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'City' gets a makeover

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The comeback film of the year may actually be the Brazilian drama "City of God," which received four Oscar nominations, despite being overlooked by the motion picture academy's foreign language committee last year.

Although the film was a hit in its native Brazil — and made headlines when a notorious drug dealer/advisor was arrested at the flashy premiere — it failed to catch box-office fire when it was released in the U.S. a year ago.

It seemed the movie's future was doomed to video, except for an aggressive Oscar campaign by Miramax, strong word of mouth and an academy rule's change.

The campaign was somewhat stealthy — at least to Fernando Meirelles, who was nominated in the directing category. "I thought it was a joke," Meirelles, in London preparing to shoot his first English-language feature, said when he heard the news. "Nobody called me to say the film has some chance."

The film is a hard-edged look at the conditions of Brazil's slums and the young gangsters who terrorize the residents.

Recognition for "City of God," including nominations for cinematography, film editing and adapted screenplay, was among limited good news for Miramax, whose biggest film, "Cold Mountain," was passed over for best picture.

Miramax Co-chairman Harvey Weinstein said the company spent $500,000 to $700,000 on "City of God's" Oscar campaign — a hefty amount considering the studio bought the film for about $2.5 million.

"It was a bit of a gamble," Weinstein said from New York. "What happened [was that] the buzz on this movie started when Russell Crowe called me to say he had seen it twice, then Steven Soderbergh, and then [Quentin] Tarantino. The buzz started with that cutting edge actor/director group."

Miramax got an early start on its campaign, sending out videos to academy members before Thanksgiving. In early December, executives began taking out ads in trade publications and some newspapers.

In 1999, the academy modified its rules to allow pictures entered in the foreign language category — and not nominated — to compete in other categories the following year if that's when they have their first U.S. release.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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