U.S. on Aug. 23.