By Eugene Hernandez | Indiewire September 15, 2009 at 5:15AM
In a deal reminiscient of last year's swift Toronto sale of "The Wrestler," CAA staged an all night negotiation, selling U.S. and German rights for Tom Ford's "A Single Man" to The Weinstein Company after the film's first fest screening here. TWC will release the film this year, making it an immediate awards season contender, particularly in the best actor race.
The 34th Toronto International Film Festival has crossed the midpoint, five days down and five days to go for the festival that concludes on Saturday. Critically speaking, a handful of films -- three that explore a middle-aged male haze -- immediately emerged as favorites over the first weekend, but many of others arrived in Toronto with momentum from other festivals. Meanwhile, on the business side, deals have been scarce thus far. Yet, while not many are expected, negotiating kicked up overnight with the TWC buy.
Tom Ford's "A Single Man" came to the festival last night with significant buzz after a rousing welcome at the Venice fest last week where it was an unexpected hit. The fact that the film wasn't in Telluride, and won't be at the New York Film Festival, made it a rare, high profile Toronto fest exclusive with heat. Based on a Christopher Isherwood novel of the same name, it stars Colin Firth as a fifty-something man at a turning moment in his life after the death of his longtime lover. Writing about the film over the weekend for indieWIRE, Shane Danielsen praised the movie, Firth won the best actor prize in Venice on Saturday and buzz intensified leading to Monday's debut.
Last night, at Ford's intimate and beautifully crafted party for this stylish and striking movie, groups of buyers worked the room and, despite a distinctly gay storyline, there was little doubt that this universal story of middle-aged lonliness and isolation in the 1960s would quickly find a home.
Harvey and Bob Weinstein were at one end of Jamie Kennedy's restaurant at the Gardiner Museum, while Daniel Battsek and a team from Miramax were in another, Howard Cohen and Eric D'Arbeloff from Roadside Attractions and Eamonn Bowles from Magnolia Pictures rounded out the roster of industry folks who casually mingled with celebrities including Firth, Julianne Moore, Clive Owen and others. CAA sold the film quickly for a U.S. release; IM Global is handling international.
"We sold it last night and I made back my money," Ford told indieWIRE today. "We've sold it in America and we've also sold it in most of the rest of the world. It will be out this year."
Of the other larger new movies with distribution, Jason Reitman's "Up In The Air" and the Coen Brothers "A Serious Man" are the unqualified, must-see mainstream movies, so far. Bolstered by strong buzz out of Telluride last weekend, Reitman's latest has observers expecting big things come fall awards season. With George Clooney in the lead as an untethered 40-something and Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick as new women in his life in supporting roles, it will open in November boasting a mix of comedy and drama that evokes the work of James L. Brooks. "Up In The Air" is the sort of broadly appealing holiday season film that could satisfy boomers and younger generations alike. A smart film for much of the family. Most observers seem to think it will be among Oscar's top ten.
And Reitman, who spoke with a touch of anxiousness when he sneaked the film for folks in Telluride, confidentally found his voice by the time he debuted the movie to tremendous acclaim here in Toronto this weekend. Harvey Weinstein cornered Reitman today at the Varsity theater, where press and industry screenings run all day, praising the filmmaker for his three features, singling out this new film. Even art film aficionados, especially forty-something men, were almost apologetic when admitting their love of the movie here. It caught a lot of people off guard.
A "Serious" Contender
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen's "A Serious Man" is another film that's drawing broad praise (and it's quickly becoming a surprising contender for one of those ten Oscar spots as well). The film, which opens with an ancient Hebrew fable, eventually ends up in the late '60s life of a particularly tortured middle-aged Jewish man in Minneapolis. A largely unknown cast of standouts inhabit the Coen's vibrantly depicted Midwestern American scenes. At this point, it's a bit hard to rank this film among the Coen's other work. However, comparison's to "Barton Fink" have been frequent and it's easy to imagine this most personal of their first fourteen features someday being seen as among their very best, at least so far.
In the halls of the Park Hyatt Hotel here this weekend, Focus Features CEO James Schamus was positively beaming when talking about the film. "It's pure cinema," he exclaimed both excitedly and respectfully. His colleagues at the company may not quite have realized what they had on their hands until the movie played so well here this weekend. By Sunday, a hired gun working on the release cautioned me optimistically, "Remember, when 'No Country For Old Men' premiered no one expected it would go all the way." We shall see.
At IFC's bustling annual French bistro dinner for filmmakers, critics, programmers and bloggers last night, some folks buzzed about their favorite movies, while others groused that nothing had yet grabbed them here at the festival. Even so, the company announced a deal today for Nicolas Winding Refn’s "Valhalla Rising."
Movies from Cannes seem to be the ones garnering a lot of the buzz here. Some insiders got a first look at Jacques Audiard's "A Prophet," with a number of people singling it out as a top Toronto choice.
Multiple folks singled out Erik Gandini's "Videocracy" about Silvio Berlusconi as a new fest highlight and a number of others heaped praise on Lu Chuan's "City of Life and Death" from China.
An insider noted that Don Argott's well-received doc, "The Art of the Steal," has a pair of offers on the table, with an extra screening of the film added.
Throughout the day yesterday, insiders were buzzing about the dearth of deals here at the festival, but a few films are considered to be in play as the fest heads into the home stretch and some executives started leaving the fest.
Chatting with indieWIRE, one company head said that there are films screening in the Toronto fest that five years ago would have sold immediately. Another distribution company chief found it curious that buyers were holding back so cautiously with some strong films up for grabs. The president of another company was less enthusiastic about this year's fest crop, saying that if he'd seen something he loved, he'd have bought it.
Surveying the fest's biz buzz titles yesterday, Anne Thompson highlighted Aaron Schneider's "Get Low, Venice Golden Lion winner "Lebanon," Atom Egoyan's "Chloe," Niki Caro's "Vintner's Luck" and others.
Wandering at the Varsity multiplex this afternoon, former William Morris Independent head Cassian Elwes was philosophical about the prospects for new Toronto titles. "Everything will sell, eventually," he said.