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THE OSCARS : First Person

'Mom, There's Just One More Award'

March 24, 2001|HARVEY WEINSTEIN | Harvey Weinstein is the co-chairman of Miramax Pictures

When I was a kid, the two seminal television events in my family were the World Series and the Academy Awards. In the Weinstein household, we disagreed about our favorites for both.

At that age, the greatest part about the Academy Awards was the scramble to see all five best picture nominees. When my brother Bob and I were too young to get into a movie, we'd "adopt a parent," convincing some good-natured adult to take us into the show. Even though we were kids, we always saw sophisticated movies. One of the reasons I respect the Academy Awards and take it so seriously is that I always think about today's kids who are watching the show the way my brother and I used to.

Of course, Bob and I would always root for the epic movies like "Ben-Hur." The year it swept was a complete victory for us. The movie had action, it had a happy ending, and it was monumentally produced. You couldn't ask for better.

Actually, the Academy Awards taught us more about the art of negotiation than anything else. Even then, the show would inevitably run three to four hours. My mother Miriam would say to us, "At 10:30 you guys are going to sleep--I don't care what happens." "Mom, there's just one more award; we've got to see this. Art direction, it's really important to us." In the fall it was "one more at bat," in the spring it was "one more award."

Our father, on the other hand, was always eminently bribable. We'd promise him cooperation for a week, and Dad would always give in. Our parents eventually made the mistake of giving us a TV in our room. So, after being sent to bed early on Oscar night, we figured out how to take the earpiece for our transistor radio and make it work on the TV, allowing us to watch the entire broadcast silently from our beds.

This year is a little different for me, because over the last eight years Miramax has either been the favorite, with "The English Patient," or been neck and neck with other films such as "Shakespeare in Love," or a strong second, with "The Cider House Rules." Despite the movie being embraced by audiences, the odds are probably 20 to 1 against our film, "Chocolat," winning best picture, so this year I feel more like a statesman. I'm relaxing and enjoying the opportunity to pat people on the back and root for some of my friends and favorite filmmakers.

For instance, I couldn't be more excited for Julia Roberts. When I was having trouble promoting the movie "Il Postino," Julia came to my rescue. She was a huge fan of Pablo Neruda's poetry and recorded his work for a soundtrack and a TV show promoting the film. For no fee. She has done this anonymously for many other companies and causes. Russell Crowe pretends to be a bad boy, but he's got a good heart underneath. Javier Bardem gave a memorable performance in "Before Night Falls." Geoffrey Rush and Ed Harris are the Spencer Tracys of our generation. And what more can you say about Tom Hanks--he's extraordinary.

What excites me about the academy is that it celebrates its history. This year, three pioneers--Dino De Laurentiis, Ernest Lehman and Jack Cardiff--and one innovator, Vic Armstrong, are receiving honorary Oscars. As a movie student and fan, I can't wait to shake their hands.

It's also been an interesting year for me, because, with "Chocolat," we have the traditional "classic" movie at the Oscars. We're always the guys with "Pulp Fiction" or "The English Patient" or "Shakespeare in Love." Now we have the romantic movie, and while it has a theme of tolerance and is an allegory in many ways, it's the "sweet" movie. And we knew that some of the critics were going to come after us with Texas chain saws, gunning for us because we're Miramax, the cool company, and what happened? Of course they say we've sold out, which is completely untrue. Next year, the first five minutes of Marty Scorsese's "Gangs of New York" will show that our edge is sharper than ever.

At first, I was thin-skinned about this criticism. But I thought about some of the great battles that producer Joe Papp had with theater critic Frank Rich of the New York Times, or that producer David Merrick had with the entire press. What I've realized is that the critics are sometimes there to help me, and sometimes to kick me. But when they kick me, at least I can end up with an interesting story.

For example, when USA Today was challenging me on the best picture nomination for "Chocolat," I challenged them to pick a movie theater anywhere in this country to gauge audience response to the film. I flew down and met them at a randomly selected theater in Washington, D.C. The audience, a high-end, intelligent group that crossed all racial and economic lines, loved the movie. Even the USA Today writer was impressed by this random audience's affection for the film. What pundits don't realize is that academy members are people, too.


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