Telluride is over and Venice is ebbing, where festival fever gripped journalists to the point it seemed like every movie that played there will win Best Picture. Now it’s Toronto’s turn to fall in love with awards season launches, and there is an acquisitions market going on that will see some big deals, though most likely not for films playing in the festival. Speculation about a tepid market hasn’t factored the volume of promo reels and script stage packages being shown to an inordinately high volume of studio brass here to launch awards films. This adds to all the general awards season buzz, which is focusing on whether Netflix gives Alfonso Cuaron’s ROMA a theatrical berth wide enough to allay those voters who’ve marginalized past entries from the streamer. That discussion should heat by the time Cuaron’s film bows Monday. It is a real contender, but it has to serve Netflix’s model because who else would have paid $25 million for a black & white foreign language film?
On the deal front, the hottest package is the Rian Johnson-directed whodunit Knives Out with Daniel Craig starring before he returns to James Bond 25. This one will likely be a whopper, with a domestic deal and a series of foreign pacts deals reminiscent of the 355 auction at last Cannes. Deadline just revealed another one in The Devil All The Time, the Antonio Campos-directed drama that has Tom Holland, Robert Pattinson, Mia Wasikowska, Chris Evans and Tracy Letts. There will be more, I’ve heard.
Movie selling has become a year round pursuit, as distributors including Amazon and Netflix would rather get in on the ground floor of a film and launch in Toronto with a marketing campaign, than wait to be wowed here. Many of the films premiering here without distributors probably didn’t land a deal when they were vamped in early iterations, and Toronto is their last chance for a rapturous response by a premiere audience and glowing trade reviews that could mean the difference between a theatrical release or a day and date berth with little or no P&A. Distributors are mostly full for Oscar season, so films here won’t likely be seen until 2019. Add to that that there are no new distributors out to make statement buys, and the prognosis for the fest films is probably no deals upwards of $5 million. Still, it sounds like a couple will pop. The following list is raw intel, a list that includes hot fest titles, some promos and script stage packages like Ruin, the Justin Kurzell-directed drama has Margot Robbie attached to star in a Black List script drama about a former Nazi captain who hunts and kills his team of SS officers in Germany. No guarantee these will be sold here, and some of the films could start fresh in the Sundance acquisitions market in January, or be held back till further into the future.
A MILLION LITTLE PIECES – Director: Sam Taylor-Johnson. Cast: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Billy Bob Thornton, Charlie Hunnam, Giovanni Ribisi, Odessa Young, Juliette Lewis. I’ve seen this one, based on the memoir by James Frey. Taylor-Johnson is pure intensity as a raging drug addict trying to get clean at a rehab, battling his counselors every step of the way. Remarkable for an under $5M budget drama. I was so moved I quit drinking after watching it. I didn’t really have a problem, but like the character, traced many dumb things I’ve done in my life to alcohol. Special Presentations, 1st Screening – Monday, September 10th, 8:45PM – Ryerson Theater.
AMERICAN WOMAN – Director: Jake Scott. Cast: Sienna Miller, Amy Madigan, Aaron Paul, Christina Hendricks, Will Sasso. A woman is followed over a decade as she raises her infant grandson after the disappearance of her teenage daughter. Special Presentations, 1st Screening – Sunday, September 9th, 9:30PM – Visa / Princess of Whales Theater
WILD ROSE – Director: Tom Harper. Cast: Jessie Buckley, Julie Walters, Sophie Okenedo. A singer from Glasgow dreams of making it big in Nashville. Could be this year’s I, Tonya, I’ve heard with the ebullience of Sing Street and a lead actress ready to pop. 1st Screening – Saturday, September 8th, 9:30PM, Ryerson Theatre
THE DEATH AND LIFE OF JOHN F. DONOVAN – Director: Xavier Dolan. Cast: Natalie Portman, Kit Harington, Jacob Tremblay, Kathy Bates, Susan Sarandon, Michael Gambon. An American movie star has a secret correspondence with an 11-year-old Londoner. 1st Screening – Monday, September 10th, 6:00PM – Winter Garden
DIVIDE AND CONQUER – Director: Alexis Bloom. The rise and fall the late Republican Party booster and controversial Fox News mogul Roger Ailes, who went down in flames amid multiple sexual harassment allegations. TIFF Docs 1st Screening – Sunday, September 9th, 9:00PM Scotiabank Theatre.
DRIVEN – Director: Nick Hamm. Cast: Lee Pace, Jason Sudeikis, Judy Greer. In 1980s California, the FBI work to gather evidence to ensnare car designer John DeLorean, with the help of a close friend who’s an ex-con-turned FBI informant. Special Presentations.
1st Screening – Monday, September 10th, 9:30PM, Visa / Princess of Whales Theater
EXTREMELY WICKED, SHOCKINKLY EVIL, AND VILE – Director: Joe Berlinger. Cast: Zac Efron, Lily Collins, John Malkovich. True story of serial killer Ted Bundy as a routine traffic stop spirals out of control when he’s brought up on criminal charges and imprisoned. Screening privately next week.
RUIN – Director: Justin Kurzeil. Cast: Margot Robbie. After World War II ends, a former Nazi captain hunts down and kills his team of SS officers in Germany. Pic starts production next March.
STAN AND OLLIE – Director: John S. Baird. Cast: Steve Coogan, John C. Reilly, Stephanie Hyam, Danny Huston. The film follows the legendary comedy duo during their 1953 variety hall tour of Britain which began with low attendance and eventually became a hit with old and new fans. Sales: Private screening next week.
VOX LUX – Director: Brady Corbert. Cast: Natalie Portman, Jude Law. A female pop star becomes successful through unconventional circumstances. 1st Screening – Friday, September 7th, 12:30PM, Elgin Theatre
GRETA — Director: Neil Jordan. Cast: Chloe Grace Moretz, Isabelle Huppert. A young woman who just lost her mother moves to NYC and helps a recently-widowed woman. Their relationship becomes Fatal Attraction obsessive as the older woman proves herself to be the scariest pal. Jordan delving into genre likely means a quick sale. 1st Screening — Thursday, September 6th, 11:59 PM, Ryerson Theater
THE WEDDING GUEST – Director: Michael Winterbottom, Cast: Dev Patel, Radhika Apte, Jim Sarbh. A mysterious, young British Muslim man makes a journey across Pakistan and India. 1st Screening – Saturday, September 8th, 1:00PM, Elgin Theatre
DESTROYER — Director: Karyn Kusama. Cast: Nicole Kidman. A police detective reconnects with people from an undercover assignment in her distant past in order to make peace. 1st Screening: Friday, September 7, 3PM, Scotiabank
HIDDEN MAN – Director/Cast: Wen Jiang, Zhou Yun, Lia Fan. Plot for this modern Wu Xia based on stories of Chinese martial arts heroes during the Japanese invasion of China in the 1930s. 1st Screening – Friday, September 7th, 9:00AM, Scotiabank Theatre
SHADOW – Director: Zhang Yimou. Cast: Deng Chao, Sun Li, Zheng Kai. Reinterpretation of a classic Chinese epic from the Three Kingdoms period. 1st Screening – Thursday, September 6th, 2:00PM, Scotiabank Theatre
COME AWAY – Director: Brenda Chapman. Cast: Angelina Jolie, David Oyelowo, Anna Chancellor. Origin story in which siblings Alice (before Wonderland) and Peter (before Pan) try to help their grieving parents after their brother dies, and finally choose between home and imagination. Might be a promo for a film in production.
CORPORATE ANIMALS – Director: Patrick Brice. Cast: Ed Helms, Jessica Williams, Demi Moore. Staff of Incredible Edible Cutlery attend a corporate team-building caving weekend. Disaster strikes, trapping them all underground, and the group struggles to survive amidst sexual tension, startling business revelations, and cannibalism. Pic just wrapped.
DOLOR Y GLORIA – Director: Pedro Almodovar. Cast: Antonio Banderas, Penelope Cruz, Asier Etxeandia, Julieta Serrano. An aging director reminisces about his life and past loves.
DREAMLAND – Director: Miles Joris-Peyrafitte. Cast: Margot Robbie, Finn Cole, Travis Fimmel. With his family’s farm ravaged by the Dust Bowl, a 15-year-old sets out to capture a fugitive bank robber and collect the bounty on her head. Pic just wrapped.
FONZO – Director: Josh Trank. Cast: Tom Hardy, Linda Cardellini, Matt Dillon. Notorious gangster Al Capone slips into LL: Chronicles the finals days of notorious gangster Al Capone as he succumbs to dementia and relives past through tormenting memories. Action before the film premieres at Sundance or Cannes?
LUCE – Director: Julius Onah. Cast: Kelvin Harrison Jr., Octavia Spencer, Naomi Watts, Tim Roth. Liberal husband and wife are forced to reconsider their image their adopted son, Luce, after he writes disturbing essay for a class assignment. Pic likely to premiere at Sundance.
A NEEDLE IN A TIMESTACK – Director: John Ridley. Cast: Leslie Odom Jr. , Freida Pinto, Cynthia Erivo. After an author travels through time and dismantles a marriage, the husband struggles to win back his wife. Project just wrapped and is strong candidate for Sundance bow.
THE NIGHTINGALE – Director: Jennifer Kent. Cast: Aisling Franciosi, Sam Claflin, Damon Herriman. A 21-year-old Irish convict called Claire chases a British soldier through the rugged Tasmanian wilderness, bent on revenge for a terrible act of violence he committed against her family. She enlists the services of an Indigenous tracker called Billy, who is also marked by trauma from his own violence-filled past. Premiered at Venice.
RED SEA DIVING RESORT – Director: Gideon Raff, Cast: Chris Evans, Haley Bennett, Greg Kinnear, Michael K. Williams. Espionage drama focusing on the rescue and transport of Ethiopian Jews to Israel in 1981. Reminiscent of Argo, the film has wrapped.
SECRET GARDEN – Director: Marc Munden. Cast: Colin Firth, Dixie Egerickx, Julie Walters, Eday Hayhurst. After being orphaned, a young girl is sent to live with her uncle, where she discovers a magical garden on the grounds of his estate. Pic has shaken loose of Global Road and is in post production and coveted by buyers, I’ve heard.
THE TAX COLLECTOR – Director: David Ayer. Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Bobby Soto, Cinthya Carmona, Chelsea Rendon. David is a devoted family man and “tax collector” for high ranking gang members, making sure the LA gangs pay their dues. But when an old enemy returns, all that David loves is threatened.
BITTERROOT – Director: Michael Gilio. Cast: Kevin Costner. An old rancher becomes a vigilante on a mission to recover his money after a million dollar sweepstakes scam cleans out his entire bank account. Another one free and clear of Global Road and looking for distribution before shooting early next year.
THE MARSH KING’S DAUGHTER – Director: Morten Tyldum. Cast: Alicia Vikander. A woman risks everything hunting down her father, a dangerous criminal who raised her to be a survivalist and threatens her life. In preproduction.
UNBOUND CAPTIVES – Director: Madeleine Stowe, Cast: Margot Robbie, Charlie Hunnam. May, living on the frontier in 1859, is nearly killed after a Comanche war party murders her husband and kidnaps her two children. May is rescued by Tom, a mysterious frontiersman, and he attempts to track down the war party and free the children. This was a famous script by The Last of the Mohicans star she wrote as a star vehicle for herself, and turned down a $5 million deal for a Ridley Scott film because she wasn’t guaranteed the job.