Breakouts and fakeouts at Toronto film fest

TORONTO (Hollywood Reporter) - It was a week of wrestling and slumdogging at the Toronto International Film Festival, and Che Guevara joined the video-on-demand revolution.

Director Danny Boyle is reflected in a mirror during the " Slumdog Millionaire " news conference at the 33rd Toronto International Film Festival, September 8, 2008. REUTERS/ Mike Cassese

The festival, like most others, 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 festival ends Saturday, some trends, winners, losers and momentum-gatherers have come into focus:

= Star births. With the festival’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 documentary “More Than a Game” and “Paris, Not France,” a character study -- and defence 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 representing “Paris.” “These movies are right in the dead centre of that culture.”

= Box office bonanza. Every year, Toronto helps turn a movie that arrives with some buzz into a potential megahit. Two years ago, it was 20th Century Fox’s “Borat.” Last year, it was Fox Searchlight’s “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.

= Company stew. It was again a tale of two festivals 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 big media story with the four-hour “Che,” which it will play simultaneously in theatres and on VOD; and Summit, which paid something in the $1.5 million (853,000 pounds) range for “Hurt Locker,” a rare fest movie that could play broadly commercial.

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

= 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).

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter