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Academy Announces New Rule Changes At Membership Meeting; All Members Can Now Vote On Foreign Language Films

Pete Hammond

The Academy announced rule changes that will allow  all  members for the first time to vote in all 24 categories including Foreign Language and Documentary Shorts, either via theatrical screenings or DVD.  Previously members had to attend special screenings for those two categories. The Academy used the occasion of their membership meeting today to announce the changes. In years past Academy members had to prove attendance to vote in Live Action and Animated shorts as well as Documentary Feature but that was changed last year. Now, as President Hawk Koch just announced at the meeting, all members will have an opportunity to participate in the final vote in Foreign Language and Doc Shorts as well and will be sent DVDs in order to facilitate that. Nomination processes will not change though.

The big news is for Foreign Language films and it could be controversial.  When I proposed this as a possible rule change to one of the major distributors of Foreign Films in February, Sony Pictures Classics Co-President Tom Bernard told me he was adamantly opposed and told me the Foreign Language voting process should only be open to those members who are really passionately involved, arguing that it is a true specialty area that shouldn’t be tampered with.  “I still think it’s important that the process not be frivolous. I still think you need to make sure the people who are going to do this are people that are acclimated to … Read More »

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Sony Pictures Classics’ Michael Barker And Tom Bernard On Why Oscars Matter

Pete Hammond

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. Read More »

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OSCARS: Does ‘Amour’ Have A Shot To Make Academy History?

Pete Hammond

Only once has the winner of the top prize in Cannes ever matched the winner of the Oscar for Best Picture. 1955′s Marty won both, but no film has been able to duplicate that feat in the more than a half-century since.  But now Michael Haneke‘s Amour, nominated for five Oscars including Best Picture and also winner of the 2012 Cannes Festival’s Palme d’Or, has the chance to do it.  However it’s a clear long shot, this year’s Oscar wild card.

Related: OSCARS: Parsing The Foreign Language Nominees

No foreign-language film has ever won Oscar’s top prize, although several have been nominated such as Cries And Whispers, Il Postino  and others. A handful, only four before Amour, have been nominated in both the Best Foreign Language Film and Best Picture categories. Z (1969),  Life Is Beautiful (1998), and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)  all won in Foreign Language Film but lost Best Picture. The Swedish film, The Emigrants had the distinction of nominations in both categories over the course of two years when Academy rules for foreign language films eligibility in other categories was different. It lost both Foreign Language Film in 1971 and Best Picture in 1972.

Related: César Award Nominations: ‘Amour’ Scores 10

The problem seems to be Academy members generally think the Foreign Film prize is a kind of Best Picture award making the trick of … Read More »

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Barker & Bernard Get Their Annual Woody: SPC Locks Woody Allen’s ‘Blue Jasmine’

Mike Fleming

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. Read More »

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TELLURIDE: Sony Pictures Classics Goes Where Others Don’t With Strong Oscar Slate

Pete Hammond

With 5 new movies screening just on Saturday alone with many of their stars and filmmakers in tow, co-presidents Michael Barker and Tom Bernard of Sony Pictures Classics are dominating much of the conversation and eyeballs at the 39th Telluride Film Festival. Playing today were SPC’s Cannes sensations Rust & Bone accompanied by star Marion Cotillard, and Palme d’Or winner Amour, whose filmmakers aren’t here. Plus 2013 planned releases No (winner of the Director’s Fortnight in Cannes) and its star Gael Garcia Bernal, and the father/son drama At Any Price whose Dennis Quaid and writer/director Ramin Bahrani are here without Zac Efron. Plus, the remarkable Israeli documentary The Gatekeepers. Barker and Bernard have been coming to Telluride for decades and strongly believe in the value of the festival. “I think anywhere from three to five movies is a good number” to bring here, he told me. And when they aren’t showing their own product, they have been seen at screenings checking out acquisition titles. They also held SPC’s annual filmmakers dinner Saturday night at La Marmotte restaurant.

Related: Toronto Film Fest: What Looks Good For Oscar?

But other top indie divisions of the majors are virtually sitting out this year’s fest. Telluride regular Fox Searchlight doesn’t have a single film on display here this year, though not for lack of trying. Searchlight has launched movies like Slumdog Millionaire, Juno and last year’s The Descendants among many others at Telluride – and this time wanted to bring their big awards hopeful, The Sessions starring John Hawkes and Helen Hunt. But Telluride generally frowns on movies that first debuted at Sundance. So the only Searchlight presence are reps checking out films for sale.

The Weinstein Company normally shows off their top titles, but only brought the undated musical The Sapphires (first seen at Cannes in May). It’s playing well at screenings here. No The Master. No Silver Linings Playbook. Both those movies will be in Toronto. However Weinstein in years past launched Best Picture winners The King’s Speech and The Artist at Telluride.

True, Universal’s arthouse division Focus Features this year is front and center with Hyde Park On Hudson. Its star Bill Murray hit town today and co-star Laura Linney lives here and is attending the fest. But Focus is saving another awards title, Anna Karenina, for a Toronto debut. Paramount, which has been here in the past, skipped Telluride and will miss Toronto in favor of debuting their awards players Flight and Not Fade Away at the New York Film Festival. Read More »

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Women Dominate Early Competition Films As Marion Cotillard Hits The Festival For The First Time: Cannes

By | Thursday May 17, 2012 @ 6:10pm PDT
Pete Hammond

Controversy? What controversy? Some journalists and bloggers, including at least one who isn’t even here, are saying there is a controversy in Cannes this year over the fact that no women directors are represented in the official selection. That may be true — there were four last year — but anyone who has sat through the first four competition films as I have must realize that, so far at least, women are the dominating factor in all of them. And from what I have been tipped about the remaining films it is just the beginning. Women may not be behind the camera this year but they are very prominent in front of it. They are also prominent on the jury making up nearly half. When asked about the lack of women directors this year, Oscar winning juror Andrea Arnold said she would never want one of her movies considered for a berth just because it was directed by a woman. Nevertheless women are a very visible force in the films seen to date. And there is the image of Hollywood icon Marilyn Monroe on the festival’s poster everywhere you go here.

In Wednesday night’s opener Moonrise Kingdom, young newcomer Kara Hayward practically carries the movie (with co-star Jared Gilman) which also features female heavyweights Frances McDormand and Tilda Swinton. In the Egyptian film After The Battle that premiered in Thursday’s late slot, women dominated the action as the film deals … Read More »

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Toronto: Sony Pictures Landing ‘Hysteria’

Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: I’m told that Sony Pictures Classics is near a deal to distribute Hysteria, the Tanya Wexler-directed romantic comedy based on the surprising truth of how Mortimer Granville came up with the world’s first electro-mechanical vibrator as an advance in medical science. The film created a — wait for it — buzz when it premiered September 15 at Roy Thomson Hall. Hugh Dancy, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jonathan Pryce, Rupert Everett and Felicity Jones star in the film. Samuel Goldwyn Films and Millennium also chased the title. Sony Pictures Classics partners Michael Barker and Tom Bernard have this evening’s opening-night film of the New York Film Festival with the premiere of Carnage, the Roman Polanski-directed feature adaptation of Yasmina Reza’s Tony-winning play. Polanski shot the film in Paris, with Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz and John C. Reilly starring. Hysteria was repped by Cassian Elwes and Elle Driver.

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Toronto: Sellers Rush To Get Into Oscar Race But Buyers Want Them To Slow Down

Pete Hammond

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. Read More »

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2011 Toronto Festival Fills Out Slate And Sets Maverick Lecture Program

Mike Fleming

The 2011 Toronto International Film Festival has filled out the rest of its slate, which consists of 268 features and 68 short films that will unspool next month. The fest announced that the likes of Brad Pitt (Moneyball), George Clooney (The Ides of March), and U2 (the Davis Guggenheim-directed docu From The Sky Down) will be among a long list of boldface names at the fest.

Toronto added 13 films to its Masters Lineup, including the North American premiere of Gus Van Sant’s Restless, and a Discovery Programme lineup that includes the international debut of the Dee Rees-directed Pariah, which premiered in January at Sundance. The fest also announced its complete lineup for Mavericks. It includes a discussion with Christopher Plummer, who stars in Barrymore, the Erik Canuel-directed adaptation of Plummer’s Tony-winning performance as actor John Barrymore; a conversation between Deepa Mehta and Salman Rushdie; a conversation with Francis Ford Coppola, whose Twixt plays Toronto; Neil Young and Jonathan Demme as they premiere the documentary Neil Young Life; Tilda Swinton as she brings We Need to Talk About Kevin to the fest; and a discussion with Sony Pictures Classics founders Michael Barker and Tom Bernard as their distribution company reaches its 20th year milestone.

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Sony Classics Gets Roman Polanski’s ‘Carnage’

Mike Fleming

Deadline told you last week that Sony Pictures Classics was wrapping up distribution on Roman Polanski’s adaptation of the Broadway hit God of Carnage. They’ve just announced the deal for the movie, with the abbreviated title Carnage:

NEW YORK (April 14, 2011) – Sony Pictures Classics announced today that they will release Roman Polanski’s new film, CARNAGE, in North America. Polanski penned the script with Yasmina Reza, which is adapted from Reza’s 2009 Tony Award® winning play God of Carnage. CARNAGE is produced by Said Ben Said (THE WITNESSES, THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN) and stars Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz and John C. Reilly. SPC expects an end of year release.

Sony Pictures Classics acquired the film from Said Ben Said and ICM’s Jeff Berg.

Polanski assembled an all-star crew to work on CARNAGE, director of photographer Pawel Edelman (THE GHOST WRITER, RAY, THE PIANIST), production designer Dean Tavoularis (THE NINTH GATE, THE GODFATHER, THE OUTSIDERS), editor Herve de Luze (THE GHOST WRITER, WILD GRASS, TELL NO ONE), costume designer Milena Canonero (DARJEELING LIMITED, MARIE ANTOINETTE, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE) and composer Alberto Iglesias (TALK TO HER, VOLVER, THE CONSTANT GARDENER, THE KITE RUNNER).

Set in contemporary Brooklyn, New York, CARNAGE centers on two pairs of parents one of whose child has hurt the other at a public park, who meet to discuss the matter in a civilized manner. However, as the evening goes on, the parents become increasingly childish, resulting

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Sony Classics Nears ‘God Of Carnage’ Deal

Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: I’m told that Sony Pictures Classics partners Michael Barker and Tom Bernard are tying up a deal to acquire US rights to God Of Carnage, the  Roman Polanski-directed feature adaptation of Yasmina Reza’s Tony-winning play. Polanski shot the film in Paris, with Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz and John C. Reilly starring.

This is just one of several plum pictures currently being shopped for distribution. Others include the Phyllida Lloyd-directed Margaret Thatcher pic The Iron Lady with Meryl Streep starring (the ask is $7 million for US rights), and the Paolo Sorrentino-directed This Must Be The Place, starring Sean Penn as a bored, retired rock star who tries to find his father’s killer, an ex-Nazi war criminal hiding in the U.S.

Back to God of Carnage. It’s a strong cast, and counting Polanski, everyone has won Oscars except Reilly, who has been nominated. The plot: two sets of parents meet after their kids brawl in the schoolyard, and get along worse than the kids did. The Broadway show ran 452 performances with roles originated by James Gandolfini, Marcia Gay Harden, Jeff Daniels and Hope Davis. ICM packaged the film and is making the distribution deal.

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Sony Pictures Acquires U.S. Rights To Agnieszka Holland’s ‘In Darkness’

By | Tuesday February 15, 2011 @ 7:43am PST
Mike Fleming

NEW YORK (February 15, 2011) – Sony Pictures Classics announced today that they have acquired all US rights to Academy Award® nominee Agnieszka Holland’s IN DARKNESS from sales agent Beta Cinema. The film, based on the true story “In the Sewers of lvov” by Robert Marshall, is written by David F. Shamoon and stars Robert Wieckiewicz, Benno Fürmann (NORTH FACE, MERRY CHRISTMAS), Maria Schrader (AIMEE & JAGUAR) and Herbert Knaup (RUN LOLA RUN, THE LIVES OF OTHERS). IN DARKNESS is produced by The Film Works, Schmidtz Katze Filmkollektiv and Zebra Films.

In IN DARKNESS, it is 1943, the Polish town of Lvov is occupied by the Nazis. Poverty grows. One day the selfish thief and burglar Leopold Socha encounters a group of Jewish refugees – and hides them for money in the labyrinth of the town’s sewers. At first only interested in lucrative business the whole thing reaches more and more Socha’s conscience. The Polish small-time crook makes up his mind and finally risks his own life for the refugees…

Director Agnieszka Holland said, “This story shows how fine the line is between the best and the worst of human nature.”

“With IN DARKNESS, Agnieszka Holland has made her masterwork and is truly at the peak of her form and maturity. This new true story of WWII and the Holocaust is a revelation. It is a privilege and pleasure to be together again with our friends Agnieszka, Dirk Schuerhoff and Beta Cinema,” states Sony Pictures Classics.

The acquisition of IN DARKNESS continues

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