After Toronto, small film world primes for peak viewing season

Mon Sep 15, 2014 6:47pm EDT
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By Mary Milliken

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The red carpets have rolled up and the festival awards are adjudicated, and now comes the deluge of small and independent films for fall viewing and Oscar baiting.

Unlike last year when "12 Years a Slave," and "Gravity," emerged from the Toronto, Venice and Telluride festivals as solid front-runners for awards, the fate of the 2014 class is more uncertain. There are many acclaimed films on the horizon, but the race for February's Academy Awards is wide open.

One strong contender is Toronto's top winner "The Imitation Game," the biopic of British World War Two code breaker Alan Turing, who was later persecuted for being gay. Turing is played by the popular Benedict Cumberbatch, a casting choice that likely helped the movie win the public-voted best film prize.

Toronto's victor last year, "12 Years a Slave," won the Oscar best picture in a showdown with "Gravity."

"It is a great place to present a film, said Michael Barker, co-president of Sony's art-house unit Sony Pictures Classics, which showcased nine films at North America's top festival.

"The presentation, the aura, the atmosphere - the best place for critics and exhibitors to see the film with the kind of responsive audience."

He and co-president Tom Bernard presented Sundance winner "Whiplash," about a jazz drummer obsessed with perfection, and Cannes favorite "Foxcatcher" starring an unrecognizable Steve Carell as a du Pont family scion who murders a wrestling champ. Both films have received critical acclaim and Sony waited to release them in the fall to increase their awards potential.

The Weinstein Co., the awards season powerhouse behind "The Imitation Game," also came out of Toronto with momentum for "St. Vincent," starring Bill Murray as a hard-living curmudgeon and unlikely mentor to a boy. It won the second runner-up prize.   Continued...

(L-R) Keira Knightley, Matthew Beard, Matthew Goode, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Allen Leech star in "The Imitation Game." REUTERS/Jack English/The Weinstein Company/Handout