One of the more talked-about and higher-profile movies that played the 2014 fall festival trifecta of Venice/Telluride/Toronto was director Ramin Bahrani’s intensely riveting 99 Homes. More that one year later, it finally is going to be released into theaters through new distributor Broad Green Pictures, and the official trailer just dropped (see above).
Going into those fests, 99 Homes had not locked domestic distribution, and it is not uncommon to play one or even two of them and still hold release for the next year. But generally if you are in all three of those high-profile festivals, an awards campaign is not far behind as they are considered a great launching pad, particularly for movies that come out of them with strong reviews and buzz. International rights are with Hyde Park, which financed the film with ImageNation, but Bahrani told me at the Telluride screening that he was holding back until it was seen in Toronto before making any deal for North America. When that $3 million deal with Broad Green was announced in mid-September, the decision was made not to rush it into an already overcrowded awards season (like another Toronto pickup, Chris Rock’s Top Five, did) and hold it for 2015. It will open September 25, a few weeks after the new round of contenders hits that all-important festival trifecta and the new awards season is rolling in earnest. But even though that kind of immediate fest heat will be off 99 Homes, Broad Green is no less enthusiastic about putting it in the mix and hoping it can gain traction, not just commercially — where I think it has great potential, going mostly into mainstream theaters rather than art house circuit — but also in the awards season.
I spoke to Bahrani about all this earlier in the week, and he’s not concerned about any loss of momentum for the film in that regard, even though it will be debuting a year after much of the entertainment press and insiders first saw the powerful film. Andrew Garfield, Laura Dern and Michael Shannon star in a timely story about a man who loses his home and then makes a deal with the devil to get it back by going into the dirty business of foreclosure with the shady real estate broker who evicted his family. “The one thing that we always forget because we are so in it is that audiences have no idea what we are talking about,” Bahrani said. “This trailer is going to be the first time most audiences have ever heard of this film. They are not following Toronto or Venice. For them it is brand new, and I am pretty stoked about it. The strategy and plan Broad Green has for the film is pretty impressive and really huge. I feel very confident about it.” The filmmaker also praised the team at Broad Green and noted that this film, like Whiplash and Beasts Of The Southern Wild, is increasingly the kind of independent movie that can sneak in and appeal to Oscar voters as well as the public. “We all see that what plays with the Academy is not studio films anymore,” he said.
I said it last year and will say it again: Shannon as the slick real estate titan deserves to be a shoo-in for a supporting actor nomination. He’s just commanding in this role. Garfield and Dern are excellent too. In fact, after seeing the film play at January’s Sundance Film Festival, Bahrani went to Broad Green and asked to go back into editing to make some small changes, and the distributor agreed. Although he didn’t change the structure or add specific scenes, he extended Dern’s role and let her scenes play out more. He also made some other minor changes but says the film is basically the same that was seen on the circuit last year. That’s a good thing because few movies in last year’s crop, or what I’ve seen this year, have kept me as consistently on the edge of my seat as this one. And, awards or not, 99 Homes should have some strong commercial chops, which could help it down the line with voters.
In tough economic times for the middle class it really hits a raw nerve. Bahrani actually is thankful the movie is coming out now and not last year. “The main reason we didn’t do it last year was there was just not enough time,” he told me. “The trailer would have been rushed and slapped together, and it would have screened just for four weeks before the release in the height of all the studio films. So there just was no time to launch it. There are very few films that show up in those festivals without a distributor and then screen that year. I think The Wrestler was the last to do that and come out in the same year without a distributor going into the festivals. So I think it was the right decision. Now they have had a chance to build the company out, and we’ve spent so much time on this trailer, which has the energy, the tension, the high stakes, the emotion — all the things you saw in the film. I think it’s going to be really strong.”