Cannes: How Weinstein Won ‘Iron Lady’ Bidding War, and Its Oscar Strategy

TWC’s Oscar strategy: buy “Iron Lady” after an all-night bidding war with Universal, Searchlight, Summit and others

Those who paid attention at The Weinstein Company’s cocktail party at the Martinez Hotel in Cannes on Friday could probably figure out its early Oscar strategy.

Here’s the biggest hint: the company bought “Iron Lady” early Friday morning after an all-night bidding war with Universal, Searchlight, Summit and others.

Which means: They needed an Oscar movie.

The 2011 slate, starting with “My Week With Marilyn,” was still missing can’t-miss Oscar bait before this morning.

The studio showed clips from “Marilyn,” with a star-studded cast including Michelle Williams as Herself, Kenneth Branagh, Dominic Cooper and Emma Watson. It looked good, though not Great. For that movie to succeed it has to have a killer performance by Williams, which has got to somehow displace — or else channel — Marilyn herelf. The cinematography was beautiful, but it was hard to see an emotional core at the heart of the movie.

Meanwhile, Harvey Weinstein seemed most excited about another new acquisition of the day, “Dragon,” (“Wu Xia”) by director Peter Chan, which is screening out of competition. The entire cast was there to mark the moment, and the scene of mind-and-body bending martial arts went on and on and involved a very sharp samurai sword. We all gasped a lot.

TWC also screened bits of “My Idiot Brother,” which the company acquired at Sundance, a documentary called “The Bully Project” about bullying, and an unusal black-and-white, silent film – also not-quite-yet acquired here in Cannes – called “The Artist.” (I asked an acquisitons executive if TWC had the movie, since they showed a clip. The answer came, “Close.”)

And Sarah Jessica Parker was on hand to promote her film, “I Don’t Know How She Does it,” about an overworked career mom dealing with all the things all of us overworked career moms deal with – except with Greg Kinnear as her husband and a much, much better wardrobe. Also: punchlines.

Meanwhile, the “Iron Lady” bidding went on all night, I was reliably told by someone involved in the process. Pathe and the movie’s producers showed a clip to numerous distributors, and many were interested.

Universal, which distributed “Mamma Mia” to great success with the same director and star, was a front-runner throughout, and deeply wanted the film.

In the end, Weinstein won out. The official version: Harvey’s strong history with Meryl Streep. (But I’m not that convinced; perhaps the producers wanted to bet on the guy who knows how to win Oscars.) I’m told they paid around $5 million for the U.S. rights.