It’s like the lesson drummed into the orphans of The Cider House Rules: Hang in there long enough, and someone might want you. When the Golden Globe nominations were announced last December, Miramax’s weepy story of loyalty and loss at an orphanage was virtually shut out. It barely figured in the critics’ awards. It didn’t even get a DGA nod. But on Feb. 15, Cider House scored an astonishing seven Oscar nominations, including Best Picture.
How did a movie that could have easily been an Oscar also-ran go from dark horse to contender? For starters, look to its studio. ”I was surprised by the quantity of Cider House Rules nominations,” admits one competitor, Sixth Sense writer director M. Night Shyamalan. ”But…. Miramax! Why am I surprised?”
”Miramax made sure Academy members saw that film and had plenty of time to consider it,” says Hurricane producer John Ketcham, whose film was snubbed. ”Miramax did a better job, that’s all there is to it.”
That job started with a little patience. ”The Golden Globes were not like, ‘Oh, it’s over,”’ says Miramax publicity president Marcy Granata. ”We felt encouraged that we [were nominated] in two big categories [screenplay and supporting actor]. We thought, This is something we can build on.”
And how. Miramax, the company that has now earned nine Best Picture nominations in the past eight years, pulled out all the Oscar stops for Cider House: screening the film endlessly, trotting out novelist/screenwriter John Irving at a bushel of media events, and blanketing Variety and The Hollywood Reporter with ”For Your Consideration” ads. ”If you count the ads,” says USA Films marketing exec VP Steven Flynn, who missed out on a Best Picture nod with Being John Malkovich, ”that film far outweighed any other.” In Variety alone, Miramax bought 43 Cider House ads, 16 more than its nearest competitor. In any case, buzz began to build. ”We did exit surveys in L.A., which were higher than anywhere else,” says Miramax exec VP Cynthia Swartz. ”We knew it was playing extraordinarily well in L.A. You can’t have word of mouth in L.A. without having part of it be industry word of mouth.” That led to excellent showings at the Screen Actors, Writers, and Producers Guilds, which have become better Oscar indicators than the Globes. ”The awards prior to the Guild nominations are critic-driven,” offers Irving. ”And I don’t think I’ll ever be a critics’ darling.”
The one drawback: Cider may have knocked out Miramax’s other top prospect, The Talented Mr. Ripley — though the studio denies that, since Paramount owns Ripley domestically, Cider was Miramax’s favored child. ”If there were any justice,” says Granata, ”they’d both be nominated.”