Martin Grove’s Hollywood Report 09-17-12

“Argo” – In theaters October 12th

“Argo” – In theaters October 12th

“Cloud Atlas”

“Cloud Atlas”

Helen Hunt and John Hawkes in “The Sessions”

Helen Hunt and John Hawkes in “The Sessions”

Contenders collection: Visibility at fall film festivals in Venice, Telluride and Toronto is part of Hollywood’s basic awards marketing playbook. In particular, films that resonate at the Toronto International Film Festival, which wrapped up Sunday, emerge as early Oscar contenders.

The 37th annual TIFF, as it’s known for short, ran from Sept. 6–16 and included 17 galas, 45 special presentations and 38 world premieres. In past years, TIFF’s launched Oscar winning hits like “The Artist” and “The King’s Speech” — so no wonder Hollywood expects lightning to strike again!

This year it was the launch pad for some very well regarded titles from leading filmmakers whose elevated profiles automatically put them on track for awards consideration by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (Golden Globes), British Academy (BAFTAs) and the Academy (Oscars). Because TIFF isn’t a competitive festival with awards the way Venice is with its Golden Lion, exposure in Toronto works to the advantage of all films selected to be in the festival.

Here’s a quick look at some of the most talked about titles in this year’s Toronto contenders collection.

After a strong showing at the 69th annual Venice International Film Festival, The Weinstein Company’s “The Master” made a very quick Atlantic crossing to play in Toronto.

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, “Master” stars Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams. The R rated 1950s set drama has been making headlines ever since early reports labeled it a thinly disguised story about the origins of Scientology. In the aftermath of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes’ divorce, “Master” seems well positioned to benefit from heightened awareness of Scientology and ongoing controversies surrounding it.

The film, itself, generated some controversy of its own in Venice when the jury that awards the festival’s Golden Lion top prize changed its mind at the last minute and gave that honor to Korean director Kim Ki-duk’s “Pieta” instead. That decision reportedly stemmed from festival rules prohibiting any one film from receiving more than two major prizes. The problem was that the jury had already decided to give Anderson the Silver Lion award for directing and to give acting awards to Hoffman and Phoenix. In the end, they preferred to pull the Golden Lion than to scrap one of the other honors.

“Master” opened at five theatres last weekend, grossing about $730,000, a very encouraging average of about $146,000 per screen. It expands its run this weekend and is clearly on TWC co-chairman Harvey Weinstein’s Oscar contender radar. It was Harvey, of course, who orchestrated the best picture Oscar wins in both 2011 (“The King’s Speech”) and 2012 (“The Artist”), using festival exposure in Toronto to help get an early buzz going for both pictures.

It should help that Academy members have been big Anderson fans in the past. He’s been Oscar nominated five times – in 2008 for writing, directing and co-producing the best picture nominee “There Will Be Blood;” in 2000 for writing “Magnolia;” and in 1999 for writing “Boogie Nights.” Hoffman won the best actor Oscar for “Capote” in 2005. One of those he beat in that race was Phoenix, who was nominated for “Walk the Line.”

Warner Bros.’ “Argo,” opening wide Oct. 12, is coming off a strong world premiere reception in Toronto. Directed by Ben Affleck, the political thriller generated top media attention and a big awards buzz at TIFF. Set during 1979’s Iran hostage crisis, it stars Affleck, Bryan Cranston and John Goodman.

Affleck was an Oscar and Golden Globe winner (with Matt Damon) in 1998 for co-writing “Good Will Hunting.”

“Argo” could have an Oscar race advantage because its story involves an elaborate subterfuge in which the Iranians were tricked into thinking that six American diplomats on the run were actually filmmakers there to make a sci-fi movie (called “Argo,” of course).

Alan Arkin, who plays a movie producer at the heart of the scam, is a strong potential supporting actor nominee. He won the supporting actor Oscar in 2007 for “Little Miss Sunshine” and was a best actor Oscar nominee in 1969 for “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” and in 1967 for “The Russians Are Coming the Russians Are Coming.”

Also springboarding off a good early buzz in Toronto is Fox Searchlight Pictures’ drama “The Sessions,” directed by Ben Lewin (“Paperback Romance”) and starring John Hawkes, Helen Hunt and William H. Macy. Originally scheduled to open in limited release Oct. 26, Searchlight just moved “Sessions” to Oct. 19.

Hawkes plays a man living in an iron lung who at age 38 wants to lose his virginity and to do so hires a surrogate (Hunt).

Under its original title “The Surrogate,” the film won the Audience Award (Dramatic) and the Special Jury Prize (Dramatic) earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival.

Hawkes was a best supporting actor Oscar nominee in 2011 for “Winter’s Bone.” Hunt won the best actress Oscar in 1998 for “As Good As It Gets.” And Macy was a supporting actor Oscar nominee in 1997 for “Fargo.”

Warner Bros.’ sci-fi mystery “Cloud Atlas” opens wide Oct. 26 after generating attention at TIFF. Directed by Tom Twyker and Andy and Lana Wachowski, it stars Tom Hanks, Halle Berry and Hugh Grant.

“Atlas” is a multi-story look at how individual lives impact on each other in the past, present and future and how one act of kindness inspires a revolution centuries later.

Twyker was a BAFTA nominee in 2000 for best film not in the English language for “Run Lola Run.”

The Wachowski brother-sister team – who started out as a brother-brother team with Lana then being Larry – are best known for their blockbuster “Matrix” franchise.

Based on how well they’ve resonated with Oscar voters in the past, some of “Cloud’s” stars are likely contenders. Hanks won back-to-back best actor Oscars in 1994 for “Philadelphia” and in 1995 for “Forrest Gump.” Berry won the best actress Oscar in 2002 for “Monster’s Ball.” Grant took home a best actor BAFTA and Golden Globe in 1995 for “Four Weddings and a Funeral.” Jim Broadbent won the best supporting actor Oscar in 2002 for “Iris.” And Susan Sarandon was the best actress Oscar winner in 1996 for “Dead Man Walking.”

Focus Features has a strong post-TIFF awards contender in its R rated drama “Anna Karenina,” opening Nov. 16 in New York and Los Angeles. It goes into limited release Nov. 21 and expands Nov. 30. Directed by Joe Wright (“Atonement”), it stars Keira Knightley, Jude Law and Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Its screenplay by Tom Stoppard, an Oscar and Golden Globe winner in 1999 for “Shakespeare in Love,” is based on the classic novel by Leo Tolstoy.

“Anna” reteams Knightley with Wright, who directed her in “Atonement,” a best picture Oscar nominee in 2008. Wright was a BAFTA and Golden Globe nominee in 2008 for “Atonement,” which was a Best British Film BAFTA nominee. Knightley was Oscar nominated in 2006 for “Pride and Prejudice,” which was also directed by Wright.

The Weinstein Company’s dark comedy “Silver Linings Playbook” is another Toronto contender that will be looking for Academy affection. Directed by David O. Russell (“The Fighter”), it stars Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro.

Cooper plays a former high school teacher trying to work things out with his ex-wife when he meets a mysterious girl (Lawrence) who’s got her own problems.

Russell was a best directing Oscar nominee in 2011 for “The Fighter.” Lawrence was Oscar nominated for best supporting actress in 2011 for “Winter’s Bone.” De Niro won best actor Oscars in 1975 for “The Godfather, Part II” and in 1980 for “Raging Bull.”

Also benefiting from its Toronto exposure will be Focus Features’ biographical dramedy “Hyde Park on Hudson,” opening Dec. 7 in New York and Los Angeles. Directed by Roger Michell, it stars Bill Murray as Franklin D. Roosevelt and Olivia Williams as his wife, Eleanor.

The story takes place in Roosevelt’s Hyde Park on Hudson home in upstate New York during a 1939 visit from Britain’s King George VI (Samuel West) and Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman as the present Queen Elizabeth’s mother). It’s told from the point of view of Roosevelt’s neighbor and distant cousin Margaret Stuckey (Laura Linney), who was apparently something more than just a good neighbor to FDR.

Michell was a BAFTA nominee in 2000 for Best British Film for co-producing “Notting Hill.” Murray was a best actor Oscar nominee in 2004 for “Lost in Translation.” Linney is a three-time Oscar nominee – in 2008 for best actress for “The Savages,” in 2005 for best supporting actress for “Kinsey” and in 2001 for best actress for “You Can Count On Me.”

At this writing no U.S. distribution deal is in place yet for Terrence Malick’s R rated romantic drama “To the Wonder,” which had its world premiere in Venice and then played at TIFF. Its ensemble cast includes Ben Affleck, Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams, Javier Bardem and Olga Kurylenko.

In “Wonder” Kurylenko and Affleck come to Oklahoma after visiting France’s Mont Saint-Michel, known locally as “The Wonder.” They’re in love when they arrive, but before long they’ve run into problems and are involved in other relationships – she with a troubled priest (Bardem) and he with a childhood friend (McAdams).

Malick was Oscar nominated in 2012 for directing “The Tree of Life,” which was also a Best Picture Oscar nominee, and in 1999 for writing and directing “The Thin Red Line.”

Affleck won an Oscar and a Golden Globe (shared with Matt Damon) in 1998 for co-writing “Good Will Hunting.” Weisz won a best supporting Oscar in 2006 for “The Constant Gardener.” Bardem was a supporting actor Oscar winner in 2008 for “No Country For Old Men.”

Bottom line: It’s great to be an early awards contender, but the danger is running out of steam and being overtaken by films entering the race later in the season. Keeping that early momentum going isn’t easy and should pose challenges for all the post-Toronto contenders.