Toronto: Weekend Packed With Buzzed-About Films

"Locke"
"Locke"
 

Buyers looking for product are gearing up for one of the busiest screening weekends in the history of the Toronto Film Festival. Friday’s first round of offerings brought decidedly mixed reaction. The clear darling was Tom Hardy star vehicle Locke, written and directed by British filmmaker Steven Knight, creator of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. Several buyers immediately began circling the drama.

Locke, which made its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival, isn’t an official Toronto entry; rather, IM Global and CAA are arranging private screenings for both U.S. buyers and foreign distributors. Two screenings that drew several buyers but a lukewarm response were the Kristen Wiig comedy Hateship Loveship and the drama The Love Punch, starring Pierce Brosnan and Emma Thompson. Hateship Loveship stars Hailee Steinfeld as a girl who tries to set up her nanny (Wiig) with her father (Guy Pearce). Both are likely to sell, but may represent smaller deals.

PHOTOS: The Films at Toronto

Several high-profile films looking for a U.S. home were generating buzz before Friday premieres, including Daniel Radcliffe horror pic Horns, Colin Firth drama The Railway Man and Bad Words, marking Jason Bateman’s feature directorial debut. American distributors are especially keen to see Horns, about a man who grows horns after coming under suspicion for killing his girlfriend, and Bad Words, starring Bateman as a man who seeks to redeem his childhood by entering a spelling bee contest.

In the Midnight Madness section, The Station — playing at 12:01 a.m. Friday — was also on every buyer’s must-see list.

The weekend schedule is so crowded this year that buyers are relying more than ever on their cheat sheets. One distribution operation prioritizes its screening grid by grading a film either an “A,” “B” or “F” based on pre-festival intelligence (top executives attend the “A” films).

PHOTOS: The Scene at the Toronto Film Festival 2013

Saturday and Sunday’s crowded roster includes Can a Song Save Your Life?, starring Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo and Steinfeld; You Are Here, directed by Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner; comedian Mike Myers’ documentary Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon; The F Word, starring Radcliffe opposite Zoe Kazan; Life of Crime, starring Jennifer Aniston and based on a story by the late Elmore Leonard; horror-thriller The Sacrament; and Atom Egoyan’s Reese Witherspoon-Firth starrer Devil’s Knot. A number of additional acquisition titles play next week as well.

“It’s unusual how many titles there are for sale. This is the high-water mark,” says veteran UTA independent agent Rich Klubeck.

CAA’s Micah Green adds that all the “ingredients are there for a healthy market. There have been a lot of box office successes the past year and distributors are feeling bullish.”

The CAA-repped Locke could be one of the first deals closed on the ground in Toronto. The movie, about a man whose life unravels in nearly real time while he is at the wheel of his car across the film’s almost 90 minutes, generated generally strong reviews out of Venice. Locke, directed by Knight from his own script, is set entirely in the car Hardy’s character drives.

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