EXCLUSIVE: The indie film 5 To 7, which surfaced when Star Trek‘s Anton Yelchin signed to star, just got a major cast infusion. Glenn Close, Frank Langella, Skyfall‘s Bérénice Marlohe, Lambert Wilson and Olivia Thirlby have joined the cast of a film that is a co-production between Mockingbird Pictures and Demarest Films. Mad Men writer Victor Levin is directing the film, which starts shooting next month in New York. In the romantic comedy, Yelchin plays an aspiring novelist who has an extramarital affair with the beautiful wife (Marlohe) of a French diplomat. Cultures, world views, personal ethics and dietary preferences clash as love deepens. The pic is being produced and co-financed by Sam Englebardt and William D. Johnson of Demarest Films, and by Bonnie Curtis and Julie Lynn of Mockingbird Pictures with their investor group as executive producers. The film is co-executive produced by Lisa Wilson and Myles Nestel of The Solution Entertainment Group, which is handling international sales and will represent the film at the Cannes Film Market. CAA and WME are co-representing the U.S. rights.
EXCLUSIVE: Glenn Close, James Franco and Brit Marling will star in The Grace That Keeps This World, an adaptation of the Tom Bailey novel that Terri helmer Azazel Jacobs will direct from a script by Matthew Aldrich. Anonymous Content’s Alix Madigan will produce with Jewerl Ross and Aldrich. The story follows a father and his sons as they prepare for the upcoming hunting season. Family conflicts arise when a rookie environmental cop begins an investigation of hunting violations that reveals a family divided by their life choices.
When a big studio decides it has a shot at Oscars, it often rolls out a spectacular Academy Award campaign with a budget rivaling that of the actual film. In the case of the $8 million independent movie Albert Nobbs, Glenn Close — star, writer and producer — is the campaign. Her Oscar nomination for Best Actress and Golden Globes noms for her and her co-star Janet McTeer are helping to get the word out. But a lot depends on Close being available to tell the story of her 30-year labor of love despite the time demands of her TV series, the DirectTV legal drama Damages. Close spoke about her journey with AwardsLine contributor Diane Haithman.
AWARDSLINE: Let’s see — a period drama adapted from a play, set in Dublin, in which you portray a woman living as a man. Obviously this is a “special needs” project. Doing so much press must be a huge demand on you as a working actress.
GLENN CLOSE: I’ve tried to show up for as much as I can. It’s just amazing to me that I finally got it made. I must have walked into every single office of every single independent film company that existed in the past 30 years.
AWARDSLINE: One can imagine some of the things that must have been said in some of those meetings. What kind of reaction did you get? Just … huh?
CLOSE: [Laughs] Yeah, I go into an office, looking like me, and say: “Well, I’m gonna be a butler, and then I die.” It was a pretty hard sell. And I never resented that. I’ve always felt that an independent film is a film that almost doesn’t get made. When we went on our foray into Dallas, we found John and Cami Goff; John Goff is a very, very successful real estate guy, and he just liked what he heard and believed in the team. I told him: “You are like the one pearl in a vast beach of white stones.”
The Best Actress race is hot this year.
Based on the mixed bag out of the New York Film Critics, National Board of Review and Gotham Awards winners along with the announced nominees for Independent Spirit Awards, this year is completely, completely wide open. But then you knew that already.
The New York Critics so wanted to be first and “influence” the Oscars that they advanced their voting date up two weeks and prematurely presented a list of winners Tuesday that seemed downright conservative and very “Academy friendly.” After honoring harder edged films in the past, they went for a delightful black and white silent film as their Best Picture (The Artist) and Director (Michel Hazanavicius) plus big stars Meryl Streep (in another biopic — as Margaret Thatcher this time) and Brad Pitt (Moneyball) both playing real-life characters, something Academy voters have tended to favor in many of their recent acting winners. It was Streep’s fifth acting honor from the NYFCC. The group moved their voting up in order to beat everyone else, particularly the National Board of Review which is normally first, and in effect forced Sony to show them David Fincher’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by agreeing to move their voting date back a day (and then ignored the film). They also miscalculated Warner Bros’ willingness to show Stephen Daldry’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close before it was completely finished and ready to be seen by some of the nation’s most “important” (at least in their own minds) critics. So that one wasn’t part of their deliberations. The Broadcast Film Critics Association (I am a member) and the Los Angeles Film Critics among others will be able to see Dragon Tattoo starting Friday. Neither has changed its voting schedules (about 10 days out) in order to jump the gun and will be able to see everything before weighing in on the year’s best. That seems like the right course for critics groups instead of trying to force the hands of filmmakers in order to pursue their own delusional quixotic quest for influence.
At Saturday night’s third annual Governors Awards, Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody (Juno) was seated next to me and before the show unexpectedly said of being in the room with Oprah: “This is extreme for me. I am an Oprah worshipper.” After this year’s recipient of the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award earned a trio of standing ovations and ended her emotional acceptance speech to bring the big night to a close, Cody concluded, “I feel like I have just freebased Oprah”. Indeed it was Oprah’s night in this room. But it also belonged to the other honorary Oscar winners, too – makeup legend Dick Smith and actor James Earl Jones, who accepted his award from London’s Wyndham stage in a segment taped earlier in the day after a matinee performance of Driving Miss Daisy in which he is appearing alongside Vanessa Redgrave.
So far I have been to all three Governors Awards ceremonies and I would say this seemed the most emotional of them all with both Winfrey and Jones referencing their long journey from Mississippi to this Hollywood moment. One attendee told me afterwards, “I was really moved by this more than any other year”. If only the speeches could be this good on the Oscar show itself. Then the Academy wouldn’t have to worry about who hosts or produces the show.
Academy President Tom Sherak made his entrance in a Darth Vader uniform (in tribute to Jones) and opened with the same line he used to introduce a screening of the Jones film, The Great White Hope on Friday night: “How was your week?” It was an obvious reference to the tumultuous events surrounding this year’s Oscar show. But that was the only time the week’s events came up all evening. This was a night for the honorees and they all made the most of it. Before dinner a stirring reel was shown highlighting the entire 84-year history of honorary Oscar winners, followed by a touching tribute to past Oscar show producers Laura Ziskin and Gil Cates who both died this year.
Alec Baldwin got the show rolling after dinner by honoring his The Hunt For Red October co-star Jones saying, “Unlike many actors, James Earl Jones never had to get his career back because he never lost it. He is one of the greatest actors in history”. Glenn Close came out to praise him by referencing his Broadway triumph Fences. “He is the only actor who has broken me apart and transformed me until I was a screaming slobbering mess. James Earl Jones is indeed a world treasure.” Redgrave via tape surprised her co-star by bringing on Sir Ben Kingsley with an Oscar to present to Jones. ”You achieve what every actor is striving for. You are always so damn good,” Kingsley praised.
Jones was genuinely taken aback. “If an actor’s nightmare is being onstage butt-naked and not knowing his lines, then what the hell is this?” he laughed. ”This is an actor’s wet dream. I am gobsmacked at this improbable moment in my life. You cannot be an actor like I am and not have been in some of the worst movies like I have. But I stand before you deeply honored, mighty grateful, and just plain godsmacked.”
J.J. Abrams, Glenn Close, John Travolta, Alec Baldwin, Larry Gordon, Rick Baker, Mary J. Blige, and Maria Shriver were some of the names who helped the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences present Honorary Awards to actor James Earl Jones and makeup artist Dick Smith and the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award to philanthropist Oprah Winfrey. It was the Academy’s 3rd Annual Governors Awards dinner last night at the Grand Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland Center. Photos on next page:
The 9/11 anniversary was a strong memory in Toronto because it happened right in the middle of 2001′s film festiva – even though it was business as usual today. In fact the pace of this place just seems to be quickening. Deals, as Deadline’s Mike Fleming reports, were slow to percolate but may be picking up. Most buyers I talk to are irritated by some sellers’ insistence that their film be released this year in time for Oscar consideration. That’s a tall order and leaves little time for creating a marketing campaign, much less an awards strategy. Nevertheless, that was one of the demands made by the sellers of the controversial Shame during negotiations. Fox Searchlight agreed, others didn’t. In fact I was told that Sony Pictures Classics, which wanted the picture, came up with a smart strategy they compared to The Weinstein Company’s for Colin Firth. That consisted of Firth doing a lot of campaigning and earning a nomination for A Single Man in 2010, thus laying the groundwork for his The King’s Speech win the next year. SPC was going to put Michael Fassbender out there and get him recognition for their November release of David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method and then release Shame later in 2012 for a one-two punch that the Academy would notice. No go. The sales people behind Shame insisted it be released this year, thereby throwing the Venice Film Festival’s Best Actor winner into an already overcrowded awards race that among others includes George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Gary Oldman, and Leonardo DiCaprio who are better known — at least at this point.
One former studio head-turned-producer complained loudly to me today that this kind of strategy is not necessarily what’s good for the movie and asked, “Isn’t that what we should be concerned with over anything else?” For example, Open Road’s Tom Ortenberg is here with his first release Killer Elite but is not rushing into a year-end release if it might end up hurting the bottom line. “Isn’t the 2012 Oscar race just as good as this year’s?” he asked. He might consider putting the Liam Neeson film The Grey into a year-end qualifying run since Neeson’s performance is said to be so strong. But only if it was in the best interest of the film. When he was at Lionsgate, Ortenberg acquired Crash at Toronto but held it for a May release. Then he did a now-legendary and successful Oscar campaign almost 1 1/2 years after the Toronto buy. The same strategy worked for The Hurt Locker two years ago. Both went on to win Best Picture.
Nevertheless, several films for sale in Toronto are said to be eyeing a 2011 release in order to get into the Oscar race. These include Luc Besson’s The Lady, which premieres Monday night and which I have already seen. It contains two powerhouse performances from Michelle Yeoh who could jump into the lead actress race. There’s also David Thewlis for Supporting Actor. The Lady will certainly be part of any sales discussion, but I know of at least one mini-major who would like the film but just not for this year. As I mentioned yesterday, Barrymore with its sensational title performance from Christopher Plummer also wants to make a deal that includes a 2011 year-end release. Also director Zhang Yimou’s epic The Flowers of War (formerly Nanking) starring Oscar-winner Christian Bale had a 20-minute footage presentation here and hopes to get a domestic deal in place in time for a possible year-end run at Oscar. I am told it could certainly be ready what with its debut in Beijing in December.
I ran into Jennifer Garner Saturday afternoon at the candy counter of Telluride’s tiny Nugget Theatre and told her I was looking forward to seeing the new film she produced and stars in, Butter, which was having an official sneak preview at the festival later that night. “Thanks, but I hate it when people tell me that. It makes me too nervous,” she said. She shouldn’t have worried. The edgy smart comedy played liked gangbusters at its first packed screening at the Galaxy Theatre. There were big laughs for the small-town butter-carving satire, which might get a year-end release from The Weinstein Company to qualify for awards, especially for the Golden Globes and its comedy category. Garner nails the Michele Bachmann-like character in a way that’s smooth-as-buttah. The film itself is reminiscent of Michael Ritchie’s Smile and Alexander Payne’s Election, with both comparisons meant to be a compliment. In fact, shortly afterward, Payne told me he is anxious to see the film himself. Before it rolled, director Jim Field Smith told the crowd what pressure he was under to finish the film in time for next week’s Toronto Film Festival — and then was told it would be needed even earlier for Telluride. “Come on, you can do it,” Harvey Weinstein told him. Then there were the unexpected earthquakes, hurricanes, and a scary landing at the Tellruride airport that all contributed to his feeling he wasn’t going to make the deadline, but he did. “This is the first audience anywhere to see the film, so we could just die,” Garner added before forgetting to introduce co-star Ty Burrell (Modern Family).
“I cannot tell you how totally thrilled I am to be debuting my movie here,” Alexander Payne, director of Fox Searchlight’s upcoming George Clooney film, The Descendants, told me as we waited for our luggage today at the Montrose Airport here in Colorado just 90 …
Previously in Pete Hammond’s 3-part series:
Woody Allen, Brad Pitt, ‘The Help’ Among Early 2011 Oscar Contenders
Clooney, Clint, And Spielberg Put Major Studios Back Into Oscar Race
After looking last week at the potential awards landscape for the first eight months of 2011, and then at what Oscar-pedigreed films the major studios have in store for fall and holiday slots, it’s time to turn to the independent world, which has become such a key force in the season. For the majors, Oscars are nice but not vital. For the indies, award strategies are key and could mean the difference between a hit film or a miss. With little-pictures-that-could Best Picture triumphs in recent years like Crash, The Hurt Locker and last year’s The King’s Speech, indies have proven that with less money to spend, a savvy campaign and a little luck, the right film at the right time can grab the gold. Ever since the advent of screeners evened the playing field to some extent, it’s been a different ballgame. And the indies use the fall festival circuit (starting next week at Venice, followed by Telluride and Toronto) to start up the awards buzz. Already this year, indies like Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris and Terrence Malick’s Cannes Film Festival winner The Tree of Life are seriously in the hunt for those prized Best Picture slots and, as detailed by the soon-to-be-released contenders from the companies below, they might not be alone among upstart pictures this year.
Here’s a look at what possible award contenders from the indie sector will be coming our way in the last four — and most crucial — months of the year.
The Weinstein Company
With The King’s Speech last year, the Weinsteins scored their first Best Picture triumph since the heady days of Miramax. Can they do it two years in a row with another British bio, The Iron Lady? Just about everyone agrees Meryl Streep’s still-unseen portrait of Margaret Thatcher in this Dec. 16 release will put her in strong contention to finally win that third Oscar, but can the movie score, too? Time will tell, although it would seem to be a better shot in the Actress category.
Harvey Weinstein had a big Cannes triumph with the crowd-pleasing black-and-white French-produced silent picture The Artist (Nov. 23), and it could have the same effect on the Academy audience that it did with the French, thereby leading to one of those Best Picture slots, even though the movie might not have enough “gravitas” to sneak in. The Weinsteins will get a good idea when the film launches in the English-speaking world next week on the fest circuit. Certainly Cannes Best Actor Jean Dujardin is a great bet for a nomination no matter what.
With a busy fall, the company is hoping Michelle Williams and Kenneth Branagh — who play Marilyn Monroe and Laurence Olivier in My Week With Marilyn (Nov. 4) — will land acting kudos along with Ralph Fiennes (who also directed) in the title role of the contemporary Shakespeare adaptation Coriolanus (Dec. 2). As his mother, Vanessa Redgrave is extraordinary in a beefy supporting turn. She should start getting the gowns for the awards circuit ready now.
Awards prospects are anybody’s guess for Madonna’s latest directorial stab, W.E. (Dec. 9), which with its storyline involving Wallis Simpson is certainly different for the pop star. And I hear there is the possibility of a late-season qualifying run for the Jennifer Garner film Butter that has been described as a Capra-esque comedy/drama set in the cutthroat world of competitive butter carving. Fest auds will see this first, and their reaction will probably weigh heavily in Weinstein’s decision to enter that other cutthroat competition.
EXCLUSIVE: It appears Glenn Close may be shaking up the Best Actress Oscar race this year. Today’s announcement that Roadside Attractions and Liddell Entertainment have acquired all U.S. rights to Albert Nobbs, in which Close plays a woman passing as a man in order to survive in 19th century Dublin, and plan a fall release and likely Oscar campaign adds a bit of drama to 2011′s budding Academy race. Meryl Streep, a two-time winner and 16-time nominee, is the presumed front-runner as Margaret Thatcher in the Weinstein Company’s The Iron Lady. Streep hasn’t won since 1982, and many think (sight unseen) that Thatcher could be her ticket back to the winner’s circle. Ironically, that was also the year Close received the first of her five nominations (for her first film, The World According To Garp) in a remarkable run between 1982 and 1988 when she received her last nod for Dangerous Liaisons. Of course she’s won Tonys and Emmys, but the Oscar has famously eluded her.
In fact, 1982 was also the year she first played Albert Nobbs in an off-Broadway production of the play and won an Obie Award for it. Even though that was near the beginning of her career, she’s had her eye on it as a possible film ever since and has been actively trying to get it produced for the past 15 years. In addition to starring, she also co-produced and co-wrote the screenplay, enlisting her Nine Lives and Things You Can Tell Just By Looking At Her director Rodrigo Garcia to helm.
When I caught up with her today on the phone from her Maine vacation spot, she still couldn’t believe this dream project was finally going to be seen this year. “I’m kind of pinching myself. It’s a story I never ever forgot and an extraordinary character. It’s a simple story that has huge resonance,” she said, adding that ultimately this is a very human tale dealing in part with the power of secrets that people hide about themselves.
She offered words of praise for Roadside, which had a very big year in 2010 with Oscar contenders Winter’s Bone and Biutiful, saying the film got wonderful response from other potential distributors but that Roadside was the most passionate. “They got it to the depths of the story. No one has been a part of this project without bringing committment and passion to it, so they just extended all that, which was thrilling for all of us,” she said.