While You Were Out Watching “Avatar”

Obviously, this clip from Pulp Fiction is rated R.

Sharon Waxman at The Wrap:

It’s been a slow death, but Miramax dies on Thursday.

The New York and Los Angeles offices of the arthouse movie studio owned by Disney will close.

Eighty people will lose their jobs. The six movies waiting distribution — “Last Night,” “The Debt,” “The Tempest” among them — will be shelved, to gather dust, or win a tepid release.

[...]

The story of Miramax has been told and retold: Scrappy New York brothers name the studio after their parents, wheel and deal to hold their movie company together, bully business partners, seduce filmmakers and spend loads of money on Oscar campaigns.

Then came the sale to Disney. The success, the hubris, the Oscars, the overspending. The loss of identity, the desperate attempts to reconcile with Michael Eisner followed by the bitter divorce, and the quiet takeover by Daniel Battsek.

The final chapter has been short and bitter.

Battsek was squeezed to a smaller and smaller size by Disney, despite releasing some respectable movies including “The Queen,” “Tsotsi” and “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.”

The studio endured endless rumors of its impending closure. On Oct. 2, Disney announced that “Miramax Films will reduce the number of films it releases annually while consolidating certain of its operations.”

Dick Cook, the former chairman of the studio, told me last summer that while reduced in size, the studio would continue.

But by year-end , Dick Cook was gone, and Rich Ross had taken over. Soon after, Daniel Battsek was gone, too.

Remained the final sweep-up — the firing of the remnant staff as part of the Ross reboot of the larger Disney studio, focused on a digital future with great, big, global brands.

Dr. Cole Abaius at Film School Rejects:

Miramax, a beloved studio that’s provided entertainment for just over 30 years, died today. According to several sources, including The Wrap, the Disney arm has succumb to financial difficulties after a long-fought battle.

Ballsy and often brilliant, the films and filmmakers that had a home at Miramax often viewed it as a safe haven from the stormy seas of commercial studios with less gusto and freedom.

The studio is survived by My Left Foot, The Crying Game, Quentin Tarantino, Kevin Smith, The Piano, Trainspotting and a cast of thousands left to mourn.

The heart of the studio could be summed up by one schlubby filmmaker who found success there. Kevin Smith wrote this today:

I’m crushed to see it pass into history, because I owe everything I have to Miramax. Without them, I’d still be a New Jersey convenience store register jockey. In practice, not just in my head.”

There’s a chance that the Weinsteins will buy the name back, but for now we should be remeniscing about the past instead of looking into the future. We can leave that for another day.

Michael Atkinson at Village Voice:

The “independent movement” turned out to be a different marketing paradigm, with a different cost-and-profit measure, turning out movies that could benefit from the scene’s own brand of hype, aggrandized not for their size or ambition but for their production modesty and “passion.” The Weinsteins, of course, played the game perfectly, and were roundly praised for it (Queen Elizabeth named Harvey a Commander of the British Empire). They drummed up idiosyncratic buzz for Quentin Tarantino, Todd Haynes, and Kevin Smith even as their turnout was mostly a glut of treacly Euro-trash and Sundance yawns.

Miramax lorded over the short-lived heyday of the modest-budgeted alt-film, and of course the company has been dished as often as it’s been hailed for successfully selling what the suits in L.A. would never greenlight. Just don’t call the movies indies. Even as the news cycle loudly laments the “death of the indie,” now that the bullgoose is dead, the indie flourishes — if I had a dime for every genuine MasterCard movie or video doc that hit the slipstream, theatrical or video or online, in the last six months, I could afford the meals that have made Harvey’s waistline so famous.

It’s the Miramax-created “dependie” that’s dead — aging movie stars now look to TV to coolly extend their careers past the sell-by date, not to $5 million heist sagas written by film school grads and shot in the neighborhood gin mills. As much as I may have enjoyed Bruce Willis snapping the samurai sword in Pulp Fiction, or Sylvester Stallone lumbering through Cop Land, I won’t miss their third- or fourth-generational equivalents. It was a mutant form of American showbiz to begin with, born without the genetic tools for survival.

Aylin Zafar at The Atlantic with five best Miramax moments

Dr. Abaius with a list of top Miramax films

Caitlin Brody at Flavorwire with top Miramax films

Vadim Rizov at IFC:

Yet after notoriously picking up “Happy, Texas” for $10 million in 1999, the Weinsteins seemingly threw up their hands and moved into the production business; the rest is history. But there’s no denying that where a major festival movie went in the ’90s, the Weinsteins were there too: overpaying, perhaps, or burying the movie in their vaults, or recutting, or generating all kinds of bad blood, but they were still there.

So who fulfills that role now? The first company that came to mind was, er, the one resembling the masthead up there, which looks all kinds of suspicious, but I get my paychecks from a separate division. Sony Classics and Magnolia are also strong labels in terms of acquiring notable festival titles, as is former Picturehouse prexy Bob Berney’s Apparition, which seems to be on the same wavelength as Miramax in midstream, where they can pick up movies like “Bright Star” and have a production pipeline of films like “The Runaways.” Indiewood’s Focus Features and Fox Searchlight appear to be more focused on production than pick-ups, despite the fact that Focus just bought the rights to Lisa Cholodenko’s “The Kids Are Alright” at Sundance. Otherwise, smaller independent films are spread out all over a diaspora of even smaller companies that can fold and leave their libraries in a mess at the slightest notice. ‘Twas ever thus, obviously; the recent shuttering of New Yorker Films, for example, left a valuable library cut adrift.

The dream of Miramax — if often not the reality — was to have at least one place where valuable arthouse films of the ’90s could all be found and accessed. And we now know, for all kinds of reasons, that this simply will never be possible. One more symbolic nail in the coffin.

Richard Lawson at Gawker:

Though it had dwindled a bit in recent years, the studio built by Harvey and Bob Weinstein (named after their parents, Miriam and Max) will stand in history as the great drum beater of the modern independent film movement. Beginning humbly as a small family business in 1979, within ten years Miramax had emerged as the go-to haus for hip, outre cinema — their sex, lies, & videotape stormed Cannes in 1989, ostensibly kicking-off the great indie boom of the early ’90s. Harvey Weinstein became known as something of a god, feared and respected, capable of terrible wrath but also great artistic passion. He was the champion of game-changers like Quentin Tarantino and Steven Soderbergh, seeming to possess a near-flawless eye for the hip, the cool, and the awards-bait.

Indeed Harvey’s unprecedentedly aggressive awards campaigns not only became the stuff of legend, but were studied and emulated to such a degree that Weinsteinian “For Your Consideration…” onslaughts have become de rigeur from December to March. Miramax was bold and smart and powerful enough to keep its feet in two different camps — it produced artsy independent features but also had a mind toward mainstream profit. Films like Shakespeare in Love, Pulp Fiction, and The English Patient deftly skipped the barren plane of little-seen art house fare and became popular and awards-bedecked hits. Shakespeare, specifically, was the film that famously upset the king of Hollywood himself, beating Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan in the 1998 Best Picture race.

Harvey was never shy about trumpeting his successes or wading into the celebrity-industrial morass with gleeful cunning and ruthlessness. He became something of cigar-chomping parody of himself (an actual parody became a bellicose recurring character on Entourage), while his brother Bob quietly led the studio’s more profit-focused arm, Dimension. Mostly the place for cheapo horror and sci-fi, Dimension helped resurrect the slasher genre with the snarkily self-aware smash Scream, again another instance of trusting a mostly unknown talent (Kevin Williamson) and having it pay off handsomely. Miramax had the winning formula, a certain kind of alchemy, and there was no stopping them. Well, for a time.

David Edelstein at New York Magazine:

Dear Miramax:

Please accept my heartfelt condolences for the loss of your company. I can only imagine what a shock it must be to you and the artists who are and have been a part of your family. The ones who sired you, Harvey and Bob Weinstein, were not universally beloved, but they changed the course of American film, and in the years since their departure from your world you have soldiered on with honor. Your recent films The Queen and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly were the best of their respective years, and you never made anything as grisly as Nine. You are a symbol of a movement hit hard by a collapsing economy and the rise of “event” pictures that were never a part of your mandate. Others more knowledgeable will trace the course of your life and your last, declining years. But I know this: In the end you had more than a spark of life, and the plug need not have been pulled. We will miss you and the gifted individuals who enriched all our lives.

Sincere condolences to you and to all who love movies,

David Edelstein

UPDATE: Adrian Chen at Defamer

UPDATE #3: Heather Horn at The Atlantic

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2 responses to “While You Were Out Watching “Avatar”

  1. Pingback: What We’ve Built This Weekend « Around The Sphere

  2. Pingback: What We’ve Build This Weekend « Around The Sphere

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