Several Miramax titles have been re-issued on Blu-ray recently, including The English Patient (1996), The Talented Mr Ripley (1999), City of God (2002) and The Quiet American (2002).
After being formed in 1979 by Harvey and Bob Weinstein, Miramax grew from a small US indie distributor, releasing films such as The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball (1979), before becoming the dominant US ‘independent’ distributor.
By the early 1990s they saw acclaim with films like sex, lies, and videotape (1989) and The Crying Game (1993) but after being acquired by Disney in 1993, the company went into overdrive with hits such as Pulp Fiction (1994), The English Patient (1996) and Shakespeare in Love (1999).
With an eye for new talent, ruthless approach to rivals and an instinctive gift for marketing films, the Weinsteins almost perfected the art of appealing to Oscar voters.
Whilst there was controversy (such as the ongoing feud with DreamWorks) and misfires (54? Below?) they did actually produce some great films of the era and were also notable outlet for non-American directors such as Krystof Kieslowski and Denys Arcand.
By 2005, they had fallen out with their parent company Disney and formed The Weinstein Company with the help of Wall Street investors.
From 2005 until 2009 under successor Daniel Battsek, the company underwent a fascinating twilight period when they released landmark American movies such as No Country For Old Men (2007) and There Will Be Blood (2007).
But in 2010 Disney effectively shut down the company and it exists only as a distribution label within their major film division.
Earlier this year Lionsgate and StudioCanal signed a deal to distribute the 550 film Miramax library and in the last week several key titles have been made available on Blu-ray.
Here’s my take on the best that have recently be released in the UK:
- The English Patient (1996): Winner of 9 Oscars, including Best Picture, this adaptation of Michael Ondaatje’s novel is an incredible feat of screen writing. Somehow managing to weave several interwining stories of a Hungarian count (Ralph Fiennes), the woman he falls for (Kristin Scott Thomas) and the effects of their love affair on others, it shouldn’t work but does. Written and directed by Anthony Minghella, it also looks terrific, with cinematographer John Seale making great use of the North African desert and rural Italian landscapes. The performances are also memorable with Juliette Binoche and Willem Defoe both excellent in key roles. It is a film that really benefits from HD visuals and sound, although it is still a mystery as to why it wasn’t shot in 2:35. Notable extras on the disc include: a thoughtful audio commentary by Anthony Minghella, interviews with producer Saul Zaentz and editor Walter Murch (this was the first film edited on an Avid to win Best Editing) and a historical look at the real Count Almasy.
- The Talented Mr Ripley (1999): Adapting Patricia Highsmith’s 1955 novel might have been less tricky than his previous film but Anthony Minghella arguably went one step further with this rich and intelligent thriller. Starring a young Matt Damon in the title role, as an American con-man in Italy during the 1950s, it had a ridiculously good cast: Jude Law (in easily his best role), Gwyneth Paltrow, Cate Blanchett, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Jack Davenport. Visually the film was a treat – the film features some great production design – and it repays repeated viewings as the different layers of deceit provide much food for thought. The extras again feature a typically measured and thoughtful commentary by Minghella, cast and crew interviews and a feature on the soundtrack.
- The Quiet American (2002): After the watered down 1958 adaptation of Graham Greene’s novel, this version by director Phillip Noyce was much more successful. Set in 1950s Saigon, it explores the roots of the US involvement in Vietnam through the lens of a love triangle between an English journalist (Michael Caine), an enigmatic American (Brendan Fraser) and a local woman (Do Thi Hai Yen). Shot in the year before 9/11, it almost wasn’t released due to its subject matter but actually gained a new relevance in a new era of disastrous US foreign policy. The cinematography by Christopher Doyle is also outstanding. An audio commentary featuring Noyce and Caine is filled with details about the historical context and some candid insight into the production and release of the movie. Extra features include featurettes on the production and some cast interviews.
- City of God (2002): The stunning breakthrough film from Fernando Meirelles depicting organized crime in a suburb of Rio de Janeiro still holds up remarkably well. Filled with stunning camera work and editing, the use of street kids give it a remarkable sense of energy and colour. Whilst the raw portrayal of violence can be uncomfortable to watch at times, it marked the arrival of Fernando Meirelles as a director who would go on to make The Constant Gardener. Features are a little slim on the ground but include a conversation with the director.