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Rudin vs. Weinstein: Another clash of the titans?

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Does Harvey Weinstein really need another Oscar movie this fall? That’s the bottom-line question in what has become a widely discussed disagreement between Weinstein and producer Scott Rudin, who’ve been battling over whether to release ‘The Reader’ this December, in time for the customary round of awards hoopla, or hold off until sometime next year. The Hollywood Reporter has a good summation of the skirmish today, though, as if often the case with Weinstein, there is probably more here than meets than the eye. Here’s the lowdown:

Directed by Stephen Daldry and co-starring Ralph Fiennes and Kate Winslet, the film is a David Hare adaptation of a Bernhard Schlink novel set in postwar Germany. The film’s historical setting, coupled with its actor and filmmaker pedigree, make it prime Oscar bait in what looks like a relatively thin year for best picture material. The biggest problem is that the film isn’t finished. Daldry is in the midst of post-production, but has more pressing issues on his plate: He’s directing ‘Billy Elliot: The Musical,’ which debuts on Broadway in November but goes into previews next week. It would seem impossible for him to complete the film until his Broadway responsibilities are out of the way.

That hasn’t stopped Weinstein from a ferocious--some might even say a desperate--lobbying campaign to put the film out this year. Why? As always, Weinstein lives and dies by having his films smack dab in the middle of the awards season horse race, and with his company in perilous financial shape, a big splash at the Oscars might help attract more capital and divert attention from his economic woes. Weinstein already has a film version of Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’ due in November to go with his recent Woody Allen success ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona,’ but neither one is a best picture shoo-ins. ‘The Reader,’ as the Reporter points out, has the kind of pedigree that could put it front and center in the Oscar conversation.

Rudin isn’t in such a rush. He genuinely doesn’t see the film being ready in time and has plenty of Oscar contenders already at the starting gate, notably Sam Mendes’ ‘Revolutionary Road’ (which stars Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio) and John Patrick Shanley’s ‘Doubt,’ which stars Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman. With all that best acting talent already in the room, having a third Rudin-produced film could create a lot of unnecessary awards-season congestion.

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I’m betting that cooler heads will prevail. On the other hand, the last time Weinstein and Rudin crossed swords--over Daldry’s ‘The Hours'--all hell broke loose for a while, with Weinstein demanding editing fixes and going to Paramount behind Rudin’s back to try to get the film’s Philip Glass score tossed out. Rudin ended up being so furious with Weinstein that he sent the then-heavy smoker a giant cache of cigarettes, urging him to smoke away. Maybe all these machinations will melt away in good time, but you never know--sometimes where there’s smoke, there’s fire.


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