Brian Brooks is Managing Editor of MovieLine.

Two Cannes titles finally make it to theaters this holiday weekend in the specialty arena. Palme d’Or winner Amour has picked up critical accolades although its tough subject matter may prove a challenge for audiences. IFC Films’ On The Road has some star wattage from Kristen Stewart, Kirsten Dunst, Amy Adams and Garrett Hedlund in the screen version of the 20th century American classic. Also taking on some tough subject matter is Toronto’s The Impossible starring Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor based on a true story of survival during the 2004 tsunami. And Not Fade Away will roll out under the Paramount Vantage label after an extensive run at festivals and word-of-mouth screenings.

On The Road
Director: Walter Salles
Writers: Jose Rivera (screenplay), Jack Kerouac (novel)
Cast: Sam Riley, Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart, Kirsten Dunst, Tom Sturridge, Amy Adams
Distributor: IFC Films

This one has been a long time coming. Francis Ford Coppola first picked up rights to the On The Road novel in 1979 and served as executive producer on the film after asking Brazilian filmmaker Walter Salles to take on the project. Salles spent a good deal of time researching the period known popularly as the Beat Generation and even filmed a documentary about On The Road before undertaking the feature. Kirsten Dunst was the first to come on board a number of years ago and Kristen Stewart actually first joined before undertaking her first Twilight Saga installment. Into The Wild director Sean Penn suggested her. The feature screened this year at the Cannes Film Festival, but IFC Films picked up the title prior to its debut there. 

“We have been targeting both the arthouse crowd and a younger audience that will be attracted to the story of freedom,” said IFC Films exec Ryan Werner. “We have done an extensive screening program at places like the Morgan Library or with groups like the Young Lions. We have created Beat Week events in New York City and L.A. that have included readings, supper clubs, promotions at the Blind Barber in NYC, special screenings and a Beat dance party working with the Knitting Factory and Brooklyn Vegan.” The company has also worked with Penguin on a book tie-in and with record label Verve on the soundtrack and a Spotify tie-in. Social networking is also important and the result has been 100K likes on Facebook.

All the film’s major stars as well as Salles and screenwriter Jose Rivera have been “promoting the film non-stop,” noted Werner. “It’s been a remarkable experience to have them do so much publicity.” IFC Films is opening On The Road at Lincoln Plaza and IFC Center in New York and at the Arclight Hollywood and Landmark in West Los Angeles. The Arclight will also have a costume display and a classic Hudson auto from the period. On The Road will expand to additional locations January 18th.

Director-writer: Michael Haneke
Cast: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabella Huppert
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Amour has had a great lead-in to its holiday weekend release with great word-of-mouth, a Best Picture nod from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and a Palme d’Or win at the Cannes Film Festival in May and likely Oscar nominations next month. Haneke persuaded French actor Jean-Louis Trintignant to play the part of an elderly husband who cares for his ailing wife after she suffers a stroke. He had been doing theater in recent years and had not been on screen since Those Who Love Me Can Take The Train by Patrice Chéreau. “I didn’t want to act in films. I prefer the theater,” Trintignant said in Cannes. “But Haneke offered me this great opportunity. But I won’t do it again.” Trintingnant and Emmanuelle Riva, who plays his wife, have also won accolades. But it remains to be seen how a film that vividly depicts the decline that precedes a loved one’s demise will resonate with audiences, no matter how well told. “I never write a film to show something. Once you reach a given age, you have to contend with the suffering of someone you love,” Haneke said in Cannes. “It’s inevitable – in my family as well.”

His last film The White Ribbon totaled over $2.22 million domestically (also an SPC release) and $19.3 million worldwide back in 2009. Incidentally that film also won the Palme d’Or and Haneke is one of only a small handful of filmmakers with two wins of Cannes’ top prize under his belt. SPC opened Amour Wednesday in New York and Los Angeles and will head to major markets in the New Year with the next round of playdates starting January 11. The title will expand further in February.

The Impossible
Director: Juan Antonio Bayona
Writer: Sergio G. Sánchez
Cast: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin, Oaklee Pendergast, Marta Etura
Distributor: Summit Entertainment/Lionsgate

Summit had The Impossible in the works “for years,” according to Richie Fay, president of distribution for Lionsgate. Based on one family’s real experience, the film recounts the 2004 earthquake and subsequent tsunami that killed over 230,000 people in 14countries. “It’s an emotional movie about the tsunami,” said Fay. “But the issue is will you get [people] in seats?” The distributor said it hosted a series of word-of-mouth screenings commencing with a “good premiere” at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. “It’s a tough subject and I think we’re trying to impress our audiences that it’s a tragedy with an upbeat ending,” said Fay. “We have had the family [it’s based on] out there talking about the movie. They were on board since the beginning and have been happy to participate.” In its native Spain, the film grossed $52.5 million at the box office making it the country’s all-time highest grossing domestic film of all time.

The Impossible bows Friday in eight markets in 15 theaters including New York, LA, San Francisco and Toronto. On January 4th it will head to 300-plus locations and additional markets afterward.

Not Fade Away
Director-writer: David Chase
Cast: John Margo, Jack Huston, Will Brill, Dominique McElligott, James Gandolfini
Distributor: Paramount Vantage

Paramount first came on board Not Fade Away with writer-director David Chase two years ago after catching a glimpse of the script. “We read the script and we fell in love with it,” noted Paramount’s head of distribution Megan Colligan. “It’s a personal film for David and has a lot of personal touches. It’s a love letter to rock ‘n’ roll and it’s a key coming of age story.” The story revolves around a group of suburban New Jersey kids in the ’60s who form a band and try their hand at stardom. Paramount has been active getting the title out to festivals and other screening events ahead of its release this weekend “It’s not unusual for a specialty film like this,” added Colligan. “You do have to pound the pavement to find audiences. But people who love this musical [era] will really go crazy for this.”

Paramount Vantage will bow Not Fade Away at three locations in Lincoln Square and Union Square in New York as well as the Arclight in Hollywood this weekend. The feature will add 16 locations afterward and will expand into as many as 500 theaters January 4th.