Warner Bros. knocks out Miramax in Oscar studio race

NEW YORK (AP) On the eve of Harvey Weinstein's probable exit, Miramax Films was knocked out by Warner Bros. at the Academy Awards a bitter swan song for the man who built the trophy-grabbing studio. Warner's "Million Dollar Baby" took home four Academy Awards, including best director for Clint Eastwood, best picture, best actress for Hilary Swank and best supporting actor for Morgan Freeman The awards will almost surely considerably increase the box office haul for "Million Dollar Baby," which has not yet grossed even $70 million for parent company Time Warner since its December release. Still, Miramax's "The Aviator" garnered a leading five Academy Awards in what could be the last Oscar night for Harvey and brother Bob as co-chief executive officers of the studio. The moguls are currently negotiating their departure with Michael Eisner, CEO of Walt Disney Co., which bought Miramax in 1993 for $80 million. Perhaps symbolically, one of the primary schisms between Eisner and the Weinsteins has been their increasingly high-budgeted films, as opposed to the earlier, more traditionally independent fare. With its large budget and high-priced talent, "The Aviator" resembles previous (and more risky) Miramax ventures like 2003's "Cold Mountain." Disney also had a hand in the two Oscars won by Pixar Animation Studios' "The Incredibles," which won best animated feature and best sound editing. Disney distributed the film. But even that win is a painful one for Disney, whose distribution deal with Pixar ends after next year's "Cars." Pixar's win (its second in the four years of a best animated category), came at the expense of "Shrek 2" and "Shark Tale," both made by DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc. All of the animated movies, however, have made more than any of the best picture nominees: $259 million for "The Incredibles," $436 million for "Shrek 2" and $160 million for "Shark Tale." In his acceptance speech, director Brad Bird thanked Pixar and Apple CEO Steve Jobs for "making the best studio on the face of the earth." General Electric, parent company of Universal Studios, also scored with a best-actor win by Jamie Foxx for "Ray." The stakes for a potential post-Oscar box office boom were especially high: For the first time in 15 years, no best picture nominee had grossed more than $100 million. Academy Award wins also can increase a studio's luster in the industry. "It attracts talent," Paul Kim, an analyst for New York-based Traditional Asiel Securities, told the AP in January. "There are tangential benefits. You always want to be perceived as a talent-friendly organization." While the sun may be setting on Miramax, its Hollywood legacy could be seen elsewhere on Oscar night. Now all the major studios have set up divisions to produce similar low-budget but high-minded films, a new industrywide subsystem dubbed "Indiewood." The night's big winner, Warner Bros., has recently formed Warner Independent Pictures. And Fox Searchlight, which falls under Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. empire, is often compared to Miramax. Searchlight's "Sideways" failed to win best picture, but took home the award for best adapted screenplay. "We love Fox Searchlight for letting us make a film with complete creative freedom," said director Alexander Payne while accepting the award. Associated Press

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