Oscars 2015: For 'Imitation Game,' Harvey Weinstein pulls out winning playbook

'Imitation Game' has all the hallmarks of classic Harvey Weinstein Oscar contender

Harvey Weinstein's Oscar campaign playbook has been much imitated over the years — and with "The Imitation Game," he is pulling it out once again. The story of brilliant British mathematician Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), who played a key role in breaking Nazi Germany's Enigma code to help win World War II, "The Imitation Game" may not be a favorite to take the top prize, but the film managed to score eight nominations and has all of the hallmarks of a textbook Weinstein Oscar contender.

You don't need to break Enigma to figure out the ways "Imitation Game" uses the classic Weinstein formula for courting Oscar voters. Here are five of them:

1. It's a period film. Like past Weinstein movies such as best picture winners "The King's Speech" and "The Artist," "The Imitation Game" can stir older Oscar voters' nostalgia for a bygone era.

2. It's English. As Weinstein well knows, film academy members love a good plummy British accent, which helped fuel past campaigns for Weinstein pictures such as "Shakespeare in Love," "Philomena" and "The English Patient."

3. It's freighted with social and historical significance. Despite his heroism in helping defeat Nazi Germany, Turing was later arrested and convicted for his homosexuality and subjected to chemical castration. Though some critics have argued that "The Imitation Game" soft-pedals its depiction of Turing's sexuality, the Weinstein Co. has actively backed a campaign to pardon some 49,000 homosexuals who were prosecuted in Britain. Billboards and ads for the film have appealed to Oscar voters' sense of moral duty with the message: "Honor this man. Honor this film."

4. It was rolled out slowly. "The Imitation Game" played at 48 film festivals around the world in 2014, sowing the seeds of awards buzz early on. Opening in November in just four theaters, the film earned an A-plus from polling firm CinemaScore and, buoyed by strong reviews, was gradually expanded to a wide release — a strategy Weinstein has successfully used on other Oscar fare like "Philomena" and "Silver Linings Playbook." "The Imitation Game" has earned more than $80 million at the domestic box office.

5. It could be seen by Oscar voters as a "safe" consensus choice. Over the years, Weinstein has certainly given Oscar pushes to plenty of bold, audacious films, such as Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction." But much as "The King's Speech" was widely seen as the stately alternative to such edgier fare as "The Social Network," "The Imitation Game" could be regarded by some Oscar voters as more palatable than more offbeat and arty movies such as "Birdman" and "Boyhood" and less polarizing than a film like "American Sniper."

Twitter: @joshrottenberg

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