Fest favs enter awards race

The calendar of major film festivals has run its course, and award season is in full swing. So it’s a good moment to tally the scoresheet and see which of this year’s fests delivered the goods for distributors and for the awards race.

“It’s been a very good year for quality films, at Sundance, Cannes, Telluride, Toronto and New York,” says Sony Pictures Classics co-president Michael Barker. “And it’s not a year when all the quality came from the independents. With films like ‘Social Network’ and the new (Clint) Eastwood coming from the studios, that’s a very healthy environment.”

“We really rely on festivals to program movies that are going to work for us,” says IFC’s acquisitions topper Arianna Bocco. “It’s been a very strong festival year in general. The films have been high quality and a good balance between arthouse and commercial, with a lot of new filmmaker discoveries and reaffirmation of filmmakers already out there.”

Sundance

The year got off to a strong start at Sundance. Hit of the fest was “The Kids Are All Right,” with Focus paying $4.8 million for multiple territories and racking up $20.8 million in domestic B.O. over the summer. Pic is now set for a strong Oscar run.

Other potential kudos contenders to emerge from the Utah fest include “Winter’s Bone,” picked up by Roadside Attractions; “Blue Valentine,” bought by the Weinstein Co. for $1 million; and the usual slew of docs such as “Restrepo” (National Geographic) “Waiting for Superman” (Paramount Vantage), “The Tillman Story” (TWC) and “Joan Rivers” (IFC).

SPC bought “Animal Kingdom,” unveiled its own production “Please Give” and started to generate some early awards buzz for “Get Low,” bought at the previous Toronto.

Lionsgate picked up “Buried” for $3.2 million; TWC picked up “The Company Men” after the fest.

“Welcome to the Rileys” came to Sundance in the hands of Apparition, but switched to Samuel Goldwyn in the summer.

Berlin

There were slimmer pickings, as usual, at Berlin, but SPC did snare “The Illusionist,” an animation contender. Polanski’s “The Ghost Writer” also premiered but hasn’t drawn much Oscar chatter, although looks like it will make a run. There was the usual slew of foreign-lingo films that were subsequently entered for the Oscars by their respective countries, such as Columbia’s “Crab Trap,” Czech entry “Kawasaki’s Rose,” Germany’s “When We Leave” (which went on to double preizes at Tribeca) and Romania’s Silver Bear winner “If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle,” which launched Stateside at Telluride.

Cannes

Perennial Oscar contender Mike Leigh arrived at Cannes with “Another Year,” acquired by SPC, which also bowed two films that it financed, “Tamara Drewe” and documentary contender “Inside Job” at the fest. SPC also picked up the French Oscar entry “Of Gods and Men,” plus “Life Above All” and “In A Better World” out of the market.

Summit bowed “Fair Game” but didn’t generate significant awards heat, although the film has lately started making awards overtures.

Mexican contender “Biutiful” also bowed at Cannes, with an actor prize for Javier Bardem that puts him in the running, and snared a U.S. deal a couple of months afterwards with Roadside.

Venice

Venice sparked Oscar talk for several American world premieres, including “Black Swan” (Searchlight), “Somewhere” (Focus) and “The Town” (Warner), all of which already had U.S. distribution. “Miral” (TWC) didn’t get much buzz at Venice or Toronto, and has since been pushed back to 2011. “Barney’s Version” debuted at Venice and was picked up by SPC at Toronto, putting it into the race for acting awards. French-Canadian contender “Incendies” premiered at Venice and was bought by SPC at Telluride.

Telluride

Telluride saw the arrival of “The King’s Speech” (TWC) and “127 Hours” (Searchlight) as instant Oscar frontrunners, with “Never Let Me Go” (Searchlight) more of an outside bet. The fest also threw up a wild card in the form of “The Way Back,” which Newmarket picked up from its own parent company Exclusive and slotted for an Oscar-qualifying December release.


Toronto

“Rabbit Hole,” entered the Oscar race at Toronto with its acquisition by Lionsgate. Focus tried to pick up “The Conspirator” for a qualifying year-end release, but producer the American Film Co. chose instead to go with Roadside/Lionsgate in 2011. Other kudos contenders bowing at Toronto with U.S. distribution already set included “Made in Dagenham” (SPC), “Hereafter” (Warner) and “Conviction” (Fox Searchlight), greeted with varying degrees of enthusiasm.

London

The London Film Festival, which has managed to grab world preems of a few Oscar candidates in recent years (“Frost/Nixon,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox”) came up dry this year, although “Nowhere Boy,” in the running for TWC this year, did premiere at last year’s London event.

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