One of the Oscar-season’s most anticipated films was August: Osage County, John Wells’ star-studded adaptation of Tracy Lett’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning play. But when it premiered at September’s Toronto Film Festival, it slipped significantly behind the competition, which included Gravity and 12 Years a Slave. Critics, in general, admired the film, but some sniffed at the perceived unrestrained performances, especially Meryl Streep’s unhinged matriarch. Producer Harvey Weinstein later admitted that he rushed the film in order to benefit from the heat of Toronto, a strategy that clearly backfired. Streep and Julia Roberts were nominated for Oscars, but the film was left out of the Best Picture race.
Now, Weinstein concedes he made a mistake, telling Deadline, “I do think we paid a price critically by rushing for Toronto. … I watched how David O. [Russell] and Marty [Scorsese] took the time they needed on their films, and imposed their strong will and vision in films that came out when they were ready. I have only myself to blame for pushing John Wells to try and be ready for a festival. It was my call, and it was not the right call.”
This isn’t exactly a surprise, since Weinstein had said in December that he’d never again “rush to play a movie festival … until the movie is locked,” after August’s tepid Toronto premiere. At this point, he seems at peace with it, especially since he’s playing the underdog role at the Oscars again with Philomena.
Plus, not getting a Best Picture nod for August: Osage County, a $25 million picture that’s grossed $36.1 million, isn’t the greatest calamity to befall Weinstein. That honor still might belong to The Lord of the Rings, the trilogy Miramax wanted to produce but couldn’t get Disney to greenlight. It still sticks in his craw: “ ‘Out of all the profits and all the things we’ve done over the years, I can’t believe you’re saying no to this, three movies at $60 million a movie,’” Weinstein said he remembers telling Disney CEO Michael Eisner. “I mean, they spent that kind of money on romantic comedies over there at that time. I even said ‘Michael, just greenlight the three, and if the first one is terrible, I’m sure Peter [Jackson] is not going to press, he is a gentleman.’ He wouldn’t budge. Based on our deals, it cost Bob and me hundreds of millions of dollars, personally. Disney, it probably cost them $2 billion to $3 billion dollars in profits. Does that sound like the one that got away? Michael and I have kissed and made up and in retrospect, if I had screwed up, Michael could have pointed at me and said, ‘Look at that Harvey Weinstein, what an idiot, he cost us 180 million dollars!’”