Way back in 2008, Fox Searchlight jumped into Oscar action with Toronto pickup “The Wrestler;” it yielded two 2009 Oscar acting nominations for Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei. Similarly, having lost “Birth of a Nation” as a viable candidate, Searchlight picked up “Jackie” at TIFF 2016 and landed three nominations including Natalie Portman for Best Actress. Last-minute Oscar-hopeful buys are relatively rare; awards campaigns aren’t meant to be rush jobs. However, it sometimes pays to be opportunistic and the 2018 race looks like one of those years.
Eager to prove itself, rising indie Neon plunked down $5 million for North American rights to “I, Tonya” (December 8), even though Margot Robbie and Allison Janney will go up against intense competition in the two Actress categories.
That rookie energy also fueled Byron Allen’s Entertainment Studios, which not only scooped up John Curran’s Kennedy 1969 scandal flick “Chappaquiddick” at TIFF for $4 million, but also joined the crowded December 8 date. Allen gave the film a $16-million marketing commitment, which it will need against limited platform releases for “I, Tonya,” Guillermo del Toro’s Fox Searchlight title “The Shape of Water,” and Ridley Scott’s “All the Money in the World” for TriStar Pictures.
And The Orchard is opening its buzzy Toronto buy, writer-director-star Louis CK’s dark black-and-white comedy “I Love You, Daddy,” on November 17 in New York and Los Angeles, with an expansion on December 1. The father-daughter movie about a show business scandal also stars John Malkovich, Chloë Grace Moretz, Rose Byrne, Edie Falco, Charlie Day, Pamela Adlon, Helen Hunt, and Ebonee Noel. The distributor will look to drum up support for an acting or writing bid for C.K.
Another element tbehind the rush: Unusually for this time of year, the Best Actor race is wide open. That could inform an 11th-hour buy for Scott Cooper’s strong festival player “Hostiles”: Its financiers are revisiting their high asking price as the $50 million epic western seeks a distributor willing to make a serious bid for Christian Bale. As Capt. Joseph J. Blocker, he undergoes a tender and remarkable transformation from xenophobe to human being as he accompanies a group of Native Americans across dangerous frontier to their home. Rosamund Pike is also superb as a grieving woman who continues to fight her way forward despite losing her family.
My wager is Netflix will be the distributor that does not have to worry about betting the farm on an adult western during a very competitive theatrical timeframe, where the best screens are already booked. It would push “Hostiles” to more than 100 million subscribers in 190 countries around the world, and the group most likely to embrace an old-fashioned western well-told is the Academy.
For Chappaquiddick,” the Best Actor drought means an opportunity for Australian Jason Clarke (who also stars in Netflix Oscar hopeful “Mudbound) as Ted Kennedy in the movie written by Blacklist 2015 writers Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan. The film explores the details of how the young politician drove off a bridge and left from the scene, leaving behind his drowned friend Mary Jo Kopechne (Kate Mara). Australian athletic everyman Clarke is long overdue for awards attention, after earning praise in a wide range of films from “Zero Dark Thirty” to “The Great Gatsby.”
Also jumping into the Best Actor race is Weinstein Co., which is reigniting its awards passion for “Wind River” after “The Current War” and “The Upside” failed to ignite interest out of Toronto. “Wind River,” which proved to be a $30-million summer hit, stars Jeremy Renner as a grief-stricken father hunting a dangerous predator. A24 is pushing James Franco, who might have seemed an improbable awards thespian for playing Tommy Wiseau in “The Disaster Artist.” Universal is eyeing a campaign for Miles Teller for non-festival entry “Thank You for Your Service” (October 27) from “American Sniper” writer Jason Hall, making his directing debut. Teller is moving as an Iraq vet with PTSD who is trying to help his war buddies cope.
Other Best actor contenders are frontrunner Gary Oldman as British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in Joe Wright’s “Darkest Hour” (Focus Features), Andrew Garfield as polio survivor Robin Cavendish in “Breathe” (Bleecker Street), and Jake Gyllenhaal as a man who loses his lower legs at the Boston Marathon finish line in “Stronger” (Lionsgate).