Sony Pictures Classics' Barker and Bernard: Kings of the Croisette

by Anne Thompson
May 12, 2011 4:23 AM
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Thompson on Hollywood
So far so good for Sony Pictures Classics co-presidents Michael Barker and Tom Bernard. They opened the festival with Woody Allen's best-received movie in years, Midnight in Paris, which they have been blitzing all over the media because they want to ride a Cannes wave of buzz into theaters on May 20.

Thursday they debuted Gus Van Sant's Restless, a heartfelt romance starring Mia Wasikowska and Henry Hopper (son of Dennis) as two lonely teens who each for their own reasons are obsessed with death and not in school--and fall in love. Only Van Sant could have pulled off this Portland-based love story on such a small, delicate scale, without manipulating madly. His touch is sure.

Both SPC and the Cannes fest agreed that while Van Sant is a competition regular, the film would be better served as the opener of Un Certain Regard, which screened Precious and Blue Valentine. It makes sense, as does SPC inheriting the film, which was produced by Imagine and Bryce Dallas Howard, from Columbia Pictures. It needs their careful handling. "It's a gentle romantic drama," says Barker. "It's all about character. The two actors are wonderful. It feels new and fresh."

Toward the end of the festival, SPC will debut--after having submitted an unfinished version--Pedro Almodovar's recently completed The Skin I Live In, which reunites the director with Spanish star Antonio Banderas (for the first time since 1989's Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down), who is also working the Croisette for DreamWorks Animation's Puss In Boots. Barker promises an R-rated movie--as usual-- that puts Almodovar in new territory that is difficult to pidgeonhole. The film plays within several genres: "It's not a horror film, not a drama or a comedy," Barker says. "It's a combination of all of those. The moment is ripe for Banderas to break out again." SPC has acquired Almodovar's last six films off their scripts.

Also in the fest in Critic's Week is well-reviewed Sundance flick Take Shelter, starring Michael Shannon, who is stuck in the states. That didn't hurt Amy Adams when she did not come for June Bug, Barker reminds. "It's important to show in Cannes and meet the director. We're in the same slot." Rising actress Jessica Chastain, who also stars in Terrence Malick's Tree of Life, will do the honors. "She's great in everything," sighs Barker, who has seen the doc Salome by Al Pacino; that will debut in Venice. Chastain also stars in DreamWorks' summer release The Help. All of these films will build steam for Take Shelter's October 7 opening.

Coming up but not completed in time for Cannes is Roman Polanski's Carnage, starring Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly and Christoph Waltz, which will probably land in Venice and/or Toronto.

SPC usually has several films in the official Cannes selection, and they also still acquire foreign-language films out of Cannes (along with IFC and Music Box). They have an uncanny eye for picking Oscar contenders, from A Prophet and White Ribbon to Waltz with Bashir. The list goes on for a mile.

This year SPC has so much going on that they say they feel no pressure to buy. Don't believe them. This company is a dauntless competitor. They check out everything and know the byways of the Croisette sellers--Bernard gets around town on his bicycle. Relationships--23 years with Pedro and Augustine Almodovar, for example--and a long reliable track record, count for a great deal in this crazy business.

"Some years we buy one movie, two at the most," says Barker, who points out that the dramatic action this year is in the market, with movies that are heading into production, raising foreign coin or unfinished, which will be acquired off screenplays, elements and promo reels. "It's intelligent to try to sell before launching a film with a world premiere under pressure at festivals like Venice and Toronto," he adds, especially if you want to aim for the award season that same year.

That doesn't mean SPC will overpay to get something. Even if the Cannes market is roaring back, Barker warns, "everyone is watching expenditures."


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