Brian Brooks is managing editor of MovieLine.

After making a splash in both Toronto and Venice (where it picked up awards, but not without controversy), The Weinstein Company’s The Master takes to screens amidst festival Oscar buzz this weekend. Joining the anticipated title are Sundance Film Festival heavyweights Arbitrage starring Richard Gere and Josh Radnor’s Liberal Arts, in which he stars opposite Elizabeth Olsen. Also rolling out in select theaters are Francine, starring Melissa Leo and French-centered documentary, Step Up To The Plate.

The Master
Director-writer: Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Price Carson
Distributor: The Weinstein Company

Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest movie heads to theaters following awards controversy at the Venice Film Festival and a lauded North American debut at the Toronto International Film Festival last weekend where it generated a good dose of Oscar buzz. Writer-director Anderson dismissed – at least verbally – any association with Scientology at a press conference in Toronto and expressed gratitude for the film’s Venice wins for Best Actor (shared by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix) and his Silver Lion for Best Director. The story follows a naval vet who arrives home to an uncertain future but finds solace from a charismatic leader. “Over the years, Paul has become a freer director [and] more organic,” producer JoAnne Sellar said in Toronto. “For me and Daniel [Lupi], my producing partner, we were able to support his vision and make changes and go on the fly.” The Weinstein Company opens The Master today in New York and Los Angeles followed by a nationwide roll out on September 21st.

Arbitrage
Writer-director: Nicholas Jarecki
Cast: Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Brit Marling, Tim Roth
Distributor: Roadside Attractions

Richard Gere plays a troubled hedge fund magnate desperate to complete the sale of his trading empire, but a mistake leads him to seek help from an unlikely individual. Roadside Attractions, which picked up Arbitrage in Sundance, will debut the narrative directorial debut from doc filmmaker Nicholas Jarecki, bowing the title on 197 screens in the top 75 markets. “We’re in single locations for smaller markets, but heavier in top cities” — five locations in Manhattan, for example — said Roadside Attractions co-president Howard Cohen. “We’re very optimistic given our early fantastic reviews (currently an 83 on Metacritic) and some Oscar buzz for Richard Gere’s performance. The film also opens day-and-date On Demand, so we are continuing our (limited) program of opening certain films this way, a la Margin Call last year”.

Francine
Writers-directors: Brian M. Cassidy, Melanie Shatzky
Cast: Melissa Leo, Victoria Charkut, Dave Clark, Keith Leonard
Distributor: Factory 25

Producers Katie Stern and Joshua Blum were familiar with co-directors Brian M. Cassidy and Melanie Shatzky from their documentary and commercial work. When the producers found out Cassidy and Shatzky were trying to make a film, Stern and Blum came aboard. The filmmakers initially wanted to cast non-pros and placed a notice on the Hudson Valley Film Commission website. To their surprise, Melissa Leo answered the ad and asked to play the title role, Francine. She plays an ex-con who adjusts to life in a small lakeside town by working with animals, but soon grows increasingly isolated from the community and develops anti-social tendencies.

Cassidy and Shatzky “very much wanted to bring a documentary sensibility to the project. It took a little while for them to find a common language to work with Melissa and the other actors,” said Blum. “Brian, Melanie, and Melissa are also all very intense artists, and to their credit, are willing to fight long and hard for what they believe in.” Francine will roll out in select theaters ahead of its VOD, DVD and Digital release in November. Added Blum: “I hope the core audience are simply movie lovers. Especially those who like films that don’t adhere to exactly what’s expected.”

Liberal Arts
Director-writer: Josh Radnor
Cast: Josh Radnor, Elizabeth Olsen, Zac Efron, Richard Jenkins, Alison Janney
Distributor: IFC Films

IFC picked up actor-director Josh Radnor’s second Sundance feature after it played to “huge enthusiasm” at the festival earlier this year, according to the company’s exec Ryan Werner. “We have been screening the film at festivals … and have been doing a lot of promo screenings including Hello Giggles in LA, Center For Communication in NYC, Gilt Group and the New York Times.” Radnor has also been pushing to spread the word for his film about a newly single guy in his mid-30s who is stuck in a dead-end job but meets a young woman at his alma mater who changes his perspective. Radnor did an Apple Store chat (available free on iTunes) and both Radnor and Elizabeth Olsen appeared on Live with Kelly. Radnor also visited Good Morning America. The film opens Day and Date VOD as well as in two theaters in New York and two in L.A.

Step Up To The Plate (Entre les Bras)
Director: Paul Lacoste
Subjects: Michel Bras, Sébastien Bras
Distributor: Cinema Guild

Cinema Guild picked up the documentary Step Up To The Plate following its Berlin International Film Festival premiere. The feature follows renowned French chef Michel Bras after he decides to hand over his restaurant to his son, Sébastien, who has been working with him for 15 years. “It’s a fantastic doc about one of the most revered and influential chefs in the world,” said Cinema Guild’s Ryan Krivoshey. “But what makes it stand out is that it’s about so much more – beautifully filmed, it explores family, tradition and the passing of knowledge from generation to generation.” Hoping to lure lovers of French cinema and culture to theaters, the distributor opens Step Up To The Plate at Lincoln Plaza and Quad Cinema in New York over the weekend with further expansion pending.