Keri Russell strays just a weensy bit from her badass Soviet spy character in FX’s The Americans for her latest film role. In the Sundance rom-com Austenland, she plays Jane, a single gal with a borderline-unhealthy Jane Austen obsession who’s looking for her very own Mr. Darcy. She books a pricey stay at the resort billed as “the world’s only immersive Austen experience,” but — having bought the lowest-level Austenland package — she is relegated to the servants’ quarters. Jane is determined, though: “An Austen heroine gets engaged by the end of the book,” she asserts. “That is what I am going to do.” J.J. Feild, Bret McKenzie, Jennifer Coolidge and Jane Seymour also star in the pic directed by Jerusha Hess, who co-scripted with the source novel’s author Shannon Hale. Produced by (Twihard alert!) Stephenie Meyer, Gina Mingacci and Meghan Hibbett, the Sony Pictures Classics film opens August 16. The first trailer:
The Los Angeles Film Festival kicked off Thursday night with the North American premiere of Pedro Almodovar’s raunchy screwball comedy I’m So Excited! at LA Live’s Regal Cinemas. And if the jaded opening-night LA crowd did not demonstrably respond (there was just small polite applause at the end) with the enthusiasm past Almodovar films have enjoyed from Cannes to New York, it did send off the 11-day fest on a fun note. In no small part that owes to the fact that the pic is about sex and Almodovar himself explained the film’s title as “like being very horny”. Sony Pictures Classics is releasing the film and was pleased to grab the prestigious opening slot of the Film Independent signature film fest. And of course LA Film Fest was thrilled to get Almodovar.
SPC co-president Michael Barker told me afterwards that this is the first of Almodovar’s films to premiere in North America outside of New York. “The time was right for this one and Pedro was totally on board with coming here with it as well”, he said. In fact an ebullient Almodovar told me he was extremely impressed with the Regal’s massive screen and bright projection even though Sony took him to dinner during the movie. “I actually wanted to stay and watch. I grew up seeing movies in big theatres like this. I love the experience.” According to the two-time Oscar-winning director (All About My Mother, Talk To Her) his latest is the #1 box office attraction this first half of the year in his native Spain. And, as he tells it, that was no easy trick due to the failing economy which has seen double-digit declines and caused a steep downturn in moviegoing. Almodovar suggested people prefer to watch downloads on the Internet rather than pay the money for a moviegoing experience and that saddens him, although he’s glad his film is surviving in Spanish multiplexes despite the hardships. For him this pic was a bit of a lark after the more serious The Skin I Live In, which played in competition in Cannes in 2011. I’m So Excited! is about a jetliner en route to Mexico which encounters technical problems and then all hell ensues — a freewheeling farce that at least one Oscar voter told me later left him with tears running down his face due to laughter. Others were not as enthusiastic. It doesn’t matter. This likely won’t be an awards contender — comedies rarely are — but it returns Almodovar to his initial wild style of humor and that’s always welcome.
Brian Brooks is a Deadline contributor.
UPDATE 2:00 PM: Sony Pictures Classics‘ Before Midnight has struck box office gold Memorial Day weekend. The start of the summer 2013 blockbuster season will be for Fast & Furious 6 to celebrate, but Midnight clearly resonated with audiences searching for an alternative. The film, directed by Richard Linklater, opened in 5 theaters grossing $321,914 and averaging $64,383. In 2004, Warner Independent debuted Before Sunset in 20 theaters, averaging $10,971. That film went on to gross $5.82 million domestically. “We think the reputation of this film stands on its own whether you’ve seen those or not,” said SPC co-president Michael Barker. “So it has the benefit of being related to those films, but it also has the benefit of being the finest of the three.” SPC will take Before Midnight wide June 14th. In other openers, Sony Classics also opened Fill The Void in three locations. That film took in $79,164, averaging a solid $26,388.
Last weekend’s specialty box office winner Frances Ha held steady in its second weekend. IFC Films added 56 theaters in its second weekend of release, grossing $708,000 for a $11,800 average. Noted IFC Films: “Frances Ha expanded to the top 20 markets to fantastic results this Memorial Day weekend. Initial runs remained very strong with minimal drops signifying the comedy’s positive word of mouth. The new markets were also excellent buoyed by phenomenal reviews (93% on Rotten Tomatoes) and an extensive advanced screening program. Frances Ha will continue its aggressive platform release as the film will open the top 50 markets this weekend.”
Sony Pictures Classics acquired North American rights to Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive, the vampire pic that premieres tomorrow at Cannes in the In Competition section. The film was produced by Jeremy Thomas of Recorded Picture Company and Reinhard Brundig of Pandora Film. Christos Konstantakopoulos of Fairilo House served …
The third installment in the Richard Linklater-Julie Delpy-Ethan Hawke trilogy generated serious heat at Sundance this year. Seven buyers circled Before Midnight after its well-received premiere there until Sony Pictures Classics won out by sealing of the biggest deals of the festival. This one follows Jesse and …
BREAKING: Sony Pictures Classics has acquired North American, Latin American and Eastern European rights to an untitled film by Mike Leigh that will focus on JMW Turner, considered England’s greatest artist. Leigh has set his Secrets & Lies star Timothy Spall to star, with Georgina Lowe producing and Gail Egan exec producing. The film will begin production in spring 2013 for a 2014 release. Production partners on the film include Film4, British Film Institute (BFI), Focus Features International, LipSync and Xofa Productions. The National Gallery, Tate Britain and the Royal Academy have granted special access to some of Turner’s original works.
When it comes to Oscar savvy we often hear Harvey Weinstein talked about as the kingpin of the game, but when you look at the success of Sony Pictures Classics you realize it rivals Weinstein, Searchlight, Focus and other comers in consistently, and annually, releasing and nurturing one contender after another in the quest for the elusive statuette of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. Since the company was founded in December 1991, key to its success has been its co-Presidents Michael Barker and Tom Bernard who first worked together in similar specialty divisions at United Artists and Orion and now continue to run one of the most stable indie shops in the industry. But with a total of 25 Oscar wins and 109 nominations just at SPC they clearly have the Midas touch, and that includes a slew of Best Picture nominations for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (their biggest hit to date), Howard’s End, Capote, An Education, Midnight In Paris and this year’s Amour which won the Palme d’Or in Cannes and has amassed five Oscar nominations including Best Picture and Best Foreign Language Film, only the fifth film in Academy history to be named in both categories. With writing and directing nods for Michael Haneke as well as a realistic Best Actress bid for star Emmanuelle Riva the film looks to be another strong contender for the pair who continue to be one of the few high profile companies that still champions foreign language films. SPC serves up a wide variety of specialty fare of all types and always seems to find a footing in the Oscar race which has become an important part of their business plan. With two contenders for Best Documentary and two for Best Foreign Language Film in addition to the Best Picture bid, the pair are fixtures at every major film festival and are once again making lots of noise in their high season. I spoke to both late last week about the upcoming Oscars and what it means to their bottom line.
Deadline: How important is this Oscar business to the actual business of Sony Pictures Classics?
Bernard: It’s part of the business for Sony Pictures Classics because we can get movies, or have movies, that won’t get the recognition that they deserve any other way. And if they get that recognition what we have found is that the boxoffice and ancillary and profits of these movies get much better. We can go all the way back to Camille Claudel when we had Isabelle Adjani and somebody close to her suggested that you should run a campaign for her for Best Actress and we said ‘it will never happen, no one will watch the movie. We can’t get them to the theatre. And the person said ‘well why don’t you send out VHS cassettes to the Academy’ so we did and sent them to the actors branch and lo and behold we got a nomination. And it took that movie to a level it would have never gotten if it didn’t happen.
NEW YORK (January 30, 2013) – Sony Pictures Classics announced today that they have acquired all North American rights to Charlie Paul’s directorial debut, FOR NO GOOD REASON from Itch Film. Foreign sales are being handled by Independent Film Sales. Charlie Paul, who has been a director in advertising for years and is a former artist himself, spent 10 years making FOR NO GOOD REASON. Produced by Itch Film’s co-founder Lucy Paul, the intimate documentary portrait focuses on Ralph Steadman and features Johnny Depp observing Steadman’s fascinating working process at his home studio.
BREAKING: This hardly qualifies as a cliffhanger, but Sony Pictures Classics has formalized a deal for North American rights to Blue Jasmine, the next film written and directed by Woody Allen. SPC partners Michael Barker and Tom Bernard make this their sixth picture and fourth in a row with The Woodman. That includes From Rome With Love and Midnight In Paris, the latest in Allen’s picture postcard tour of the most beautiful cities in the world.
Blue Jasmine, for which Allen returned to his old Gotham haunt to shoot, stars Alec Baldwin, Cate Blanchett, Bobby Cannavale, Louis C.K., Andrew Dice Clay, Sally Hawkins, Peter Sarsgaard and Michael Stuhlbarg. It is the story of the final stages of an acute crisis and a life of a fashionable New York housewife. The film is produced by Letty Aronson, Stephen Tenenbaum and Edward Walson, and the deal was made by Gravier Productions.
UPDATE, 1:45 PM: One day after the rightsholder to the work of William Faulkner filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Sony Pictures Classics over a quote used in Woody Allen’s 2011 film Midnight In Paris, the studio responded:
“This is a frivolous lawsuit and we are confident we will prevail in defending it. There is no question this brief reference (10 words) to a quote from a public speech Faulkner gave constitutes fair use and any claim to the contrary is without merit.” – Ann Boyd, SVP Global Communications Sony Pictures Entertainment.
PREVIOUSLY, OCT. 25, 4:22 PM: The rights holders to William Faulkner’s work say Sony Pictures Classics had no right to use a quote from the author’s Requiem For A Nun in Woody Allen’s2011 film Midnight In Paris. Faulkner Literary Rights filed suit (read it here) today against the studio in U.S. District Court in Mississippi for copyright infringement, commercial appropriation and violation of the Lanham Act. “Sony’s actions in distributing the Infringing Film were malicious, fraudulent, deliberate and/or willful,” says the six-page complaint. “Sony did not have Faulkner’s consent to appropriate William Faulkner’s name or his works for Sony’s advantage,” it adds. In Midnight In Paris, Gil Pender, the disillusioned Hollywood screenwriter played by Owen Wilson, says, “the past is not dead. Actually, it’s not even past. You know who said that? Faulkner. And he was right. And I met him, too. I ran into him at a dinner party.” The rightsholder say the slightly paraphrased quote could “deceive the infringing film’s viewers as to a perceived affiliation, connection or association between William Faulkner and his works, on the one hand, and Sony, on the other hand.”
The Sony Pictures Classics documentary Searching For Sugar Man got a spectacular shot in the arm with a full 60 Minutes segment on the film’s subject, the rediscovered singer Rodriguez. If you didn’t get to watch the segment last night, it’s worth a look because Rodriguez’s story has to be …