The effective closure of Miramax Films come January further depletes the supply of quality drama to US, and indeed, global audiences.

Miramax has six titles still to release and it is unclear how Disney will handle those films which include the horror movie Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark, Elton John animated musical Gnomeo And Juliet, Jennifer Aniston comedy The Baster and romantic drama Last Night (aka Tell Me) with Keira Knightley and Sam Worthington.

Now is a perfect time for independent companies to pick up the slack left in the wake of the studio withdrawal

The final two - John Madden’s The Debt and Julie Taymor’s The Tempest, both with Helen Mirren in the lead - should be prime Oscar contenders for 2010, although who will engineer the films’ campaigns is yet to be seen.

Ironically as Miramax was being dismantled, James Schamus, CEO of Focus Features chose last week to announce the six films so far in the Focus cannon for next year. As if to affirm the company’s ongoing production schedule - both to the industry at large and also perhaps to his bosses at GE and Universal - Focus laid out new films from Sofia Coppola, Noah Baumbach, Kevin Macdonald, Boden & Fleck and Anton Corbijn.

Other companies left standing in the specialty label carnage are old dependables Fox Searchlight and Sony Pictures Classics. Searchlight has prestigious titles lined up next year from Mark Romanek and Darren Aronofsky, while SPC has Tamara Drewe from Stephen Frears and Mother And Child from Rodrigo Garcia.
Right now, that’s about it for the prestige lineup from the major studios.

The main production divisions are avoiding the kind of intelligent dramas that have characterised the awards season for decades, and while 2010 will see new films from Martin Scorsese, Tim Burton, Ridley Scott and Paul Greengrass, all appear to be mainstream films rather than slow-burning specialty items.

With just a new James L Brooks comedy at Sony set for release this time next year, the 2010 awards season looks not just wide open but positively underpopulated.
Which leaves an opportunity for independent producers and distributors to grab the limelight in late 2010.

Now is a perfect time for independent companies to pick up the slack left in the wake of the studio withdrawal and hopefully build audiences for classy drama with the passion that the Weinstein brothers showed when they revolutionised the prestige business in the 1990s.

The Weinsteins themselves can’t be ruled out. TWC has so far steered through its financial troubles and next year already has two titles - The King’s Speech and Nowhere Boy - which have potential awards legs.

Bob Berney and Bill Pohlad’s Apparition should kick into gear after launching this year with Terrence Malick’s eagerly awaited Tree Of Life among its titles.
Summit and Overture are growing their businesses fast, and are bound to embrace further niche material as the opportunities proliferate.

Some promising new players are already emerging in a revitalised Newmarket Films, Consolidated Pictures Group, ATO Pictures, Paladin and Vivendi Universal.
And indie veteran Lionsgate, which occasionally plays in the awards game, has two aggressive pushes going on this year for Precious and Brothers, indicating a renewed taste for prestige pictures from the company which won the best picture Oscar in 2005 with Crash.

The loss of Miramax as a US partner for international films and producers is certainly a bleak moment, but there will hopefully be plenty of robust players - many of them independent - to step into the breach.