The End of a Studio – My Ten Favorite Miramax Films

Today Hollywood mourns the death of a movie studio. The Walt Disney Co. shut it down today, leaving its 80 employees jobless and remaining projects in development limbo. I’m no film historian, but I’m guessing this doesn’t happen very often, especially to a film company as prominent as Miramax, which some call a cultural force of the 90s. I don’t claim to know much about the company, only the fact that it was started by brothers Harvey and Bob Weinstein in New York (hence the NY skyline logo animation), and that they named it after their parents Max and Miriam.

Well-known for being brash and bullying even by Hollywood standards, Miramax is also known for distributing independent movies considered financially risky by major studios. Unlike other major studio honchos, the Weinsteins seem to genuinely love movies as much as the business side of it, as this article alluded: “They discovered new directors. They carefully built actors’ careers. They imported and promoted foreign films.” Per Wikipedia, Disney bought the company for $70 million in 1993, but granted creative freedom to the Weinsteins who still operated the business. But they relinquished their power in 2005 after years of butting heads with then Disney CEO Michael Eisner over creative & financial differences, and the brothers in turn formed The Weinstein Company. It’s been reported that they want to buy back the Miramax name back from Disney, and naturally the name is very personal to them.

Bob and Harvey Weinstein

Many of their films were commercially successful (7 of them gross more than $100 million), and perhaps one of the most successful one was Chicago, which earned $300 million worldwide. Their films were also Oscar favorites, as The Wrap article says, “Over the past 25 years, no studio has dominated the Oscars the way Miramax did, in ways both good and bad.” Nobody campaigned for Oscar noms like the Weinsteins did, treating the Academy Awards as golden marketing opportunity that’d boost the commercial value of their smaller, quirkier fares against major studios domination. You can take a peek at The Independent article that list their record Oscar nominations and winnings, or saunter over to their official site (before it’s taken down) that boast a plethora of Oscar-winning films, such as The English Patient, Shakespeare in Love and Chicago. Many, many actors partly owe them their Oscars, as the likes of Michael Caine, Daniel Day-Lewis, Quentin Tarantino, Anthony Minghella, Gwyneth Paltrow, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renee Zellweger, Billy Bob Thornton, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck — all got their golden statues for starring in a Miramax movie. No doubt this news will continue to be the water-cooler topic as Oscar nominations are to be revealed February 2nd and during the big event itself in March.

Now, the demise of the studio also means several movies awaiting distribution face uncertain future. Cinematical pondered what will happen to those, two of which I’ve blogged about before, coincidentally starring Avatar star Sam Worthington: One is Last Night, a romantic drama with Keira Knightley and Eva Mendes; and the other called The Debt, an Israeli-themed thriller with Helen Mirren and Tom Wilkinson. Oh, I hope these don’t end up being straight-to-dvd flicks, especially the later, it sounds like one worth-seeing on the big screen.

Well, looking back at hundreds of movies under their belt in the last 30+ years, here are ten of my favorites (in order of release):

  1. Working Girls (1986)
  2. The English Patient (1996)
  3. Mrs. Brown (1997)
  4. Mansfield Park (1999)
  5. Chocolat (2001)
  6. Finding Neverland (2004)
  7. Dear Frankie (2005)
  8. Cinderella Man (2005)
  9. Hollywoodland (2006)
  10. Gone Baby Gone (2007)

edit: Thanks to Samantha who pointed it out to me, I’m adding Dear Frankie to my top ten, as well as a few honorable mentions:

  • Emma (1996) – mainly for Jeremy Northam as Mr. Knightley!
  • Shakespeare in Love (1998)
  • The Queen (2006)
  • The Cider House Rules (1999)
  • The Aviator (2004)
  • Extract (2009)

What about you, readers? What are some of your favorite Miramax films?

20 thoughts on “The End of a Studio – My Ten Favorite Miramax Films

  1. Such an odd turn of events. I for one despise The Weinsteins, but cannot deny what they did over the 90’s especially to promote independent film.

    As for the favorites…

    3. KILL BILL v. I & II
    6. CITY OF GOD
    10. AMELIE

    1. He..he.. I probably won’t invite them to dinner myself Hatter, but like you said, they did make an impact for indies and lots of their movies are good quality.

      Interesting list, there are a couple I probably won’t watch here but Cinema Paradiso is one I’ve been dying to see. Believe it or not my local rental stores don’t carry it, but now that I have Netflix I can add that one. WOW, lots of love for Amelie I see … now I have really high expectation to be blown away by that flick.

        1. Kill Bill is one, as a few people told me it’s really violent. I’ve only seen bits and pieces of Sex, Lies, and Videotape and the whole subject matter just doesn’t interest me… don’t shoot me 🙂

          1. KILL BILL is violent – so I couldn;t possibly kill you for that. SEX, LIES is a more curious answer…especially since it’s all talk no action.

            Mind if I ask you to get a tad more specific?

        2. Hi Hatter, well I’ll try to be as specific as I could. From the brief scenes I saw (I think it might’ve been Spader and MacDowell), I thought it was kind of um… boring 😦 I know you probably went ‘what??’ given the titillating subject of sex and voyeurism, but I can’t explain why exactly, I just didn’t find it all that intriguing. Some reviews said the title was manipulative as it might’ve given the impression that there would be some racy scenes involved… now I actually commend Soderbergh for not making an explicit movie, but rather an honest dialog of a ‘taboo’ subject. So anyway, I’m not saying the movie was bad, just not for me.

    1. Samantha

      Ok. Here’s mine.

      1. Amelie
      2. Shakespeare in Love
      3. Chocolat
      4. Chasing Amy
      5. Chicago
      6. Dear Frankie
      7. Bullets Over Broadway
      8. The Crow
      9. Clerks
      10. Spy Kids

      Honorable mentions: Strictly Ballroom, Spotswood (very early Russell Crowe!), Restoration (RDJ!!).

      1. Ooooh, how could I miss Dear Frankie??! That darn Wikipedia, it wasn’t listed on the page (trust me, I’ve searched), but yes apparently it was one of Miramax films, too! That’s definitely in my top five, the Stranger, oh the Stranger… if only one of my friends had a sibling who looks like THAT 🙂 I will revise that pronto. Thank you, Sam!

        Btw, I haven’t seen Amelie, but people keep saying I should.

        1. Samantha

          Oh man. Add me to the list of people saying you should see Amelie. I think it’s one of my favorite movies ever. I own very few movies on DVD, but Amelie, Shax in Love, and Chicago are a few, and I want to get Chocolat at some point. I looked up Miramax on IMDb and was impressed that they had some of the movies I truly love. You get points for having Cinderella Man on your list, though!

  2. Samantha

    Gah. Not to take over your blog, but here’s the worst part. According to Cinematical, the projects that Miramax had in the works are now indefinitely on hold. They include The Tempest, which I was looking forward to in a major way. From Cinematical:

    “This is the Shakespeare adaptation I wrote about in October of 2008, which sex-changed Prospero into Helen Mirren, and included the likes of Jeremy Irons, Djimon Hounsou, Russell Brand, Alfred Molina, and Geoffrey Rush. Oh yes, and it is Julie Taymor’s latest Shakespeare adaptation after the wonderful Titus.”

    Ok, NOW I’m upset.

    1. Yeah I put that same link on this post, they mentioned three films that are now up in the air. Bummer indeed! That’d be a really good adaptation with all that kind of cast… well maybe except Russell Brand (WITW??!) Anything with Helen Mirren in it SHOULD get released IMO!

  3. You haven’t seen Amelie??? It’s a must see 🙂

    My top 10 in no order

    Reservoir Dog
    Pulp Fiction
    Princess Mononoke
    Rabbit Proof Fence
    Kill Bill
    Master and Commander
    Cinderella Man

    1. Samantha

      Did I miss Master & Commander?? Drat!
      …Oh, they produced, but did not distribute. That explains it. 😀 Awesome, awesome, awesome film.

      1. Jack Deth

        Hi, Samantha and company:

        Huge fan of ‘Master & Commander’. Great performances from Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany, British stalwarts and up and coming talent. One of Weir’s best.

        Have grown to appreciate Miramax for its ability to avoid the cinematic cookie cutter and hold onto the spirit that made the 1970s the last great era of film. By putting money behind the product of independent to A-list directors. By either bankrolling the project altogether or getting the finished product. Good, bad or indifferent out into the public arena.

        Check Dave’s list to see how many big directors today, from Aldomovar to Tarantino and beyond own their existence to Miramax.

        PS: I’d add ‘The Grifters’, ‘Brassed Off’, ‘Kate & Leopold’ and ‘Equilibrium’ to my list of Miramax favorites.

    2. Dave

      My 20… in my defence I saw almost all of these in the theater.

      1) Amelie (haven’t seen this rtm… shame, shame shame)

      2) Trainspotting (Jump started a lot of actors careers: McGregor, MacDonald, McKidd, Bremner, Carslyle, Jonny Lee Miller)

      3) Reservoir Dogs (Love Steven Wright’s song intros on K-Billy)

      4) Sex, Lies & Videotape (Soderbergh said the character that Spader played was based on him being a pathological liar himself)

      5) Swingers (The fat guy from Rudy has talent)

      6) City of God (see the doc Bus 174 as a follow up to this)

      7) Good Will Hunting (Elliot Smith will be missed)

      8) Working Girls (nice pick, saw it in the theater in college. Not to be confused with the Griffith/Nichols vehicle Working Girl)

      9) The Thin Blue Line (Landmark doc. Errol Morris started the wave of TV docudramas)

      10) My Left Foot (Top 10 performance of all time)

      11) Bob Roberts ( I was an extra in that movie. Stars a very young Jack Black. Met Tim Robbins… nice guy and TALL. )

      12) The Crying Game (No movie’s spoiler was ruined by the press than this movie)

      13) The Piano (If you missed Kietel naked in Bad Lieutenant here’s your chance)

      14) Exotica (Loved Egoyan’s The Sweet Hereafter)

      15) Pulp Fiction (Classic even if it spawned all those crappy Travolta movies of the 90’s)

      16) Mansfield Park (Stars the lovely Frances O’Connor from AI. See Kiss or Kill but you have to REALLY like jump cuts)

      17) The Others (Check out Amenabar’s Tesis or Open Your Eyes… crapily remade by Cameron Crowe and Cruise)

      18) Kill Bill 1&2 (Anyone starting to pick up on the fact that Quentin has a foot fetish?)

      19) Gone Baby Gone (So it’s the other brother that can act)

      20) There Will Be Blood (Well atleast the movie made good on the title)

      1. Very nice list, Dave. And extra points for seeing most of them in the theater!

        There are a few I haven’t heard of here, so it’s always nice to learn something new.

        Ha..ha.. yes Casey is definitely the better actor of the Affleck brothers, but at least Ben is a good director. I’m curious to see him in the next Malick romance film, even though I was desperately hoping Bale would star in that as he’s originally cast. I want to see the romantic side of him as he’s done so many dark roles lately.

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