Sunday, June 5, 2011

Miramax, Part Four: The English Patient and Oscar Prestige

This fourth and last installment of our survey of Miramax films now streaming on Netflix Watch Instantly focuses on the last stage of Miramax's transition from a specialty film distributor to a mini-major studio.  While Oscar prestige was important in earlier stages (Daniel Day Lewis' performance in My Left Foot, for example), at the end of its days it was important for Miramax to have a significant presence at the Oscars each year.  It's most amazing Oscar night was the jaw-dropping moment that Shakespeare in Love beat out Saving Private Ryan for Best Picture when Spielberg and company seemed to be steamrolling through the ceremony.  It's last hurrah was No Country for Old Men, on a night when the writing was already on the wall for the company's future with Disney.  While neither of those two films are currently streaming on Netflix Watch Instantly, Miramax's other two Best Picture Oscar winners are: The English Patient and Chicago.  The rest of the entry is rounded out by significant winners and nominees from over the years.

The Piano (Jane Campion, New Zealand/US, 1993, 120 minutes)
Netflix: Holly Hunter stars as Ada McGrath, a mute but strong-willed 19th-century Scottish expatriate who arrives in New Zealand with her daughter (Anna Paquin) and her beloved piano in tow. Although betrothed to a landowner (Sam Neill), she's pulled into an affair with a laborer (Harvey Keitel). Hunter and Paquin both won Oscars for their performances in this haunting drama from writer-director Jane Campion. Netflix link.
The English Patient (Anthony Minghella, UK, 1996, 162 minutes)
Netflix: Adapted from Michael Ondaatje's acclaimed novel set against the backdrop of World War II, Anthony Mingehlla's Oscar-winning drama stars Ralph Fiennes as a horribly burned pilot who recounts a tale of doomed romance to the nurse tending him (Juliette Binoche). As his story is revealed via flashback, so too are secrets about his identity and the depth of his passion for the woman he loved (Kristin Scott Thomas). Willem Dafoe co-stars.  Netflix link.

Sling Blade (Billy Bob Thornton, US, 1996, 134 minutes)
Netflix: In an Oscar-winning tour de force, writer-director Billy Bob Thornton stars as Karl Childers, a man who returns home after being released from a psychiatric hospital, where he'd been confined since age 12 for murdering his mother and her lover. On the outside, the simpleminded Karl lands a job at a garage fixing motors and befriends a young boy -- but can Karl outrun his past? Thornton's co-stars include Dwight Yoakam and John Ritter.  Netflix link.

Mrs. Brown (John Madden, UK, 1997, 105 minutes)
Netflix: Grieving widow Queen Victoria (Oscar nominee Judi Dench) withdraws into sadness for years until plainspoken manservant John Brown (Billy Connolly) disrupts her mourning. But as their friendship grows, it results in personal and political ramifications for both of them. Exquisitely filmed and fueled by sparkling performances, director John Madden's period drama brilliantly portrays the woman behind an empire and the man who helped her live again. Netflix link.

Good Will Hunting (Gus Van Sant, US, 1997, 126 minutes)
Netflix: Will Hunting (Matt Damon) spends his days as a janitor at MIT, but the aimless young man is also a mathematical genius. So when his talents are discovered, a therapist (Robin Williams) helps Will confront the demons that have been holding him back. Damon and co-star Ben Affleck -- who appears in a small role as Will's best friend -- won an Oscar for their screenplay about friendship and risk in this uplifting drama from director Gus Van Sant. Netflix link.

Chicago (Rob Marshall, US, 2002, 113 minutes)
Netflix: Roxie Hart (RenĂ©e Zellweger) hungers for stardom but ends up in the slammer, where superstar Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is doing time for shooting her cheating husband, in this Best Picture winner based on the hit Broadway musical of the same name. When Velma's lawyer, notorious Billy Flynn (Richard Gere), makes Roxie a tabloid sensation, he sets up a singing, dancing catfight between the all-too-willing rivals  Netflix link.

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