Toronto 2011: The 10 Most Buzzed-About Films That Still Haven't Found a U.S. Distributor

Take This Waltz - Michelle Williams Seth Rogen - 2011

As the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival winds down, North American distribution deals are being struck left and right. More than 30 films have found homes during this year's fest, including several with at least a modicum of awards potential: Steve McQueen's Shame, Luc Besson's The Lady, Andrea Arnold's Wuthering HeightsLynne Shelton's Your Sister's Sister, William Friedkin's Killer Joe, and Abel Ferrara's 4:44 Last Day on Earth.

While everyone is counting the surprisingly high number of films that have found happy endings -- or at least happy beginnings -- at TIFF 2011, I thought that it might be just as useful to take a quick inventory of the fest's most buzzed-about films that haven't yet struck a deal. After all, the clock is ticking quickly, but time is not up yet. So, without further ado, here are the 10 that, to my eye, have the greatest potential in the marketplace.

  • 360 -- The last time that Rachel Weisz was directed by Fernando Meirelles, in 2005, she wound up with an Oscar. That film was an adaptation of John Le Carre's novel The Constant Gardener; this one -- which also unfolds like a thriller -- was inspired by Arthur Schnitzler's century-old play Reigen, which explores the complexities of sexual relationships between people of different social classes. Written by Oscar winner Peter Morgan, it also stars Anthony Hopkins, Ben Foster, and Jude Law.

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  • Barrymore -- In this one-man show, legendary thespian Christopher Plummer reprises the role of legendary thespian John Barrymore, for which he won the best actor Tony 15 years ago. The 81-year-old's vigor and stamina is amazing, and, even if the film starts to drag after a little while, it seems to me that Focus Features, above all other studios, would be smart to take a flyer on it. After all, they will already be trotting out Plummer -- as much as one can -- to drum up support for his other great performance this year, in their film Beginners (for which he has a strong shot in the best supporting actor category), and they could conceivably get double the bang for their buck -- as in a double-nod for the Oscar-less veteran (and keep in mind: the vast majority of people who have had a lead and supporting nod in the same year have won one).
  • The Eye of the Storm -- Australian writer/director Fred Schepisi, who is best known for the films Roxanne (1987) and A Cry in the Dark (1988), adapted (from a popular 1973 Aussie novel) and directed this actors' showcase about an elderly woman (Charlotte Rampling) nearing death whose children (Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush and Oscar nominee Judy Davis) make a rare trip home to see her, with the goal of boosting their respective standings in her will.

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  • Friends with Kids -- The romantic-dramedy Kissing Jessica Stein (2001), which was co-written by and stars Jennifer Westfeldt, premiered at the TIFF on September 10, 2001. One day shy of 10 years later, Westfeldt premiered her directorial debut Friends with Kids -- another another romantic-dramedy in which she stars -- at the fest, and once again had audiences wrapped around her finger. This one -- which also stars Adam Scott, Maya Rudolph, Kristen Wiig, Megan Fox, Ed Burns, Chris O'Dowd, and Westfeldt's partner Jon Hamm -- should play very well with young/middle-aged adults, and, if it gets picked up, I think it could be a major player in the best picture (musical/comedy) race at the Golden Globes.
  • Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding -- Two-time Oscar winner Jane Fonda returns to the big screen after a four-year absence in this Bruce Beresford-directed dramedy, playing a child of the sixties who is now a grey-haired grandmother -- only, she hasn't gotten the memo that her behavior was supposed to change over the years. When her long-estranged daughter (Catherine Keener) shows up at her home -- with two kids in tow (the girl is played by Elizabeth Olsen of Martha Marcy May Marlene) -- after separating from her husband, Fonda teaches them all to loosen up and helps each of them find a bit of romance (Olsen with Chace Crawford). Think On Golden Pond (1981)... only funny, and with Fonda now the parent instead of the child.

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  • Rampart -- Woody Harrelson gives a tour-de-force performance as a crooked but likable LAPD cop who starts coming off his hinges as his personal and professional life begin to fall apart. The gritty film reunites the key talent behind The Messenger (2009): Harrelson and writer/director Oren Moverman -- both of whom scored Oscar nods for that project -- as well as actor Ben Foster, in a small role. It also features a crazy number of other talented actors, including Ned Beatty, Steve Buscemi, Ice Cube, Anne Heche, Cynthia Nixon, Sigourney Weaver, and Robin Wright.
  • Take This Waltz -- The 32-year-old Canadian actress-turned-writer/director Sarah Polley, whose last film Away from Her (2006) wowed critics and earned Oscar nods for her script and leading lady, returns with another heartwrenching pic about the hazards of love. This one stars Michelle Williams, arguably the best actress of her generation, as a woman torn between two men, her husband (Seth Rogen) and her new neighbor (Luke Kirby).

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  • Think of Me -- This intense, emotional film from director Bryan Wizeman captures the stress bearing down on many American families during these tough economic times in a way that few others have, or have even attempted to. Like Frozen River (2008), for which Melissa Leo wound up with a best actress Oscar nod, it is about a single mother (Lauren Ambrose) and the extent to which she is willing to go to provide for her child (9-year-old Audrey P. Scott). Ambrose's performance, in particular, is generating considerable buzz.
  • Twixt -- Francis Ford Coppola's latest quirky "personal" film, which stars Val Kilmer and Elle Fanning, was apparently inspired by a dream that he once had. When the master filmmaker took clips of the pic to Comic-Con in July, audiences were both confused and intrigued by what they saw and heard -- and that apparently remains the case now that it has been seen in its entirety. It certainly doesn't have the mainstream appeal of Coppola's best-known works, but his name alone might be enough to attract respectable box-office numbers at art house theaters.
  • Winnie -- This controversial, unauthorized profile of Winnie Mandela, the ex-wife of former South African president Nelson Mandela, features a fine performance by Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson as the former (her best since Dreamgirls [2006]), but is essentially stolen by Oscar nominee Terrence Howard (who made his name at TIFF seven years ago in Crash [2005]) as the latter. Howard absolutely nails the great leader's accent, posture, and countenance (aided by great aging makeup) -- even more so than Morgan Freeman in Invictus (2009) -- and could be a serious best supporting actor Oscar contender if the film gets picked up.