Thirty years ago, former Orion Classics heads Michael Barker, Tom Bernard and Marcie Bloom created the independent arm of Sony Pictures Entertainment with full autonomy to produce, acquire and distribute films from cinema’s notable auteurs.
In the decades since, Sony Pictures Classics has picked up 158 Oscar nominations and 37 statuettes (41 in total for films helmed by Barker and Bernard). It has also made history: Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (2000) earned 10 Oscar nominations, the most ever for a non-English-language movie, and went on to win four trophies, including foreign language film. It also racked up $214 million at the global box office.
Aside from “Crouching Tiger,” the studio has amassed eight other best-picture-nominated films: “Howard’s End” (1992), “Capote” (2005), “An Education” (2009), “Midnight in Paris” (2011), “Amour” (2012), “Whiplash” (2014), “Call Me by Your Name” (2017) and “The Father” (2020).
Led by Bernard and Barker after Bloom suffered a cerebral hemorrhage in 1996, SPC has thrived by being diverse and inclusive without being self-congratulatory. This is just part of its DNA.
One example: Brazilian Fernanda Montenegro became the first Latina nominated for best actress for her powerhouse turn in Walter Salles’ “Central Station” (1998).
The indie distributor has been the greatest supporter of Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar’s LGBTQ stories and creative vision. “All About My Mother” (1999) won the foreign language film trophy, while “Talk to Her” (2002) won the original screenplay award after his home country snubbed it by submitting another film in the foreign language category.
It’s because of Barker and Bernard’s fearless leadership that veteran character actor J.K. Simmons (“Whiplash”) and legendary screenwriter James Ivory (“Call Me by Your Name”) have Oscars today. The same goes for the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, honored for playing author Truman Capote.
Barker and Bernard spotlighted the magic of Carey Mulligan in Lone Scherfig’s “An Education.” She received her first Oscar nomination for the film. They also showed the world how special Asghar Farhadi’s filmmaking is with his masterful “A Separation” (2011), and gave Hollywood a lesson in how to truly utilize Anne Hathaway’s depth of talent in one of Jonathan Demme’s final features, “Rachel Getting Married” (2008).
The indie arm managed to bring Germany’s “The Lives of Others” (2006) from Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck to the Oscar winner’s circle, despite the film being rejected by several notable festivals, including Cannes, Berlin and Venice. I still believe that Penélope Cruz nearly pulled off the actress win for “Parallel Mothers” (2021) after snagging a nomination that pundits thought would go to Lady Gaga for her “House of Gucci” performance.
The studio’s slate for 2022 is as dynamically rich as ever which has included the charming “The Phantom of the Open” with Mark Rylance and the documentary “Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams” from Luca Guadgnino. The main contenders exist in Florian Zeller’s “The Son” with Hugh Jackman, Oliver Hermanus’ “Living” with Bill Nighy, Mia Hansen-Løve’s “One Fine Morning” with Léa Seydoux and the musical docs “Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, a Journey, a Song” and “The Return of Tanya Tucker: Featuring Brandi Carlile.”
Read Variety’s list of the 25 best Sony Pictures Classics films of its first 30 years, along with a clip of the best scene from each film.
Honorable mentions: “Capernaum” (2008); “The Fog of War” (2003); “Frozen River” (2008); “House of Flying Daggers” (2004); “Indochine” (1992); “The Lives of Others” (2006); “The Lunchbox” (2014); “Moon” (2009); “Un Prophete” (2010); “Waltz with Bashir” (2008)