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Long before it opened, awards trackers pegged The Master as an Oscar darling. It had so many factors working in its favor. Paul Thomas Anderson was working with a prestigious cast, tackling a controversial subject (Scientology) for a movie that would be shepherded through the daunting awards marathon by Oscar guru Harvey Weinstein. Currently, The Master sits at $16M domestically, and while it earned three well-deserved acting nominations at the Academy Awards (for Amy Adams, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix), it missed out on categories we thought were shoo-ins: Picture, Director and Screenplay.

What happened?

Weinstein, himself, has some thoughts … and shoulders some of the blame. In a candid conversation with Deadline, the bullish studio executive admits that he “probably could have marketed it better,” and that he “probably should have prepared the audience.”
I think the audience had trouble with the movie and needed to be guided and eased into it,” Weinstein said. “I was so enamored with the film that I didn’t think the audience would have that trouble. Other people around me did say the audience would have trouble, but I personally loved the movie and Paul. Maybe I would have done him more of a favor being a devil’s advocate instead of a cheerleader. I seem to do better when I’m playing devil’s advocate. I do think the film will stand up and have a long life down the line.”

It absolutely should, and probably will once it hits DVD. But as for the Oscars, I also have to wonder if Weinstein faced a crossroads where he had to out his company’s “eggs” in one or two baskets, and he opted for the safer plays in Silver Linings Playbook and Django Unchained, both of which earned Best Picture nominations (as well as a Director nod for David O. Russell). The costs of running an Oscar campaign can skyrocket, and Weinstein might have seen the writing on the wall when it came to the uphill battle that was The Master. I think the three Oscar nods for the fantastic performances can be counted as a “win,” and Weinstein’s unwise to dwell too long on the “what might have been” question. What do you think?