Toronto fest starts loud, ends quietly

Still, 'Slumdog,' 'Millionaire' and 'Che' shine

TORONTO -- It was a week of wrestling, slumdogging and Che Guevara joining the VOD revolution.

The Toronto International Film Festival, like most fests, featured films that came in loudly and went out quietly (see "The Burning Plain," "The Other Man" and "Management"). But the movies and companies that did stand out tended to do so brightly -- from Danny Boyle's romance-action hybrid "Slumdog Millionaire" to instant Oscar contender "The Wrestler" to IFC's coup, as it were, in picking up "Che." As the fest ends Saturday, some trends, winners, losers and momentum-gatherers have come into focus:

-- Star births. With the fest's high number of prestige films and many opportunities to rub elbows with the media, working actors often are transformed into bona fide stars at Toronto. This year, there were three breakouts: Mickey Rourke, Mickey Rourke and Mickey Rourke. But some other actors managed to grab the limelight and/or awards talk, including Sally Hawkins ("Happy-Go-Lucky"), Martin Landau ("Lovely, Still"), Jeremy Renner ("The Hurt Locker") and Christian McKay ("Me and Orson Welles"). Anne Hathaway, already something of a marquee name, bolstered her indie cred with "Rachel Getting Married." And, of course, there was Rourke in "The Wrestler."

-- Celebrity heaven. Neither film has sold yet, but look for two of the bigger stories coming out of the fest to be the Lebron James hoops docu "More Than a Game" and "Paris, Not France," a character study -- and defense of -- Paris Hilton. Both movies should get a tidy sale and will reap plenty of media even months from now. "It tells you everything you need to know about where we are right now as a culture," said William Morris Independent's Cassian Elwes, who's repping "Paris." "These movies are right in the dead center of that culture."

-- Sales agent men. CAA had two of the bigger sales of the fest with "Wrestler" and "Hurt Locker," accounting for $5 million-$6 million in business. One of the agency's chief competitors, Cinetic, was quieter; it didn't pull off midfest sales of big titles "Me and Orson Welles," "Is There Anybody There?" and "Gigantic," though "Welles" played strongly and likely will entice a buyer.

-- Company stew. It was again a tale of two fests for acquisition companies. the biggest winners were Fox Searchlight, which landed the big fish in "Wrestler"; IFC, which had good buzz for its Cannes pickup "Hunger" and scored the media story of the fest with "Che," which it will play simultaneously in theaters and on VOD as part of IFC in Theaters program; and Summit, which paid something in the $1.5 million range for "Hurt Locker," a rare fest movie that could play broadly commercial.

Most surprising: Lionsgate and Overture -- which was the story of last year's fest when it grabbed "The Visitor" -- looked hard for films but made no buys. Most telling: Paramount's Vantage label and embattled ThinkFilm, both in flux, were silent.

-- Boxoffice bonanza. Every year Toronto helps turn a movie that arrives with some buzz into a potential megahit. Two years ago, it was "Borat." Last year, it was "Juno." This year it probably will be yet another Fox product, "Slumdog." But as Searchlight preps for a November release, it will feel the pressure. The company is so good at launching successful platform releases that the industry will be disappointed if "Slumdog" doesn't turn into a crossover hit.

-- Windless sales, flying prices. Toronto is rarely a brisk market. But the fact that there were only two sales off of premieres -- among a field that was considered strong -- had some sellers shaking their heads. But buyers say the deals will happen -- they'll just take a little longer as producers lower their prices and expectations. "It's like an owner selling his house during the mortgage crisis," says one acquisition exec. "He wants to sell it for top dollar, and it takes a little while for him to realize that he's going to need to bring down the price to reflect its value in the market."

-- Harveyless-ness. The Weinstein Co. continued its recent fest pattern of making little noise on the acquisition front. But it did have one of the breakout comedies of the fest in "Zack and Miri Make a Porno," which was the hands-down winner among the city's young, pro-Kevin Smith contingent.

-- Virtuosity. One of the biggest conversation pieces of the fest -- and not always in a good way -- was "Easy Virtue," the Stephan Elliott period comedy-of-manners based on a Noel Coward play. Performances from Colin Firth and Kristen Scott Thomas were lauded, but Jessica Biel as an American bon vivant who crashes the aristocratic party had tongues wagging (again, not always in a good way).

Gregg Goldstein New York contributed to this report.