Brian Brooks is a Deadline contributor.

Woody Allen joins the summer Specialty newcomers this weekend with his anticipated Blue Jasmine, starring Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin and Sally Hawkins. The Sony Classics release marks a return to America and possibly another hit at the box office following his recent titles To Rome With Love and Midnight In Paris (which is his b.o. record to date) and possibly some awards nods later this year. CBS Films is going for it with a hefty weekend bow of its comedy The To Do List, which it financed targeting a predominantly female audience. Veteran Hong Kong director Johnnie To is making rare press appearances in support of his crime-drama Drug War for Well Go USA and Variance Films, which will have an exclusive New York run its first weekend, while Gravitas Ventures will roll out Apartment 1303 3D with Mischa Barton and Rebecca De Mornay in over a dozen markets in both 3D and 2D formats. Also joining the group of limited release newcomers are Oscilloscope’s Toronto ’12 drama Wasteland from first-time director Rowan Athale and China Lion’s stylish Tiny Times, which made a splash at the box office when it opened earlier this summer in mainland China.

Blue Jasmine
Director-writer: Woody Allen
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Sally Hawkins, Andrew Dice Clay, Tammy Blanchard
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Woody Allen’s latest Blue Jasmine is the fifth film in a row (and sixth overall) the veteran filmmaker has released with Sony Pictures Classics, of which 2011 Oscar-winner Midnight In Paris scored the highest domestic box office total to date with over $56.8 million (and the filmmaker’s most successful box office title overall), while last year’s To Rome With Love racked up nearly $17 million. His latest film is a strong awards contender, especially for Cate Blanchett and Sally Hawkins who have received attention in the lead-up to the film’s roll out this weekend, though SPC says awards talk is still too early. “We don’t put the cart before the horse,” said co-president Michael Barker. The drama centers on a woman (Blanchett) who faces a crisis and heads to San Francisco to live with her sister (Hawkins). “[Woody Allen] showed us a cut of the film and we took to it immediately and we felt — and [producer] Letty Aronson agreed with us — that it would be a fresh movie to open in the middle of the summer,” said Barker. “When you see a movie like this your initial instinct is to open it in the fall because that’s the time a certain type of movie opens. But this seems like a perfect summer movie because it’s a perfect change from these overblown films out there now.” Barker pointed out that Midnight In Paris opened in May, not only performing strong at the box office, but also receiving multiple Oscar nominations. “It isn’t necessarily a bad thing to open film early and have it be remembered,” added Barker. “His early films like Annie Hall and Hannah And Her Sisters are also examples…”

Sony Classics will open Blue Jasmine in six theaters, including four in New York as well as two Los Angeles locations in its initial run. Midnight also bowed in six theaters where it grossed nearly $600K for a huge average just short of $100K. To Rome With Love debuted in 5 theaters, grossing over $360K and averaging $72,272 its first weekend. It will head to San Francisco, Chicago, Washington, D.C. the following week and continue to expand over the next month. Barker said the title will go wide at a date still to be determined but in the range of six weeks from its initial roll out. “It’s an exciting process to go with in him,” said Barker. “He’s in peak form and the cast is so spectacular, down to the smallest role.”

The To Do List
Director-writer: Maggie Carey
Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Johnny Simmons, Bill Hader, Alia Shawkat, Sarah Steele, Scott Porter
Distributor: CBS Films

Made for $1.5 million, the team behind The To Do List initially went to the studios hoping for a bigger budget. When that didn’t materialize, the script headed to the Austin Film Festival which features a scriptwriting focus. “We decided to work on micro budget range,” said producer Jennifer Todd. “Maggie’s agent also works with Brian Robbins and works with CBS Films to do low budget comedies so we brought it there which was great.” CBS Films financed the film in 2011 and the shoot began that summer. “We didn’t have a casting director, but Maggie has a lot of relationships so she reached out [to actors] directly,” said Todd. “The script was strong and was a funny read and most people just said ‘yes’. And once you get a few people, others come.” The romantic-comedy centers on Brandy Klark who feels pressure to become more experienced sexually and makes a list of things to accomplish before hitting campus in the fall.

“You don’t think of the ’90s as a period film, but it was a challenge on this budget level,” added Todd. “It’s funny to think of the ’90s as a period film but it is. We shot the film in mostly San Fernando Valley. I think half the crew was in the pool between shoots. If you really want to be hot, shoot in Woodland Hills in July. I think it was the hottest shoot ever.” Despite the relatively small budget, the film’s distributor plans a broad release for the film, making it the biggest initial release for a Specialty this summer in terms of theater count. “The film may have only cost $1.5 million to make but it plays like a big broad comedy so the 591 initial release was designed to drive word of mouth and help establish awareness/word of mouth around the film,” said CBS Films exec Grey Munford. “On Monday we’ll look at the results from the weekend. Where did it play best? Did females 17 – 34 make up our core audience etc.? And then determine next steps from there.”

Drug War
Director: Johnnie To
Writers: Ryker Chan, Ka-Fai Wai, Nai-Hoi Yau, Xi Yu
Cast: Louis Koo, Honglei Sun, Yi Huang, Michelle Ye
Distributor: Well Go USA/Variance Films

Well Go USA first saw Hong Kong filmmaker Johnnie To’s Drug War at the Cannes Film Market and teamed up with Variance Films, which it has partnered with on previous titles including Let The Bullets Fly (2010). “They freaked out and so did we,” said Variance’s Dylan Marchetti. “Johnnie To is a master filmmaker, though he has not been appreciated for his talent in America. Unlike a lot of Hong Kong action films, there is a real story in Drug War. If someone takes out a gun in a Johnnie To film, you know why they’re doing it.” The crime drama revolves around a drug cartel boss who is arrested in a raid and is coerced into betraying his former accomplices as part of an undercover operation. “The final gun fight is the best I’ve seen since [Michael Mann’s] Heat,” added Marchetti.

To is doing press in support of Drug War, which is a rarity, according to Marchetti due to his packed filming schedule which typically amounts to two or three films per year. Genre fans are its natural base, but the distributors hope to appeal to the “upscale art house” audience as well. “It’s very well done and very accessible and more so than any other I’ve worked on,” said Marchetti. The distributors are taking the slow approach for Drug War, opening exclusively at New York’s IFC Center this weekend, hoping word-of-mouth will propel the title further. It will open Los Angeles the following weekend and will head to more North American cities on August 9 with an expected 15 – 20 markets on August 15.

Apartment 1303 3D
Director-writer: Michael Taverna
Writer: Kei Oishi (original story)
Cast: Mischa Barton, Rebecca De Mornay, Julianne Michelle, Corey Sevier, John Diehl
Distributor: Gravitas Ventures

The 3D and genre components weighed heavily in Gravitas Ventures decision to pick up Apartment 1303 3D from sales agency MonteCristo, which also produced the feature. Starring Mischa Barton and Rebecca De Mornay, the thriller is a modern ghost story which turns a love/hate relationship between mother and daughter into a tale of horror. “The other attraction to the film is that it’s based in a Japanese book, and this is the re-make, so we’re already dealing with a built in fan base,” said Gravitas exec Melanie Miller. “The 3D component gives it broader commercial appeal so that is a driving force to general audience appeal.” Miller noted that the film has done strong business overseas, including $5 million in Russia.

Gravitas Ventures will take the movie out in both 3D and 2D formats this weekend, hitting 20 markets including the Chinese Hollywood and AMC Empire in New York. This will be the first simultaneous 3D and 2D release for Gravitas. The company has also created a 3D poster, known as a ‘lenticular,’ which it hopes will raise awareness of the feature as it heads to theaters and eventually VOD. It will expand the title based on performance.

Director-writer: Rowan Athale
Cast: Matthew Lewis, Iwan Rheon, Timothy Spall, Luke Treadaway, Vanessa Kirby
Distributor: Oscilloscope

Crime drama Wasteland had its world premiere at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival where Oscilloscope caught the screening and picked up the title shortly after the festival ended. It centers on a young convict who is recently released and recruits three of his friends to rob the local drug kingpin who is responsible for his incarceration. “You don’t see a lot of heist movies anymore, especially ones done well,” said Oscilloscope co-head David Laub. “It’s stylish, but the audience also gets involved with the characters personally, which adds a layer of interest.” O-scope picked summer for Wasteland‘s release because its “fun” qualities fit with the season. The company has been hitting social media hard in the run up to its roll out, targeting the actors’ fan bases. ” Early reviews have praised the film,” added Laub.

First-time director Rowan Athale became a “hot property” according to Laub at the festival, eventually being picked up for representation by William Morris. Noted Laub: “He’s going off to make projects that are bigger. It’s a major debut.” Wasteland will open at Cinema Village in New York and the Laemmle Royal in L.A. and will expand from there.

Tiny Times 
Director-writer: Guo-Jinming
Cast: Mi Yang, Amber Kuo, Ke Zhendong, Rhydian Vaughan
Distributor: China Lion

A niche distributor of Chinese fare, China Lion quickly picked up mainland title Tiny Times after becoming a hit at the box office there, grossing over $80 million since its release June 27. The company’s president, based in Beijing, approached Dessen Media and Star Ritz Media, which produced the film. “The novel is baed on a novel by Jinming Guo who is one of the most popular novelists in China now,” said China Lion’s Robert Lundberg. “We finalized [the deal] a couple of weeks ago and wanted to get it out in theaters ASAP.” The film centers on four friends who try to move forward in their work and personal lives against the backdrop of the Shanghai fashion world. “The production company is planning a number of sequels based on the film,” said Lundberg. “It’s a mix of The Devil Wears Prada and Sex And The City. It’s a colorful film that speaks to a female audience.” The film stars a mix of Taiwanese and mainland Chinese stars, which is something that would have been nearly impossible in the past. China Lion will open the film in Toronto, Los Angeles and Vancouver where it has a strong grassroots outreach and will expand from there.