For much of last year, Amy Pascal was under fire.
Activist investor Daniel Loeb hammered Pascal's division, demanding an end to the "free passes" Sony studio executives got when their films disappointed and calling on parent company Sony Corp. to spin off part of its entertainment business.
But speculation that Pascal's days may be numbered has been nearly silenced by an impressive roster of commercially successful awards-season films, including "American Hustle," "Blue Jasmine" and "Captain Phillips" — all of which are likely to be among the biggest recipients of Academy Award nominations when they are announced Thursday.
Sony walked away with seven Golden Globes on Sunday — more than any other studio — and the expected Academy nominations are likely to further boost box-office receipts and burnish the reputation of Pascal, who is perhaps Hollywood's most powerful female film executive.
"Amy has always been nimble about change," said Doug Wick, who produced "Memoirs of a Geisha" for Sony and has known Pascal for more than 20 years. "She is tough on herself and always asks the hard questions, but she has never lost connection to her most valuable asset — which is a remarkable instinct for talent and storytelling."
Pascal, 55, has a reputation for good relations with talent and a hands-on approach. In 2009, she scrubbed production on the baseball film "Moneyball" days before it was to begin filming, and hired Academy Award winner Aaron Sorkin to rewrite the screenplay. The film went on to earn six Oscar nominations.
Because of this, Pascal — and not her boss, Sony Pictures Chairman Michael Lynton — has been the main target of criticism when Sony films have underperformed.
"She is very disarming [and] a fun person to be around," said Bradley Cooper, who stars in and executive produced "American Hustle" and will appear in an upcoming Sony film for director Cameron Crowe. "I've been over the moon with how hands-on she is, and how director- and actor-friendly she is."
Pascal, who attended Crossroads School in Santa Monica and graduated from UCLA with a degree in international relations, is married to former New York Times film business reporter Bernard Weinraub, and they have a teenage son.
Pascal has shepherded some of the industry's top movies, including "The Amazing Spider-Man," "A League of Their Own," and "Charlie's Angels."
But she and the studio also have had a reputation for spending lavishly — a characterization that Sony insiders say is unfair, because the studio, like its competitors, has been trimming costs in recent years.
Pascal, who declined to comment through a company spokesman, took the stage at a November investors' conference to explain the state of the studio's affairs.
"In 2013 we had some movies in the summer that didn't meet our expectations," Pascal said. "That has led us to take a hard look at what we are doing."
The studio said it was lowering overhead by at least $250 million and would concentrate more on television, where recent productions included "Breaking Bad." Sony will also reduce the number of films it releases.