Harvey Weinstein Is Dead Right: “Awards Season” Is Hurting Smart Films for Adults

Harvey Weinstein is multitalented: he co-founded Miramax and The Weinstein Company, executive-produced Pulp Fiction, Scream, and Good Will Hunting, produced Broadway shows, and carved out a niche as one of the film industry’s most colorful personalities. But what he really wanted to do was write, apparently, and yesterday, he penned a guest column for The Hollywood Reporter about awards season — a subject he’s no slouch on.

Put simply, Miramax (and the ‘90s indie movement whose table it ran) made its name and reputation on its considerable Oscar prowess, and the campaigns Weinstein marshaled were aggressive, and effective — so much so that the current, highly competitive, seemingly endless “awards season” can be traced back to his playbook. So when he has something to say about awards season, it’s worth listening to.

Bradley Cooper in "Burnt"

The subject, per the headline, is how this year (and in recent years) “everybody cannibalized each other” by stacking all of their awards contenders up in the last four months of the 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,” he writes. “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.”

He then proceeds to spend a paragraph praising three films, released earlier this year, from other distributors — and six paragraphs extolling the virtues of the Weinstein Company’s contenders, both early and late in the year. (What can I tell ya, Harvey gonna Harvey.) But his overall point stands: as studios and distributors have become more gun-shy and brand-reliant, the previous, loosely defined calendar parameters (giant blockbusters in the summer, prestige pics from September to December, everything that doesn’t fall into those categories between January and April) have become firmer, to the detriment of both audiences and distributors.

And we’ve already seen the carnage. In the process of praising Bradley Cooper’s work in TWC’s Burnt, Weinstein notes the quick disappearance of Our Brand Is Crisis (with an awards-worthy turn by Sandra Bullock) — but the entire month of October was a train-wreck for smart, grown-up fare, with good films like Crisis, Steve Jobs, and Crimson Peak (and somewhat lesser titles like The Walk and Rock the Kasbah) failing to find an audience or much in the way of critical traction. Meanwhile, good films from earlier in the year — and I’m thinking less of Weinstein’s case for Southpaw than Girlhood, Z for Zachariah, and Slow West — are mostly out of the awards conversation.

Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins in "The Silence of the Lambs"

It shouldn’t be so — and wasn’t always thus. The last five Best Picture winners were all fall or winter releases, as were seven of the ten from 2000-2010, but that period also included The Hurt Locker, Crash, and Gladiator, which were all from earlier in the year. Four of the ‘90s winners came out in summer or before: Braveheart, Forrest Gump, Unforgiven, and The Silence of the Lambs, which (miracle of miracles) came out all the way back in February, around the time the AMPAS were giving out the previous year’s awards. And so on: Annie Hall, The Godfather, Patton, The Sound of Music, and It Happened One Night (to give just a handful of examples) came out in the spring, while Midnight Cowboy, In the Heat of the Night, The Apartment, and On the Waterfront were all summer pictures. The further you dig back into Oscar’s history, the less frequently you see the now-requisite fall-to-winter release date.

Did they simply have longer memories back then? They certainly didn’t have fewer good movies to choose from, or remember. But if the year-round “awards conversation” wrought by the Awards-Industrial Complex could have one positive side effect — and God knows, it could give us at least one — it should be the idea that if that conversation is happening all year around, then movies that qualify for that conversation could be released all year around. In the meantime, as Weinstein notes, it’s giving mainstream audiences looking for brainy movies a dearth of options in the summer, and too damn many in the fall.