The Toronto International Film Festival kicks off Thursday and buyers will be pounding the pavement looking for both commercial wide releases and potential arthouse breakouts. It helps having genuine stars to sell either type of movie, and Toronto will have no shortage of those on hand. Jennifer Aniston, Adam Sandler, Jessica Chastain, Ben Stiller, Tobey Maguire, Kristen Wiig, Kevin Costner, Tobey Maguire, Chris Rock, John Cusack and Brit Marling are all bringing their latest projects to the festival.
CBS Films will be looking to make a power play now that president Terry Press is calling the shots, and expect former Focus Features executive Andrew Karpen’s new company Bleecker Street to be wheeling and dealing with the likes of A24, Open Road and Radius-TWC. As always, the Weinstein Company, Focus Features, Fox Searchlight and Lionsgate/Roadside will be power players north of the border, while it’s a safe bet that Magnolia Pictures and IFC Films will pursue the festival gems that fall through the cracks.
You can also expect sales agents to be closing deals for films that debuted in Telluride and Venice like the Andrew Garfield drama “99 Homes,” the Al Pacino movie “Manglehorn” and Joe Dante’s zombie comedy “Burying the Ex,” as well as leftovers from Cannes such as Michel Hazanavicius’ “The Search,” which has drawn interest from Sony Pictures Classics. This year’s official P&I schedule even lists several private screenings for Toronto buyers who can’t stay for the latter half of the festival, which is when Telluride titles are allowed to screen.
See photos: 25 Must-See Movies at the Toronto Film Festival
Here are the Top 10 acquisition titles that U.S. buyers should be paying attention to before they cause a stir in Toronto.
1. The Cobbler (WME & Gersh)
Voltage Pictures principal Nicolas Chartier thinks “The Cobbler” has what it takes to go wide, but our instincts tell us a specialty distributor would fare better for this tale of magical realism. Don’t let the presence of major movie star Adam Sandler fool you — “The Cobbler” has an indie sensibility that feels, at times, like a response to the current superhero craze. Imagine if your superpower was the ability to be anybody in the world … so long as you have their shoes. Sandler and longtime pal Steve Buscemi have good chemistry together, but oddly enough it’s rapper-turned-actor Method Man who steals the show.
2. Cake (WME & CAA)
Jennifer Aniston has long been viewed as either a pin-up or a cut-up, but she also happens to be a talented dramatic actress when given the opportunity to do more than dance in her underwear a la “We’re the Millers.” From “The Good Girl” to “Friends With Money,” Aniston is capable of inhabiting complex characters. She’ll get the chance to play another one in “Cake,” which follows a woman with emotional problems who becomes obsessed with the suicide of a woman (Anna Kendrick) from her chronic-pain support group.
3. While We’re Young (UTA)
Ben Stiller and Noah Baumbach exploring another mid-life crisis together? Sign us up! Four years after collaborating on “Greenberg,” the duo are back and this time, they’re joined by Naomi Watts as Stiller’s wife, as well as Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried as a free-spirited young couple who force them to confront their marriage and spice up their lives. The supporting cast also includes Charles Grodin and Adam “Ad-Rock” Horowitz from the Beastie Boys. Both “Greenberg” and Baumbach’s last movie, “Frances Ha,” grossed $4 million in the U.S., but with its A-list cast, “While We’re Young” should have no trouble surpassing those films at the box office.
4. Pawn Sacrifice (CAA & WME)
Ed Zwick’s latest may not be the kind of sweeping drama we’ve come to expect from the director of “Glory,” “Courage Under Fire,” “The Last Samurai,” “Blood Diamond” and “Defiance,” but it’s proof that he can pull off similar results while operating in the indie film scene. Tobey Maguire is said to deliver his best performance in years as chess master Bobby Fischer, who in 1972, went face-to-face with his Russian rival Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber) at the height of the Cold War. Expect a fascinating mix of genius and madness.
5. Top Five (UTA)
There are two TIFF movies that explore the theme of celebrity and Chris Rock’s new comedy is one of them. Formerly titled “Finally Famous,” the film stars Rock as a famous actor/comedian who’s forced to confront his past. The director’s previous comedies have featured easily digestible loglines like “Head of State,” but by hooking up with mega-producer Scott Rudin, it seems that Rock has aspired to tap into something fresh and original. Expect plenty of laughs, as Rock has recruited old pals like Tracy Morgan, Kevin Hart and Jerry Seinfeld to take the ride with him.
6. Welcome to Me (UTA & WME)
Here’s the other film that explores America’s obsession with celebrity. Kristen Wiig stars as a lottery winner with a personality disorder who quits her meds and uses her prize money to start her own cable talk show, “Welcome to Me.” Wiig’s fellow producers Will Ferrell and Adam McKay have quietly been expressing confidence in the satirical comedy, as has her “Bridesmaids” producer Judd Apatow. Wiig has had a mixed track record working in the indie space of late (see “Hateship Loveship,” or don’t), but she’s coming off the Sundance hit “The Skeleton Twins,” which remains one of the best movies of the year. Shira Piven directed “Welcome to Me,” which co-stars James Marsden, Tim Robbins, Joan Cusack and Jennifer Jason Leigh, among others.
7. Love and Mercy (CAA)
We’re getting good vibrations from this nontraditional biopic of Beach Boys frontman Brian Wilson. John Cusack and particularly Paul Dano are said to deliver quality performances as the troubled singer/songwriter, while the supporting cast includes Paul Giamatti as Wilson’s hands-on therapist and Elizabeth Banks as his longtime gal pal. The prestige picture boasts John Wells as a producer and Oren Moverman as one of the screenwriters, though it’s Oscar-winning composer Atticus Ross (“The Social Network”) that has us extra excited.
8. Black and White (Cassian Elwes)
Mike Binder’s racially-charged drama is going to be a hot-button movie, as it already started to garner controversy after screening for the National Association of Black Journalists earlier this summer. Kevin Costner plays an attorney who’s raising his biracial granddaughter with his wife (their daughter died during childbirth). Eventually, he finds himself in a heated custody battle with the girl’s African-American grandmother (Octavia Spencer), who believes the child should be raised by her drug-addicted biological father. From “The Upside of Anger” to “Reign Over Me” to his short-lived HBO series “Mind of the Married Man,” Binder has always been a sensitive filmmaker and this reteam with Costner could be his breakout film.
9. Miss Julie (CAA)
There are several period movies at TIFF this year including Alan Rickman’s “A Little Chaos” starring Kate Winslet and a new take on “Madame Bovary” that stars Mia Wasikowska. However, it’s “Miss Julie” that is most likely to seduce buyers thanks to Jessica Chastain, Colin Farrell and the return of Liv Ullmann, who hasn’t directed a movie in 14 years. Chastain plays an aristocrat who encourages her father’s valet (Farrell) to seduce her. Sparks will surely fly, and we have a feeling “Miss Julie” will make buyers all hot and bothered too.
10. The Keeping Room (WME)
The conversation in Hollywood about strong roles for women, or lack thereof, is growing louder by the day. Daniel Barber’s Civil War-era thriller speaks directly to that issue, serving as a sign of progress that some smart distributor will likely embrace. Written by newcomer Julia Hart, “The Keeping Room” boasts three strong female characters, played by Brit Marling, Hailee Steinfeld and relative newcomer Muna Otaru. The trio must band together to defend their home when a couple of rogue Union soldiers (including Sam Worthington) come knocking at their door. Marling is an actress who has always projected strength and intelligence, but “The Keeping Room” is said to offer the kind of performance that Hollywood has been waiting for from her. There are plenty of open slots in the Best Actress race and if Marling can penetrate the conversation, she could make some noise. This powerful and original dramatic thriller feels like it’s keeping a low-profile heading into Toronto in the hopes of feeling like a genuine discovery that will get people talking during the festival.