Remembering Anthony Minghella

Anthonyminghella_lBritish filmmaker Anthony Minghella, who died Tuesday at 54, always seemed like an anachronism, though he hit his stride in the mid-’90s with both critics and audiences. He helped define the industry’s cutting edge by creating films that were gloriously old-fashioned. The kind of movies he specialized in — sweeping period dramas based on tony literature — were the kind of movies Hollywood had all but abandoned by the mid-’90s. Yet Minghella’s success with such movies (particularly 1996′s The English Patient) made Miramax an Oscar factory and helped effect a shift in power from the major studios to the art-house distributors.

Minghella directed only six features (a seventh film, a feature-length TV pilot for a BBC series based on Alexander McCall Smith’s novel The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, was recently completed), but almost all of them made a big splash. All of them were unusually literate, including the romantic comedies that were his first two films: Truly Madly Deeply (which posited that, if the dead came back, they’d spend their time watching classic movies) and Mr. Wonderful (in which blue collar New Yorker Matt Dillon learns to appreciate ex-wife Annabella Sciorra’s yearning for a more literary, academic life). For his third film, however, he shifted away from these small-scale romances for a sprawling epic based on Michael Ondaatje’s seemingly unadaptable novel The English Patient. The film was a huge gamble for Miramax, with its $27 million budget (big money for an indie film in those days) and relative lack of star power (Kristin Scott who?), but it paid off with a worldwide gross of $232 million and nine Oscars (out of 12 nominations), including Best Picture and Best Director for Minghella.

addCredit(“Anthony Minghella: Ryan Born/WireImage”)

MInghella followed up with two more sweeping literary period dramas,The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) and Cold Mountain (2003). Both wereglossy, Oscar-baiting movies with big philosophical ideas dramatized inaudience-friendly ways with attractive, A-list stars. Ripley was widelyhailed, Cold Mountain less so (though it also grabbed a slew of Oscarnominations and won one for supporting actress Renee Zellweger). Hisreturn to present-day tales with 2006′s Breaking and Entering (hisfirst film not based on a book since 1993′s Mr. Wonderful) was evenless eventful; it barely made a ripple with critics or audiences. Whoknows whether Ladies Detective Agency would have put his career back ontrack, or whether he would have returned to the formula that made him aname director, but the successes of recent movies like Atonement andThe Hours owe much to the template he created.

I met Minghella when English Patient came out. He was thoughtful,cheerful, modest, and he thought it was no big deal that he had taken aseemingly unfilmable novel, made it into a smart but accessibleromantic epic, and in the process revived a genre thatHollywood had given up on. He’d simply made the movie he wanted tomake. He seemed little aware of the seismic shift he’d just effected —that he’d made the multiplex safe once again for grown-ups. Hopefully, it can stay that way without him around to lead by example.

CORRECTION: We accidentally published the wrong photo with this item before replacing it with the photo above. Our apologies, and thanks to the sharp-eyed among you who caught the mistake.

Comments (28 total) Add your comment
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  • em

    em why is there a pic of Sting from Dune up there?

  • Nix

    Was it not three weeks ago people were dismissing “Atonement” as “this year’s English Patient” == the epitome of “middlebrow Hollywood epics”? I swear, this game of who’s got cred is not one I want to play. I’m siding with Minghella. If that’s the kind of movies he wanted to make, and he was happy with that, then hail and godspeed, I take my hat off to thee, sir.

  • Jennifer

    So, did Minghella have soemthing to do with “Dune” and it was just left out of the article? ‘Cuz I don’t remember codpieces in “The English Patient.”

  • Stephanie T.

    Exactly, EM. What’s the connection between Anthony and Sting in a Superman diaper?

  • Paul Attreides

    I am glad I am not the only one confused by the picture of Sting as Feyd-Rautha.

  • Charles

    em, I’m with you. I had no interest in the others movies discussed but I read through the whole article to find out what Sting in “Dune” had to do with it. Must have been the old Bait and Switch strategy…

  • aa

    I for one like the pic of Sting. I think there should be far more pictures of random half naked men in obituaries.

  • Stef

    I am now inspired to leave specific instructions in my will that my photo in my obit will be that of Sting in Dune. Or perhaps Arnold in Terminator. Perhaps as Gene Hackman in Young Frankenstein.

  • FM

    Oh, oh, oh… it’s a 6 degrees thing.
    Okay, Sting took his name form his early days of wearing a Yellow and Black sweater, like a Bee… Muhammed Ali coined the term “Float like a Butterfly, Sting like a Bee”… Ali is well know for being a man of perseverence and conviction… linking him to Minghella, who made his films ‘his way, no matter the mood of the general cinema establishment’.
    It’s so clear now.

  • FM

    Oh, oh, oh… it’s a 6 degrees thing.
    Okay, Sting took his name form his early days of wearing a Yellow and Black sweater, like a Bee… Muhammed Ali coined the term “Float like a Butterfly, Sting like a Bee”… Ali is well know for being a man of perseverence and conviction… linking him to Minghella, who made his films ‘his way, no matter the mood of the general cinema establishment’.
    It’s so clear now.

  • Anonymous

    I guess when someone like this passes you are supposed to express flowery sentiments about his life’s work. I know he was highly regarded, but his movies didn’t do it for me (I cannot hear or think of the English Patient w/o Elaine Benes making her gag reflex inside my head). I think Sting would agree with me.

  • Owen

    I’m guessing that there’s a blog about the new remake of “Dune” (yes AGAIN, this time Peter Berg is directing) and they used a pic from the early 80′s version. It was announced in today’s Variety. Do we NEED another Dune?

  • Owen

    I’m guessing that there’s a blog about the new remake of “Dune” (yes AGAIN, this time Peter Berg is directing) and they used a pic from the early 80′s version. It was announced in today’s Variety. Do we NEED another Dune?

  • Owen

    And they mixed up the pictures, that was the important part of my oddly doubled post..

  • Sarah C

    I guess I’ll be the first with the flowery sentiments. Just last night I watched Ripley with the director’s commentary, and Minghella was as funny and charming as someone can be in a DVD commentary. I fell asleep wondering what book he’d be adapting next. English Patient was meh, but it was my first Ralph Fiennes movie, so I’ll always be grateful if only for that.
    RIP.

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