The 2015 edition of the Sundance Film Festival has come to a close, and if you’ve been following our coverage — and I know you have! — you may be wondering if and when you’ll get to see all these fabulous documentaries and terrific narrative features. And, well, it’s a little complicated. The “if” is fairly easy to figure out, at this point; a healthy chunk of the movies that play the ‘dance go in without a distributor in place, and come out with one. (Deal-watching is one of the many side spectator sports of the festival.) They don’t always announce when they’ll put those movies out, of course, but we can also take some guesses, so let’s round up the deals that have been made, and get an idea of what the art house will look like in 2015 and beyond.
Results, Best of Enemies, The Wolfpack, Tangerine
Magnolia has been the busiest indie distributor at Sundance, picking up four titles so far — which is very good news for indie fans, since it’s not only a savvy and capable theatrical distributor, but one that reliably releases its films on demand concurrent with (and often before) their theatrical release. The company got off to a strong start by acquiring Results, the lovely and peculiar romantic comedy from director Andrew Bujalski, before the festival even began; the Cobie Smulders/Guy Pearce vehicle is slated for summer release. Best of Enemies, the story of the 1968 Gore Vidal/William F. Buckley Jr. television debates, was one of my favorites of the fest; I wouldn’t be surprised if it were also released in the summer — as co-director Morgan Neville’s last film, 20 Feet from Stardom, was — as blockbuster counter-programming. The Wolfpack, which won the US Grand Jury Prize: Documentary, and Tangerine, a smash hit in the “NEXT” category, were also picked up by Magnolia, with releases slated for sometime this year.
Brooklyn, Mistress America, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
For my money, Fox Searchlight may come out of Sundance with the best slate for 2015. Brooklyn was my favorite film in Park City, and Searchlight paid handsomely for it ($9 million). But it’s a crowd-pleaser, a literary adaptation, a tearjerker, and a period piece, so I’ll bet dollars to donuts they’ll hold it until fall and position it as an Oscar contender. They picked up Noah Baumbach’s marvelous Mistress America well in advance of the festival (for $6.5 million and, rumor has it, sight unseen); the zippy screwball comedy seems like a safe bet for late spring or summer release. And Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, the required cancer/coming-of-age comedy/drama, was a big award winner, taking both the Jury and Audience prizes in the dramatic category. It sparked a fierce bidding war, with Fox taking it for between $4 and $5 million.
The End of the Tour, The Witch, Mississippi Grind
A24 has gone from upstart to major player, and made three smart buys at the fest. The End of the Tour was an early festival favorite, and A24 handled director James Ponsoldt’s last film, The Spectacular Now, so this one was a bit of a no-brainer; I wouldn’t be surprised to see it held until fall, if for no other reason than to position Jason Segel as an awards contender. The period horror title The Witch garnered big-time buzz and a US Dramatic Directing award, and seems like a strong possibility for a Halloween-ish release. And while reviews were a bit more mixed for Mississippi Grind, people can’t stop talking about how great Ryan Reynolds and (especially) Ben Mendelsohn are in the leads.
Knock Knock, Don Verdean, Z for Zachariah
Lionsgate is one of the most reliably savvy marketers of horror movies, so the $2.5 million they reportedly popped for the latest from brand-name director Eli Roth and marquee star Keanu Reeves was probably money well spent. But who knows what the hell they were thinking with their pre-fest buy of Don Verdean, the latest from Napoleon Dynamite’s Jared and Jerusha Hess, which premiered a week later to less-than-rapturous notices (including ours)? Finally, the company will partner with Roadside Attractions to release Craig Zobel’s acclaimed Z for Zachariah.
The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Grandma
Sony Pictures Classics had made two buys so far: The potentially controversial Diary of a Teenage Girl (which won the Jury Prize for Cinematography) and Paul Weitz’s Grandma, which is already generating Oscar talk for star Lily Tomlin. I’d expect Diary in the summer and Grandma in the fall.
The D Train, Reversal
IFC Films landed The D Train, which garnered strong buzz for Jack Black’s first starring role in years and an ace comic turn by James Marsden, for a $3 million price tag that included a commitment for wide theatrical release, which I imagine will happen this summer. Their genre-based IFC Midnight imprint also picked up Reversal, a revenge thriller that generated more mixed reviews.
The Overnight, Digging for Fire
The Orchard is one of the newer distributors on the indie scene, but they spent some cash to pick up two high-profile comedy/dramas. The enjoyably raucous The Overnight went for somewhere in the “seven-figure range,” with Orchard reportedly outbidding at least four other distributors, while also acquiring the muted but strong Joe Swanberg effort Digging for Fire.
My second-fave of the festival, this energetic action/comedy is one of the most commercial films screened last week; it was picked up for $7 million by Open Road (who will distribute domestically) and Sony (who will handle it internationally). And it has the first concrete release date of the festival buys: June 12, opposite Jurassic World. Good luck, great little movie that’s taking on giant dinosaur franchise!
Hot Girls Wanted
The additional deals thus far are from distributors that have only picked up one title: Tribeca Film (the comedy doc Misery Loves Comedy), Relativity (the opening night comedy The Bronze), Alchemy (the Nicole Kidman/Joseph Finnes drama Strangerland), HBO (the US Documentary Special Jury Award winner for Social Impact 3½ Minutes), Bleecker Street (I’ll See You in My Dreams, which may be positioned as Oscar fodder for star Blythe Danner), newbie Broad Green (A Walk in the Woods, starring fest founder Robert Redford), Screen Media Films (the lackluster Ten Thousand Saints), Sundance Selects (City of Gold), Relativity Sports (In Football We Trust), Focus World (Cop Car), Breaking Glass Pictures (Uncertain Terms), Fortissimo (Songs My Brothers Taught Me), and Samuel Goldwyn Films (Fresh Dressed).
Pre-festival deals (with release dates!)
Before we were even in pre-fest mode, A24 picked up the Michael Fassbender starrer (and World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic award winner) Slow West. The Irish historical drama ’71 is slated for limited release on February 27. Spotlight selection and Best Foreign Film Oscar nominee Wild Tales will open on February 20. HBO will air the controversial Scientology documentary Going Clear in March. Radius-TWC will release the powerful campus rape documentary The Hunting Ground on March 20. The Spotlight selection (and Cannes Un Certain Regard winner) White God will open in New York on March 27. Ramin Bahrani’s excellent 99 Homes will reportedly hit theaters in June. And here’s the best news of all: the wonderful Girlhood is playing in limited release right now. Who says you have to wait forever to see the best of Sundance?