Four theories on Steven Spielberg's agonizing defeat

Maybe all isn’t well that ended well for Harvey Weinstein. Minutes after Shakespeare in Love beat Saving Private Ryan for Best Picture, the Miramax honcho, 47, came barreling through the Governors Ball and wound up this close to Saving Private Ryan director Steven Spielberg, who was carrying an Oscar for Best Director in his fist, a shell-shocked expression on his face. Weinstein, perhaps seeing a chance to put the pre-Oscar ad battle between Miramax and DreamWorks behind him, bellowed out ”Congratulations!” But the battle-fatigued director must not have been in a cease-fire mood. Spielberg turned, muttered a low-key ”Thank you” in Weinstein’s direction, and got the heck outta there.

Snubbed by Tinseltown’s No. 1 director? Welcome to Harvey Weinstein’s nightmare. As Miramax enjoys one of its greatest successes to date (10 Oscars, more than Paramount, Universal, and Warner Bros. combined), Harvey & Co. have also had to cope with ugly insinuations that he robbed the Academy’s favorite son of his second Best Picture Oscar.

Did Miramax’s extremely aggressive Oscar campaign — a blitz of trade ads, cocktail parties, and an army of White House-worthy movie publicists — put voters in Shakespeare‘s corner, as DreamWorks and other studio execs have charged? Hard to say. First, it’s impossible to pin down the truth about the ad tally — especially since both companies keep insisting on a recount. This week, Miramax put its totals at 114.5 pages versus DreamWorks’ 191 pages. But DreamWorks head of marketing Terry Press insists it’s more like 104 Miramax pages versus DreamWorks’ 128 — whatever! Clearly, both companies spent a lot of money. But was this more of an issue for the media — and warring studio execs — than rank and file Academy voters? Says Mike Medavoy of Phoenix Pictures, cofinancier of Oscar bridesmaid The Thin Red Line, ”The spending [controversy] happened too late to change the voting.”

Since PricewaterhouseCoopers won’t divulge any details about the voting, EW conducted its own survey of the Best Picture race. Assuming each Best Picture nominee had its share of diehard supporters, the race was likely decided by just a few votes. Herewith, four theories on the Bard’s win:

1. THE ACADEMY’S XX FACTOR With actors making up 1,317 of the 5,502 voting Academy members, sure they’d fall for a movie about a woman who longs to be…an actor. Gwyneth Paltrow’s lineage also could have helped: ”It was nice to see a movie [with] an actress raised to be such a bright spirit by showbiz parents,” says 1980 Oscar winner Mary Steenburgen. Then there’s the issue of the Academy’s demos. Though it doesn’t keep any stats on its members, studio execs, including DreamWorks’ Press, say their own info shows the Academy has become more female in recent years. And this demo, while respecting Ryan, never warmed to it. Tony Bill, an Oscar-winning producer of The Sting and co-owner of the L.A. industry hangout 72 Market St., suggests the Academy voted the way an average moviegoer would have: ”Ryan is painful to watch. There’s no joy. People voted for the fun movie.”

Saving Private Ryan
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