Lido buzz heats titles in Toronto


TORONTO -- Sales heat intensified at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sunday afternoon as a trio of pictures caught the eye of distributors.

Driven by buzz from its Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, "Lebanon" suddenly has jumped to the top of critics' and distributors' lists. The pic generated a near-riot at a media and industry screening as many clamored to get in but were shut out.

Samuel Maoz's movie takes a look at the rigors of war from the interior of a tank trapped inside enemy lines during Israel's 1982 war with Lebanon. Sony Pictures Classics, IFC and Oscilloscope are among those said to be interested in the pic, which Celluloid Dreams is repping. (SPC had last year's foreign-language darling, "Waltz With Bashir," also set during the 1982 Middle East war.)

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Observers noted the irony of buzz for an Israeli pic in a festival beset by controversy over Israeli films, adding that the pic wasn't part of the contentious City by City sidebar despite its political subject matter.

Also gaining traction at the fest is Tom Ford's "A Single Man," another Lido hit. The gay love story has tragic death at its center, making it a marketing challenge, but nonetheless has come to be seen as this year's version of "The Wrestler" -- the kind of movie an awards-hungry distributor can pick up and build a campaign around.

Buyers said they were drawn to its sharp look, dramatic story and a strong performance from Colin Firth (like Mickey Rourke in "Wrestler," Firth won the acting prize in Venice).

Many acquisition execs like to see the film with an audience before making an offer, which could hold up a sale by a day or two. The public screening is set for the relatively small Isabel Bader Theatre tonight, with a sale likely soon after for the CAA-repped pic.

Finally, "The Joneses," Derrick Borte's story of a seemingly perfect suburban family working secretly as guerrilla marketers, screened well in its Sunday afternoon debut. David Duchovny and Demi Moore star in the film, which ICM is selling.

Summit, Lionsgate, Overture and Fox Searchlight all turned out for the public screening, and while the prices for many of the pics are not expected to be high, "Joneses" is one of the few films seen as capable of generate a significant sales figure.

The heat comes after a relatively quiet few days on the acquisition front as Don Roos' drama "Love and Other Impossible Pursuits," the Jordan Scott thriller "Cracks" and the Michael Caine vigilante pic "Harry Brown" generated more mixed results.

The breakout studio film of the weekend was Jason Reitman's "Up in the Air." One of Paramount's major fall hopes, the film unspooled Saturday to a warm reaction.

Based on Walter Kirn's novel and starring George Clooney, Reitman's pic tells the tale of a jet-setting corporate downsizer whose only connections are the kind you make at airports. It centers on the fortysomething drifter and, to a lesser degree, the largely Middle American, middle-aged workers he fires.

Despite the older-skewing elements, reaction from the heavily twenty- and thirtysomething urbane audience was intensely enthusiastic at Toronto's Ryerson, generally reserved for younger-oriented fare. The venue proved a charm for "Slumdog Millionaire," a movie that also contains dramatic and feel-good elements and began its awards-season run at the festival last year.

"Air's" hybrid status as an entertaining confection that nonetheless features a number of downbeat moments -- "It's not an indie movie and it's not a mainstream movie," Reitman said -- could face marketing hurdles as it aims for a broad audience.

But the film's marketing strategy began to emerge during the course of the news conference and screening, where it was positioned as a layoff story that, also like "Slumdog," reflects difficult social realities but does so gently and with doses of humor.

At the conference, reporters asked and talent responded with stories of layoffs and firings.

"This is a film that's not about job loss, but it touches on it," Reitman said. "My only (previous) experience was ... with percentages and numbers. In making this film, I was confronted with the heart of it."

The movie, which Paramount opens in early December, also likely will draw attention because of apparent similarities between Clooney's globetrotting bachelor Ryan Bingham and the man who plays him.

After the actor deflected a question about the parallels by quipping "We're both the same height," Reitman didn't let him off the hook. "The first time you read it you said you see connections," Reitman said.

"A Serious Man," the Coen brothers' Jewish-American coming-of -age story about a troubled professor and his family in late-1960s Minnesota, has generated positive reviews and is a big bet for Focus in the fall.

Overture unveiled its two big fall titles, Clooney-toplined screwball military comedy "The Men Who Stare at Goats" (complete with live goats at the afterparty) and Michael Moore's economic screed "Capitalism: A Love Story," which screened Sunday night.

Many acquisition titles were still left to unspool, including Todd Solondz's "Life During Wartime" and Tim Blake Nelson's "Leaves of Grass," both of which have drawn distributor interest, as has Brian Koppelman and David Levien's "Solitary Man," which earned raves for stories and Michael Douglas' performance as a troubled auto magnate.
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