Telluride: Eviction Stunner '99 Homes' Electrifies Fest, Igniting Hot Distribution, Oscar Buzz

After its smash international World Premiere in Venice, director Ramin Bahrani’s 99 Homesan absolutely riveting drama about the 2008 home foreclosure crisis — had its North American premiere here at the Telluride Film Festival, and it has set this place ablaze. Despite lots of interest, as there should be, from domestic distributors, Bahrani told Telluride Film Festival 2014 Lineuppete_hammond_300x100me immediately after this morning’s screening that the financiers behind the film are waiting until its Toronto debut next week to finalize anything. Starring Andrew Garfield and Michael Shannon in career-best performances, this movie is not only a no-brainer for a quick distribution deal, it could be the rare — here comes that five letter word you hate so much, studios — drama that also could be a commercial powerhouse. Few films I have seen in recent years have cut so close to the bone as this one does. Americans, in particular, will respond strongly, and if ever there was a word-of-mouth movie, this is it.

Related: Telluride: Jon Stewart’s ‘Rosewater’ Wins Standing Ovation At Festival

99-homes-andrew-garfield-2I asked Bahrani if he wants 99 Homes out in time for this year’s Oscar race, and he said yes. “Andrew Garfield and Michael Shannon will get nominated, so it has to be,” the filmmaker said. He cites the example of The Wrestler, which Fox Searchlight picked up after Toronto in 2008 and turned around quickly for a December debut and Oscar-qualifying engagement. Of course, Mickey Rourke went on to win a Golden Globe and BAFTA Award as well as a Best Actor nomination. If things come together for this film in similar fashion, it could upend the Oscar race as we currently see it. Bahrani is right when he says both of these actors should be nominees. Although they have wildly different acting styles, they mesh perfectly. Although the Best Actor race is impossibly crowded already — just including films seen this weekend in Telluride, we have Michael Keaton in Birdman, Benedict Cumberbatch in  The Imitation Game, Steve Carell in Foxcatcher, Timothy Spall in Mr. Turner, Gael Garcia Bernal in Rosewater — it would be hard to imagine Garfield’s work overlooked. And Shannon would instantly become the one to beat for Supportinggarfield-99-homes-28aug14-09 Actor. He’s just masterful as a crooked and opportunistic real estate broker who evicts Garfield and his family only to later seduce him into becoming his protégé in his dirty dealings. In other word, he makes a deal with the devil in order to survive. And Laura Dern as Garfield’s mother (also seen at Telluride in Wild) will be a very good bet for a Supporting Actress nom. She has a couple of killer scenes, particularly when the family is being evicted.

Related: Telluride: Weinstein Company Jumps Back Into Oscar Game With Strong ‘Imitation Game’ Screening

Any distributor looking to jump into the race at this late date should look no further. Your ticket to the Dolby just arrived. And awards possibilities for this edge-of-your-seat “humanistic thriller,” as Bahrani quoted one review out of  Venice saying, also include his original screenplay written with Amir Naderi and Bahareh Azimi, Directing and Picture. This is the first major movie to deal with this financial catastrophe, and its sheer topicality would thrust it into the race, even if the filmmaking here weren’t as first-rate and assured as it is. It is a major leap forward for the North Carolina-born Bahrani (his father hailed from Iran) since his last visit to Telluride with At Any Price two years ago. That film failed to ignite. This one is on fire, and it’s a true breakthrough for the writer-director of some lesser-known gems as Man Push Cart and  Chop Shop. The movie was dedicated to Roger Ebert, who befriended Bahrani and counseled him early in his career. The filmmaker said that when he visited Ebert in the hospital, he told him of this film’s story; it’s a shame Ebert didn’t live to see it. The dedication to the film critic is a classy move.

Related: Telluride: ‘Wild’ World Premiere Brings Tears And Oscar Talk For Reese Witherspoon

628x471At the post-screening Q&A moderated by Werner Herzog (who has appeared in shorts directed by Bahrani), the director said he was trying to avoid being overtly political and wanted a more human approach to a crisis that so deeply affected so many Americans. “The story and the subject and the setting itself, I think, is political enough. I think to add to it would be like putting sugar on a sundae,” he said.

Bahrani said that while writing the film, he went to foreclosure hearings in Florida (where the movie is set, though it was shot in New Orleans for tax purposes). “With realtors I went on evictions, with wildly rich hedge fund managers and crooks and thieves and hoodlums and swindlers. I remember I would go to foreclosure court with Lynn Szymoniak, who is a fraud attorney, and they tried to foreclose on her home and then she ended up leading a lawsuit against the banks to the tune of $90 million and won. Now she uses the money for charity work. They would call these courts the ‘rocket dockets’ because the cases happen in 60 seconds flat,”  he said.

“If you don’t speak English and you are Hispanic, the judge would say, ‘I’m sorry, we don’t have time for that,'” he continued. “After a while, the people started winning, and I turned to Lynn and asked, ‘What is going on?’ and she said, ‘The judge is seeing you with a yellow legal pad taking notes, and he thinks that because you are with me you are a reporter for the New York Times, so as long as you sit here people will win.’ After about an hour, I had to go to the next place to continue doing research, but I couldn’t go because I continued seeing another homeowner coming in, and I knew they would lose if I left. So I ended up being stuck there the whole day, conning the judge into thinking I was going to write a story.” As he points out , he did write a story, and it’s all up there onscreen now.

Distributors, start your engines.

  1. Oh, goodness. Of course someone will overpay for this. Downbeat drama, a refusal to confront the villains of the housing crisis, two actors no one outside of the festival elite give a damn about – oh, yeah! Now watch some mid-level distributor jumps in to play the Oscar lottery while flushing 35-50 mil down the toilet that could be used to hire actual workers or make a film that the audience really wants to see instead of some Oscar bait polemics.

    1. I have to agree. I really admire Pete Hammond, but he tends to gush about just everything he sees lately as “Oscar worthy.” This is September 1, Pete. Neither Michael Shannon (who nobody knows) nor Andrew Garfield (who couldn’t even open Spiderman) are going to be nominated. This may be an incredible movie, but the odds of it busting out from the art house circuit realistically are minimal. I know Pete is just trying to be supportive, but I fear it may backfire.

      1. Michael Shannon who was in Man of Steel but nobody knows him, huh? Spider-man is doing pretty well these days, even if the numbers aren’t quite where they were. Plus, this isn’t the type of movie that is banking on “star power” but on story. If the film is high quality, people will go out. I obviously haven’t seen the film, but if the writer has, it makes sense to go with what he (and many others) are saying about it until we actually see it ourselves.

  2. I am eager to see 99 homes it sounds fascinating and both Michael Shannon and Andrew Garfield are good actors. Looking forward to this one.

  3. Man, I’ve been waiting for a great movie about all of this.

    My friends lost their home to foreclosure. It’s been just disgusting to watch
    how these banks and mortgage companies worked behind the scenes to rip people off with so much fraud and not one person going to jail!

  4. If the movie is so good then it will get acquired. I saw it. It was probably my least favorite at TFF41. Michael Shannon is always great and I am an Andrew Garfield fan, but they will not get nominated. The movie is sterile and won’t make a dime. Garfield should sigh with relief because no one will see it. On a positive note I saw 13 films in Telluride and 99 Homes was my 13th favorite.

      1. What does that even mean? I bought a pass, I traveled to Telluride, I read about and then waited online for 99 Homes. I didn’t exactly suffer through it, but did spend most of the walk to my next movie agreeing with my fellow audience goers about the movie’s shortcomings and poor director choices. So now I am a drone for the “competition”? Who is the competition? This movie is bush league, unfortunately.

  5. C’mon naysayers, really now. It’s so long overdue to fully expose the wicked combine of banks, brokers, state & fed government, judges, lawyers, et al who continue to rape America. This relentless greed won’t stop until there’s nothing left, the point that’s now within range.

  6. Bahrani lost me after the offensive, cliche, horrifically all-around-bad AT ANY PRICE. Gonna be gun shy about giving him any more of my moviegoing time for a good while.

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