New films from Chris Rock, Chris Evans, Noah Baumbach and more find homes in Toronto
The 2014 Toronto Film Festival is winding down, so we should probably take a look at the sales that have come out of the market there. I've kept an eye on it over the last week, and for the most part, major studios are taking a pass. It's the smaller distributors that are cutting the most checks. But that didn't stop one massive bidding war from happening, leaving Paramount standing proud with a new Chris Rock comedy to show for it.
Rock's "Top Five" went over like gangbusters at the fest. HitFix's Greg Ellwood wrote that the comedian has hit a "career high" with the film, which appears to have a lot on its mind: the pains of sobriety, the current state of race relations, the lasting legacy of hip-hop, world celebrity, etc. Everyone got grabby and in the end, Paramount plopped down $12.5 million to secure the rights. That's high dollar, and producers Scott Rudin and Barry Diller must have massive smiles on their faces right about now.
It's possible the studio finds room to get the film out this year, too. Paramount has an ungodly amount of releases on the schedule already, but that's not to say that, say, "Hot Tub Time Machine 2" or something couldn't slide to 2015 if they really want this one out there in the ether. Awards or not (probably not), it's a movie that has stirred talk out of Toronto, so maybe striking while the iron is hot is the way to go.
Speaking of awards, I had a keen eye on Edward Zwick's Bobby Fischer biopic "Pawn Sacrifice" with Tobey Maguire and Liev Schreiber (from a script by Steven Knight) going into the fest. It seemed to have a lot of the hallmarks of a player, but it hasn't exactly set the fest on fire. Regardless of that, it found a home with Bleecker Street.
That was pretty much it for the major companies, as smaller distributors went fishing for the rest of the product available. A24 got into the mix by picking up Noah Baumbach's latest, "While We're Young," which has a number of thematic parallels to another film playing the fest, Jason Reitman's "Men, Women & Children." HitFix's Drew McWeeny was positive on it, writing that "little by little, the film starts to pick away at the very notion of hipster culture…suggesting that there is a pose being struck by these kids that hides an ambition that is frightening."
Lionsgate double dipped at the festival, landing the Michael Douglas/Jeremy Irvine thriller "The Reach" for the company's specialty shingle Roadside Attractions, and the Brian Wilson biopic "Love & Mercy" for the big banner. On the latter, McWeeny called it "one of the most original interpretations of the music biopic in recent years." Producer and financier Bill Pohlad made it his first directorial effort in over two decades and it went over well, drawing raves for John Cusack and Paul Dano, who play Beach Boys pioneer Brian Wilson at different stages in his life.
Elsewhere, I had been excited for Tom McCarthy's "The Cobbler" with Adam Sandler after the success of films like "The Visitor" and "Win Win." But it didn't seem to land all that well, some outright calling it a train wreck. Nevertheless, that didn't stop RLJ/Image Entertainment from seeing value in it. New kid on the block Saban Films ("The Homesman"), meanwhile, picked up a pair of thrillers: "Tracers" with Taylor Lautner and "The Forger" with John Travolta (the latter having reportedly drawn interest from A24 and The Weinstein Company before finding a home).
Sophie Barthes' "Madame Bovary" with Mia Wasikowska went to Millennium Entertainment. Ellwood was unimpressed with it in Telluride, finding particular fault with Wasikowska's ability to carry the load. EuropaCorp landed the sure-to-be-culty "Big Game" with Samuel L. Jackson. McWeeny positively adored that one, writing with confidence that director Jalmari Helander "is going to be writing and directing giant Hollywood movies and [is] going to be very, very good at it."
A few more. Captain America himself, Chris Evans, came to Toronto with his directorial debut "Before We Go," and he's walking out of there with a RADiUS deal in tow. Sony Pictures Classics got into the game, acquiring Giulio Ricciarelli's debut "Labyrinth of Lies" ahead of its world premiere this week. Arclight Films secured Eddie Tse's "The Deathday Party," while IFC grabbed post-WWII drama "Phoenix" for Sundance Selects.
Finally, HBO Documentary Films lapped up Nick Broomfield's "Tales of the Grim Sleeper," which bowed at Telluride before heading up north. I recently caught up with the film myself and was sort of bowled over by it. An investigation into the South Los Angeles "Grim Sleeper" murders told through the eyes of neighborhood witnesses, the film sucks you in. It's riveting for the perspectives provided by the subjects Broomfield talks to throughout, particularly a former prostitute named Pam Brooks, who basically ends up leading the filmmakers by the ears through the terrain and lands a crushing blow with the film's final line. Great movie.
Obviously, that leaves a few stones unturned. With such a weak Best Actress race this year, one has to imagine gears are turning on Jennifer Aniston's "Cake" and, particularly, Julianne Moore's "Still Alice." Everyone and their brother (including Ellwood) seems to think Moore has a fine opportunity to actually win the Oscar for the latter, so if any studios have a hole in their campaign plans, the time to strike is now.
And someone really needs to pick up Salma Hayek's passion project "Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet." With the animation talent involved (Oscar nominees Roger Allers, Tomm Moore and Bill Plympton, Oscar winner Joan C. Gratz), one has to imagine that branch would be climbing over itself to put it in the Best Animated Feature Film race. McWeeny loved it, after already having deemed a footage presentation at Cannes one of the highlights of that European fest. GKIDS?
We'll see how the acquisition game unfolds from here, but it's been fairly active. Again, not a whole lot of activity from the majors, but that's not uncommon. The minis are finding diamonds in the rough and setting up business strategies for plenty of indie offerings. It's nice to see that segment of the industry alive and thriving.
More from the Toronto Film Festival as it happens, right here at HitFix.