Thursday, June 2, 2011

Miramax, Part One: The Specialty Distributor

A month ago I had prepared a whole week's worth of entries celebrating what was supposed to be a massive release of Miramax films on Netflix Watch Instantly.  That initial release date passed without the films being available.  But Miramax and Netflix subsequently finalized their deal, and many of those titles are now available this week.

Today we'll focus on a few of the international films in the late 1980s and early 1990s that helped establish the prestige and reputation of Miramax as a top-shelf specialty distributor of art house fare.

My Left Foot (Jim Sheridan, Ireland/UK, 1989, 98 minutes)
Netflix: Daniel Day-Lewis won an Oscar for his emotionally and physically complex portrayal of Irish writer Christy Brown, who was born with cerebral palsy and misdiagnosed as mentally disabled for the first 10 years of his life. The story unfolds in a series of flashbacks with Hugh O'Conor starring as the young Christy, who eventually learned to write using the only body part he could control: his left foot.  Netflix link.

The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover (Peter Greenaway, 1989, 124 minutes)
Netflix: Tired of her husband's boorish lifestyle and difficult attitude, the wife (Helen Mirren) of a barbaric crime boss (Michael Gambon) engages in a secret romance with a bookish patron (Alan Howard) between meals at her husband's restaurant, sneaking in liaisons while he and his thugs dine. Food, sex, murder, torture and cannibalism are the exotic fare in this beautifully filmed but brutally uncompromising modern fable. Netflix link.
(Note: this is rated NC-17.)

Like Water for Chocolate (Alfonso Arau, Mexico, 1992, 105 minutes)
Netflix: Passionate Tita (Lumi Cavazos) is in love with Pedro (Marco Leonardi), but her controlling mother (Regina TornĂ©) forbids her from marrying him. So when Pedro marries her sister, Tita throws herself into her cooking -- and discovers she can transfer her emotions through the food she prepares. A feast for the senses, this magical romance from director Alfonso Arau was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award and a Golden Globe.  Netflix link.

Enchanted April (Mike Newell, UK, 1992, 92 minutes)
Netflix: Stifled British wives Lottie (Josie Lawrence) and Rose (Miranda Richardson) rent an Italian villa for a husbandless vacation. Sharing the retreat are acerbic widow Mrs. Fisher (Oscar nominee Joan Plowright) and socialite Caroline (Polly Walker). The four spend a month savoring newfound freedom and the opportunity for self-discovery. Alfred Molina co-stars in this tale of 1920s English manners, based on Elizabeth von Arnim's novel. Netflix link.

Edit 6/6/11: I originally had The Crying Game on my list from last month, but somehow I missed that it had indeed been added the other day (perhaps because the streaming title is a "Collector's Edition").  In a sense, it is the perfect example of how Miramax used very clever marketing devices and word of mouth to transform a small specialty film into a significant crossover hit.

The Crying Game (Neil Jordan, UK, 1992, 111 minutes)
Netflix: To free their jailed comrade, Irish Republican Army terrorists Fergus (Stephen Rea) and Jude (Miranda Richardson) abduct British soldier Jody (Forest Whitaker), hoping to make a swap. Fergus and Jody bond, and, sensing death in the offing, the prisoner asks his captor to look up Dil (Jaye Davidson), Jody's London paramour. When the IRA's plan backfires, Fergus takes flight, locates Dil, falls into a romance and ... gets the shock of his life. Netflix link.

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