By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood August 13, 2010 at 6:30AM
Lionsgate is an indie with a taste for mainstream genre fare, but when a Crash or Precious comes along, the distrib knows what to do. This year, though, Lionsgate is adopting a different model that more resembles the studio approach: chase consumers first with such movies as Buried and The Next Three Days, Oscar voters later. And let your specialty subsidiary do the heavy-lifting in the art-film arena: Roadside Attractions is closing in on a deal to release Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's Biutiful starring the incandescent Javier Bardem. Ironically, ex-Lionsgate exec Tom Ortenberg is in talks to steer the campaign (he's also masterminding the Apparition release of Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life).
Thus Lionsgate is promoting Sundance pick-up Buried at Toronto in advance of its September 24 opening; Ryan Reynolds is grabbing advance buzz for his bravado solo turn trapped inside a box. But surprisingly, the distrib is passing on the fest circuit for Paul Haggis's The Next Three Days, starring Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks and Liam Neeson.
Remember, Haggis tends to write awards-contenders for Clint Eastwood (Mystic River, Flags of Our Fathers, Letters from Iwo Jima) and wrote and directed Lionsgate's best picture Oscar-winner Crash. (He also contributed drafts on the last two James Bond films.) But after his heartfelt 2007 Iraq War drama In the Valley of Elah disappointed at the box office, one can hardly blame Haggis for turning to the commercial side. And these days Lionsgate is also in no mood--with corporate raider Carl Icahn breathing down their neck--for delivering anything but box-office winners. While last year the Lionsgate marketing team worked overtime booking Precious to multiple film fests en route to six Oscar nominations and two wins, with The Next Three Days they're opting to treat the movie, which opens November 19, as the mainstream suspense thriller they hope it is. "It's not indie art-house or specialty," says one Lionsgate exec. "It's a commercial movie for us."
Let's hope that The Next Three Days stars Neeson, Crowe and Banks meet a more friendly reception than they did on their last films--The A-Team, Robin Hood and The Uninvited, respectively. I like the film's premise: working class English teacher Crowe strives obsessively to break his unjustly imprisoned wife Banks out of a Pittsburgh prison with help from a jailbreak expert (Neeson). Crowe believes that Banks is innocent of murdering her boss, and wants to bring her back to their son. Haggis adapted a taut French thriller, Pour Elle, that he admired. He told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette during production: "One of the major questions I wanted to ask is if you know that by saving the woman you love, you could quite possibly turn into someone she could no longer love, would you do it?"
More Oscar action will be at Roadside Attractions, which is in final talks to distribute (via a CAA-packaged service deal, with outside P & A) Gonzalez Inarritu's intense Spanish-language drama Biutiful, which stirred controversy at Cannes and is set to play the Toronto Film Fest September 10. Lionsgate is picking up homevideo rights. With proper backing, Bardem, who delivers a fierce, heartbreaking performance, could be a factor in the Oscar best actor race.
And Roadside's Sundance pick-up Winter's Bone, a critical fave, is shaping up as a summer sleeper and strong awards contender, with buzz building for breakout star Jennifer Lawrence. Last year Roadside shepherded doc The Cove to an Oscar win.