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TIFF, Day 7: Finally, Let’s Make a Deal

So much for Toronto being a slow festival for sales

So much for the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival being a slow one for sales.

After almost a week of slugging activity on the acquisition front, a slew of announcements came out on Wednesday.

The LadyIn the last one of the day, Cohen MediaGroup bought U.S. rights to Luc Besson's "The Lady," with its awards-potential performances from Michelle Yeoh and David Thewlis.

Prior to that, IFC added Lynn Shelton's "Your Sister's Sister" and Abel Ferrara's "4:44 Last Day on Earth" to a TIFF slate that already included "The Incident."

Earlier in the day, Oscilloscope acquired North American distribution for Andrea Arnold's "Wuthering Heights," while Palisades Tartan acquired the rights to Jafar Panahi's and Mojtaba Mirtahmasb's "This Is Not a Film," which was covertly filmed after Panahi was arrested and barred from making films by the Iranian government.

And MPI Media Group picked up "Yelling to the Sky," with Gabourey Sidibe and Zoe Kravitz.

TheWrap has the full rundown on TIFF deals here.

When it comes to public screenings, most of the highest-profile films have already debuted. Wednesday saw the first public TIFF screenings of the Duplass brothers' "Jeff, Who Lives at Home," which has been well-received, as well as Joel Schumacher's "Trespass," Julia Leigh's "Sleeping Beauty" (TheWrap's lukewarm Cannes review is here) and Canadian director Ken Scott's "Starbuck."

In some ways, Steve McQueen's sexually explicit "Shame" continues to be the talk of the festival, prompting a spirited Twitter exchange on Wednesday between pundits David Poland, Kris Tapley, Scott Feinberg, Brad Brevet and Garth Franklin over whether the film implies that the brother and sister played by Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan ever had sex.

Another "Shame" note: Anthony Kaufman reported that a female patron sitting in front of him passed out during a graphic scene (but not a sexual one) late in the movie.

"I can’t imagine Fox Searchlight, the company that announced its acquisition of the film over the weekend, were aware that the film could make viewers pass out," wrote Kaufman at indieWIRE. "Let’s hope it doesn’t stop them from mounting a vigorous release of this stunning film."

Searchlight execs probably had a flashback at the "Shame" screening, since they experienced so many faintings with "127 Hours" last year that the sideshow threatened to take away attention from the quality of the film. But they should be safer this time around; "Shame" seems likely to prompt lots of controversy, but not many fainters.

According to indieWIRE's criticWIRE feature, incidentally, "Shame" has received the most positive reviews of any film in Toronto. The site tallies letter grades from dozens of critics and will publish a full rundown of TIFF grades at the end of the fest – but now that the festival is in the homestretch, they've published a preview of which films are doing best, and Peter Knegt says that "Shame" is at the top of the list. 

Besides McQueen's film, the TIFF entries that have averaged an A- grade from indieWIRE's surveyed critics (who, for the record, tend to be pretty harsh judges) are "Martha Marcy May Marlene," "Pina," "A Separation" and "The Turin Horse."

Films with B+ averages include "The Artist," "The Descendants," "Moneyball," "Take Shelter," "Take This Waltz" and "Like Crazy."

Bs have gone to "50/50," "A Dangerous Method," "Drive," "The Ides of March," "Melancholia" and "Wuthering Heights."

B- grades are shared by, among others, "Anonymous," "Coriolanus," "Footnote" and "Into the Abyss." And indieWIRE isn't yet telling us how lower-scoring films have fared.

Reviews, meanwhile, continue to come in from journalists and critics who are still in Toronto. (I left on Tuesday night.)

Jeff, Who Lives at HomeWith "Jeff, Who Lives at Home," wrote Peter Debruge, "The Duplass brothers take another step toward conventional Hollywood storytelling without sacrificing the sincere, true-to-life quality that got studios interested in the first place." 

The tweets that followed that film's debut also told the story: Anne Thompson called it "an amiable family drama that ends up in a good place but takes its time getting there," Peter Sciretta opts for "a heartfelt stoner adventure movie you never knew you wanted but are destined to see," while Canada's Globe and Mail called it "a quirky comedy with big ideas."

Meanwhile, Jeff Wells wrote admiringly of Oren Moverman's dark police drama "Rampart" and thinks it puts Woody Harrelson in the Oscar race. I wouldn't go that far on either count: I thought it showed Moverman to be a better writer than director (at my screening it seemed to lose the audience during some jarring and experimental sequences, and the word-of-mouth afterwards was not strong), and I'd be a little surprised if it gets enough traction to make the Academy notice the otherwise worthy Harrelson. 

Then there's Bruce Beresford's "Peace, Love and Misunderstanding," which isn't exactly wowing 'em. Screen Daily found nice things to say about star Jane Fonda, but little else: "Sadly, her screen return is one of the few pleasures in an otherwise trite, half-hearted, family drama in which every development could be predicted within the first five minutes of the story."

Wells, for his part, called it "pretty close to excruciating," and compared the film to being forced to spend time with "graying, balding, pot-bellied, granola-slurping doobie-tokers … who won't stop speaking in '60s psycho-babble platitudes."