Following a relatively new tradition they started a few years ago, The Weinstein Company on Friday night brought together a group of buyers, partners and press to preview its 2013 slate and meet filmmakers and stars. Although Harvey Weinstein never once mentioned the word “Oscar”, you can tell that’s definitely what he is thinking with a diverse mix of prestige projects that should give the awards-happy company lots of campaign fodder for 2013. He said after a rocky start the company has had a very good last four years and for 2012 made more than they ever did at Miramax. He also made a plea to the international audience gathered for the presentation at the Majestic Hotel for the continued independence of European filmmaking, especially in light of problems with the European Cultural Initiative. “We can’t let Europe be the same like the United States. What’s great about European movies is they are different and as long as they reflect their culture there will always be special movies like Amour, which we didn’t release last year, and so many movies like that. So keep your eye on the newspaper when this stuff comes up for votes or things we can do to influence it, I think it’s very important,” he said.
After the 40-minute reel led by the August 16th release The Butler and ending with the long-gestating Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom, Weinstein told me, “It’s a very eclectic, hard-hitting lineup that I am really proud of. What am I going to say? I feel very confident about this year”. Though he may not have been directly making an Oscar-season pitch (thankfully that’s still many months off even for Harvey — well, maybe not), he did make an overt plea for his official competition entries Only God Forgives and The Immigrant when introducing Cannes jury member Nicole Kidman, star of the December 27th release Grace Of Monaco. “We have a member of the jury with us tonight and she has to go for a jury meeting to hopefully decide which movie of mine wins the Palme d’Or. I have certainly given Steven (jury president Spielberg) enough money over the years,” he said to big laughs.
Shortly after she arrived I asked Kidman how she is enjoying Cannes from a different point of view this year. She says seeing all the movies required for a jury member is daunting but “I am really loving it”. As for husband Keith Urban, who is now on a plane to join her after finishing judging duty himself last night on American Idol, she said she was waiting until he got here to find out who won, but she was happy to hear it was Candice Glover when I ended the suspense for her.
After a false start when Harvey introduced her to the crowd before she was ready (“the staff is all fired here”, he joked) she finally came up and did a pitch for Grace which was repped on the reel by five minutes of footage showing off what looks like a complex portrait of the movie star-turned-princess. Weinstein has given it a late December slot, obviously intended as Oscar bait. It is directed by Olivier Dahan who guided Marion Cotillard to Best Actress glory for La Vie En Rose. “I am so glad Harvey decided Grace was for him. Obviously it is fantastic to be back here introducing it because I spent a good portion of last year in this area making this film and got to know Grace very, very well. I researched her and fell in love with her”, Kidman said. A lot of the footage seemed to revolve around conflicts with her husband Prince Ranier (played by Tim Roth) and a possible return to Hollywood in 1963 after an absence of seven years to re-team with Alfred Hitchcock on Marnie — a comeback Grace Kelly wasn’t destined to make. (Tippi Hedren did the film and its troubled production ironically also recently became fodder for the HBO Emmy contender, The Girl) .
Among other segments shown tonight were clips from Ain’t Them Bodies Saints which the company has internationally; Wong Kar Wai’s martial arts movie The Grandmaster; the rags-to-riches story of Opera wunderkind Paul Potts titled One Chance; Sundance hit and Un Certain Regard contender Fruitvale Station, which won a 10-minute standing ovation after its Cannes premiere last night; the documentary Salinger about author J.D. Salinger; Mandela (which Weinstein promised is not an ordinary biopic); and the aforementioned competition entries The Immigrant and Only God Forgives, the latter showing off a sure-fire performance from Kristin Scott Thomas playing Ryan Gosling’s caustic mother that almost certainly will be up for prizes all the way to Oscar-time.
Also shown were trailers from the Meryl Streep-Julia Roberts pairing August: Osage County (watch that trailer here) and The Butler (see that one here) which the company recently announced would move from October to a mid-August opening instead, a strategic releasing decision I asked Weinstein about after the presentation. “We had a test screening and it tested through the roof and there was no movie of serious nature in August where Hope Springs, Julie And Julia and The Help did so well”, he said. “By August you will strangle yourself if you see one more superhero movie — at least I will strangle somebody. My mom and especially my mom’s group they will go, especially to see Oprah (Winfrey, who co-stars). It’s really good. It’s a Lee Daniels movie with his signature and it’s tough and smart”.
Before heading off into the night, the tuxedo-clad Weinstein brought up some of the filmmakers present including Rooney Mara, who exec produced and stars in Ain’t Them Bodies Saints; Mandela co-star Naomie Harris and producer Anant Singh, who told me he has been trying to bring this story to the screen since Nelson Mandela was in prison (“I have letters from him from his jail cell about this”); and Fruitvale Station cast members Octavia Spencer, Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz and debuting director Ryan Coogler who turns 27 in a few days and was still in shock over the Cannes reception, he says. Spencer, excellent as Jordan’s mother, also has an executive producer credit but modestly sluffs it off, telling me, ” all I did was kind of pass around the collection plate when we needed some extra money to finish”.
Although August: Osage County producer George Clooney has been nearby in Europe shooting Monuments Men, he was among those absent for this event. “I was going to bring George Clooney in to introduce August: Osage County but I’m still pissed off about losing to Argo,” Weinstein joked. I think.