Weinstein’s shocking Oscars influence exposed
TWENTY years ago today, Steven Spielberg took the US summer box office by storm, helped to turn the "Greatest Generation" into a thing, and probably gave you your first look at Vin Diesel in a movie.
The film was Saving Private Ryan, and it hit the US summer box office like one of the meteors that were speeding towards Earth in the other 1998 blockbusters Deep Impact and Armageddon. By October, Saving Private Ryan was already well on its way to $US200 million and its eventual spot at the top of the 1998 box-office chart.
All that money, combined with the serious subject matter, rave reviews, and the combination of Hollywood stalwarts Spielberg and Tom Hanks, and heading into the Autumn season, the Oscar frontrunner was already in place and looking impossible to beat.
While Spielberg had already won Best Picture and Best Director at the 1993 Oscars for taking a look at the other side of WWII in Schindler's List, nobody thought that a second Oscar seemed all that unusual for a director of Spielberg's stature.
And nothing particularly weighty appeared to be lurking on the rest of the film schedule. Sure, there was Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line, but that was so very clearly the esoteric alternative to Spielberg's broadly-appealing picture that it never seemed like a threat. Saving Private Ryan seemed to have awards season all to itself.
Fast-forward ahead eight months and, to the surprise of most of Hollywood, Saving Private Ryan got clipped at the last possible second, winning Best Director for Spielberg but losing Best Picture to a whimsical reinterpretation of literary history, Shakespeare in Love.
How a light, "frivolous" little love story about a moon-eyed William Shakespeare and his illicit love ended up beating the weighty, important, showy filmmaking of the great Steven Spielberg is an Oscar debate that is still ongoing.
That debate often takes on some ugly and unfortunate genre biases. The Oscars historically over-reward things like dramas and war films and under-reward comedies and films with female leads. Shakespeare in Love was a high-profile bucking of that trend, and the fact that certain people still can't seem to get over it can feel mighty annoying.
In debates like these, Saving Private Ryan can often feel like the heavy, which is equally unfair given how much hard work and inspiration Spielberg put into the film. It's not just some empty piece of male bombast.
But when the '98 Best Picture race is debated, the margin of victory for Shakespeare in Love usually comes down to one thing: Harvey Weinstein leaned on the Oscars like never before - which is saying something for a man who was often single-mindedly obsessed with awards - in order to secure the win.
Why the extra special treatment for Shakespeare, after The English Patient had already won Miramax its first Best Picture Oscar? Part of the answer probably lies in the fact that Weinstein was one of the listed producers who would receive an Oscar statue if Shakespeare won, something that hadn't happened with Miramax's earlier triumph.
The 1998 Oscar campaign instantly became legendary (or infamous, really) for how far Weinstein took the process, how he reportedly bullied and strongarmed his way to victory. As reported last year in a Vanity Fair retrospective, Weinstein cranked up the commitments for his cast to do awards-season press.
Within the article, it's claimed: "Weinstein strongarmed the movie's talent into participating in an unprecedented blitzkrieg of press. 'It all began with Harvey,' said one publicist with a client in the film.
"I don't remember ever feeling pressure like that from other studios. He was like, 'Can you do these radio call-ins all morning?' He calls the clients directly and guilts them. He really was kind of a beast."
He also, as recalled by DreamWorks' Terry Press, leaned hard into negative campaigning.
"They tried to get everybody to believe that Saving Private Ryan was all in the first 15 minutes," said Press. "I said (to Steven Spielberg), 'Listen, this is what's going on.' Steven said to me, 'I do not want you to get down in the mud with Harvey.'"
After the 2017 allegations against Weinstein - which included multiple accounts of sexual assault and sexual harassment, including an account by Shakespeare star Gwyneth Paltrow herself - it's become impossible to look at that Shakespeare in Love Oscar blitz the same way again.
Paltrow's great Oscar triumph is unfortunately also inextricably linked to Weinstein.
It's terribly unfortunate, because Shakespeare in Love is a fun, funny, and deftly assembled piece of comedy filmmaking, and it deserves a great deal of respect.
But if you're still sore 20 years later that Saving Private Ryan got denied the Oscar, leave Paltrow, Judi Dench and director John Madden alone and blame Harvey Weinstein.