If the acquisitions frenzy and precedent-setting deals struck in Berlin and Cannes is going to continue, it will surprise many of the sellers who’ve come to the Toronto Film Festival to fill slots in their 2015 slates. Maybe it’s because there were so many spectacular deals this year, of perhaps it’s because Toronto 2014 is so stocked with studio films that star the likes of Robert Downey Jr, Bill Murray and Denzel Washington. Whatever the reason, acquisition titles seem to be lower key than last year, when Can A Song Save Your Life and Bad Words prompted overnight auctions and $7 million deals, and just about every movie that played here found distribution.
The deal action got underway yesterday and today with Relativity’s acquisition of The Woman In Black 2 and Saban Entertainment’s deal for fest title Tracers. All the ingredients for a continued buying surge seem to be there, if the films prove worthwhile. There was already a wide swath of buyers with money, and new ones including former Focus Features co-topper Andrew Karpen’s Bleecker Street; Harvey Weinstein is here and didn’t forget his wallet; and there are plenty of acquisition titles starring bankable names as Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, Jennifer Aniston, Julianne Moore, Michael Douglas, John Travolta and so many others.
Buyers I’ve spoken with tell me they’re in full “show me” mode, but that’s how they felt when they arrived on the Croisette. There, so many different kinds of staggering deals went down — from straight distribution acquisitions to pre-buys and commitments to fully fund packages — that there’s no reason to think there won’t be a ton of deals in the coming two weeks. I expect the dealmaking to get underway as early as tonight with the Midnight Madness premiere of Big Game. That stars Samuel L. Jackson as the president of the U.S., whose jet is downed by terrorists and whose life is in the hands of a 13-year-old boy, a pre-puberty John McClain with survivalist skills. “If this one doesn’t sell I’m quitting,” said WME Global chief Graham Taylor, who has 15 titles here including that one. The guys at CAA have about 28, if you include movies they’re pre-selling. Here are the fest titles I’m keeping an eye on:
Before We Go — Director: Chris Evans. Cast: Evans, Alice Eve. Over the course of an evening, two strangers form an unlikely bond based on the conflicts in their own lives. A big step forward in the emerging career of Captain America’s Evans. CAA/WME/Sierra Affinity brokering.
Big Game — Director-writer: Jalmari Helander. Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Jim Broadbent, Victor Garber, Felicity Huffman, Mehmet Kurtulus, Ted Levine, Ray Stevenson, Onni Tommila. Sam Jackson as the motherfucking president, forced to rely on a 13-year-old kid to survive? Hard to imagine this one’s going to stay untethered very long. WME Global selling.
Boychoir — Director: Francois Girard. Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Kathy Bates, Josh Lucas, Kevin McHale, Eddie Izzard, Debra Winger, Garrett Wareing. 12-year old orphan sent to prestigious music school filled with elite world-class singers. CAA selling.
The Cobbler — Director: Thomas McCarthy. Cast: Adam Sandler, Method Man, Dustin Hoffman, Steve Buscemi. Bored shoe repairman finds he’s able to step into the shoes of his customers, and he becomes them. I saw this, and if Sandler makes a few more of these, he’ll be on the track Robin Williams followed that allowed him to do dramas, comedies and films that encompassed both of those genres. WME Global and Voltage selling.
Cake – Director: Daniel Barnz. Cast: Jennifer Aniston, Anna Kendrick, Sam Worthington. Claire Simmons becomes fascinated by the suicide of Nina, a woman in her chronic pain support group. In the process of investigating, she develops a poignant relationship with the dead woman’s husband and processes her own tragedy. Hearing it’s a real step up for Aniston. WME Global and CAA selling.
The Forger – Director: Philip Martin. Cast: Christopher Plummer, John Travolta. Art prodigy buys his way out of prison to be with his ailing son. The price: he must forge a masterpiece for art thieves. The Solution, WME Global and ICM selling.
A Little Chaos — Director: Alan Rickman. Cast: Kate Winslet, Matthias Schoenaerts. They play two landscape gardeners in the court of Louis XIV. Lionsgate Intl and BBC Films selling.
Good Kill — Director-writer: Andrew Niccol, Cast: Ethan Hawke, January Jones, Zoe Kravitz. Former fighter pilot steers drones from his Las Vegas base and feuds with his wife the rest of the day when he’s not killing Taliban. Voltage and CAA are brokering.
The Keeping Room — Director: Daniel Barber. Cast: Hailee Steinfeld, Brit Marling, Sam Worthington. Three Southern women defend their home from the Union army while their husbands are off fighting in the Civil War. WME Global and Sierra are selling.
Madame Bovary — Director: Sophie Barthes. Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Paul Giamatti, Ezra Miller. The period France-set tale of a beautiful wife of a small-town doctor who engages in extra-marital affairs in an attempt to advance her social status. WME Global selling.
Manglehorn — Director-writer: David Gordon Green. Cast: Holly Hunter, Harmony Korine, Chris Messina, Al Pacino. An aging ordinary guy’s ex-con past surfaces as he tries to start over knowing he gave up the love of his life for a big job. CAA is selling.
Pawn Sacrifice — Director: Edward Zwick. Cast: Tobey Maguire, Peter Sarsgaard, Liev Schreiber. The classic match between Bobby Fischer and Russian powerhouse Boris Spassky. CAA selling with WME Global.
The Reach — Director: Jean-Baptiste Leonetti. Cast: Michael Douglas, Jeremy Irvine. Arrogant businessman and big game hunter in pursuit of his ultimate prize hires a young guide to lead him into the vast expanses of the American desert. When the hunter kills a man and the guide refuses to lie about it, the hunt really begins. WME Global and Good Universe are selling.
Ruth & Alex — Director: Richard Loncraine. Cast: Morgan Freeman, Diane Keaton. Long-married couple living in New York plan to move away. CAA and WME Global selling.
Time Out Of Mind — Director-writer: Oren Moverman. Cast: Richard Gere. Gere plays a New Yorker who enters a shelter when he runs out of housing options, then struggles to put the pieces of his life back together with his estranged daughter. Paradigm, ICM, WME Global and QED are on this one.
Top Five — Director-writer: Chris Rock. Cast: Rock, Rosario Dawson, Smoove, Gabrielle Union, Tracy Morgan, Cedric the Entertainer, Kevin Hart, Jerry Seinfeld, Adam Sandler, Whoopie Goldberg. Gotham comedian becomes a film star and has an unexpected encounter with a journalist that forces him to confront both his career and the life he abandoned. UTA selling.
While We’re Young — Director: Noah Baumbach, Cast: Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Amanda Seyfried, Adam Driver, Charles Grodin. Middle-aged couple’s career and marriage is overturned when a disarming young couple enters their lives. UTA selling.
The Search — Director-writer: Michel Hazanavicius. Cast: Berenice Bejo, Annette Bening, Maxim Emalianov, Abdul-Khalim Mamatsuiev, Zukhra Duishvili. The Artist director showed this at Cannes, but he’s done a major overhaul and has tightened it. Chechnya-set adaptation of 1948 Oscar-winner The Search, which follows an NGO worker who bonds with a small boy who’s been separated from his mother in the war-torn nation. CAA and Wild Bunch are selling.
Still Alice — Director-writer: Richard Glatzer. Cast: Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth. Cognitive psychologist faces the early onset of Alzheimer’s disease. CAA and Memento selling.
99 Homes — Director: Ramin Bahrani. Cast: Andrew Garfield, Michael Shannon. A father struggles to get back the home that his family was evicted from by working for the greedy real estate broker who’s the source of his frustration. CAA selling.
The Humbling — Director: Barry Levinson. Cast: Al Pacino, Greta Gerwig. Set on a farm in upstate New York and centered on the sexual (and otherwise) relationship between an aged, suicidal actor and a younger woman. ICM Partners selling.