Harvey Front and Center

Illustration: Alex Pine

Here, there and everywhere: The great Oscar pugilist has come out swinging early (but is it too early?)

Face it: It's Harvey Weinstein's world, and welcome to it. As this year's awards season heats up, the co-founder of the Weinstein Co. has been increasingly visible. Suddenly, The Artist, which is making a lot of noise for a silent movie, has taken on front-runner status, while Meryl Streep and Michelle Williams are looking like locks for best-actress Oscar nominations for The Iron Lady and My Week With Marilyn, respectively.

Weinstein has been leading the parade: He introduced a screening of Artist at the Academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theater that invoked the ghost of Charlie Chaplin. He dropped by CBS' Early Show and NPR's Morning Edition to chat up his movies. And he penned nearly 2,000 words for The Huffington Post about how producing a movie about Marilyn Monroe -- he casually compared Marilyn to the incomparable Roman Holiday -- has made him look cool in his daughters' eyes.

The Weinstein Co. isn't the only player in the game, of course. When the Spirit noms were announced Nov. 29, Fox Searchlight, which is fielding The Descendants, led the pack with 14 nominations, while Sony Pictures Classics claimed nine to TWC's six. But Searchlight's chiefs, Steve Gilula and Nancy Utley, tend to let their films and filmmakers speak for themselves. This year, though, the never-shy Weinstein has taken on an especially public role as the face of the Weinstein Co. slate. It's partly out of necessity, the company insists. The two stars of The Artist, though they've been making the rounds in Hollywood, aren't well-known enough to command national TV invites; Streep has always maintained a distance from campaigning; and Williams, though she has made appearances on behalf of Marilyn, has been busy filming Oz: The Great and Powerful.

"It was an unlucky situation when Michelle's schedule got changed on Oz," says Weinstein. "There was a breach, I stepped into it, and as quickly as I can I'm stepping out of it. I will be hiding behind my desk for the rest of the year."

Weinstein has been careful not to look as if he's grabbing the limelight for his films, positioning himself as something of a spokesman for all indie contenders. He explained on CBS, for example, that awards season is important because it shines a light on other low-budget movies, citing George Clooney's The Ides of March and Descendants. "And that light is an important light," he said, "because it gets people into the theater."

But Weinstein has also used interviews, like his Morning Edition sit-down, to cast The Artist, which cost $14 million, as a David fighting for attention against the studios' $140 million Goliaths. The movie already has established itself as a formidable awards player. While it tied with Lars von Trier's gloomy Melancholia in the New York Film Critics Circle's first round of balloting, it had moved up to first place by the final ballot.

The Artist might be eminently likable, but it hasn't gotten to where it is without some of Weinstein's shrewd backstage sleight-of-hand. Its official Academy screening drew only a few hundred viewers, so Harvey staged his own L.A. event at the Academy's theater with Chaplin's granddaughters lending their legendary family name. It hardly mattered that the movie has no real connection to Chaplin beyond the fact that he also starred in silents; the implied endorsement was what mattered.

The danger now is that the entire Weinstein bandwagon might be making too much noise. Last year, TWC's The King's Speech bided its time as critics and handicappers proclaimed The Social Network the film to beat. Then, once the guild awards began, Speech made its move, which culminated in its best-picture Oscar victory. Weinstein has always been at his best when playing a come-from-behind game, but this year, as a reigning champion after Speech's win, he and his films will be the ones everyone else is gunning for.

THE WEINSTEIN CO.'S OSCAR TRACK RECORD: It started slow but now has winning momentum

During his Miramax years, Harvey Weinstein perfected a golden touch when it came to courting Oscar, from My Left Foot's two acting wins in 1990 to Shakespeare in Love's best-picture coronation in 1999. But when he and brother Bob started their new company in 2005, that touch momentarily deserted him. TWC's first year saw only two movies, Transamerica and Mrs. Henderson Presents, secure nominations. The following years were particularly fallow with single noms for the foreign-language film Days of Glory and the doc Sicko. But beginning with the five noms and one win, for Kate Winslet, that 2008's The Reader earned, the Weinstein mojo reasserted itself. Inglourious Basterds, A Single Man and Nine made for a bumper crop of 2009 noms. But it is The King's Speech's four wins in February that TWC is now looking to beat.

  • 2005: Noms: 4 | Wins: 0
  • 2006: Noms: 1 | Wins: 0
  • 2007: Noms 1 | Wins: 0
  • 2008: Noms: 5 | Wins: 1
  • 2009: Noms: 13 | Wins: 1
  • 2010: Noms: 13 | Wins 4