All’s fair in love and filmmaking: Bellamy

Let the bidding wars begin!

Crickets?crickets?tumbleweeds?crickets?

Didn’t anybody hear me? I said let the bidding wars begin! Sheesh, no one listens to me. This is what we’ve been waiting for. Or, more specifically, it’s what my editor has been waiting for.

“Buzz.”

That’s what he told me he wanted. Buzz. Whatever that meant. “Christopher,” he said, putting his arm around my shoulder. “I want you to find me all the hottest buzz. I’m counting on you, sport.” It was a tender exchange. No one had called me “sport” since I was a boy. How could I look into my editor’s puppy-dog eyes and then go and let him down? And so I replied: “M’yes.”

It’s what everyone’s looking for–buzz. Would we find another Soderbergh, another Tarantino, another Kevin Smith? (Sorry, he doesn’t quite have the chops for the one-name treatment.)

Only I had no idea how to find it. Would I have to schmooze a publicist or two to get this information they call “buzz?” Or would I just have to be lazy like everyone else and wait for the morning copies of Variety and Hollywood Reporter? I opted for the latter–no way in hell I’m schmoozing anyone.

The thing is, much to my editor’s chagrin, the buzz is quiet this year–much quieter than years past. During last year’s festival, names like “Little Miss Sunshine,” “The Science of Sleep,” “The Illusionist” and “The Night Listener” could be heard a mile away.

Do you remember the year before, with the fervor surrounding the $9-million acquisition of “Hustle & Flow?”

It’s not that buyers haven’t been busy–loads of films have been picked up by distributors over the last few days. As a whole, it’s probably been busier than a year ago. But the furor is nothing like that surrounding some of the titles from last year’s fest. “Little Miss Sunshine” was a smash with audiences, one of the hottest Sundance tickets in years and every distributor wanted a piece of it–and for good reason. While I felt it was overrated, it made a hefty profit (nearly $60 million) and won four Oscar nominations, including Best Picture.

This year, the buys have been a bit more subdued. Naturally, some of the first to go are the ones that, regardless of quality, should easily be able to find a niche audience. The Weinstein Co.’s acquisition of “Teeth”–the vagina-with-teeth movie–is almost guaranteed to make a huge profit after being bought for just $1 million. People will fill the seats on the sheer audacity of its premise. Never mind that it’s an empty and lazy attempt at satire and dark comedy–sometimes, the idea is all that matters to sell tickets.

Same goes for George Ratliff’s “Joshua,” a mediocre suburban horror movie with no distinctive style but which was almost immediately picked up by Fox Searchlight after its premiere Saturday night. The film is another in the “evil, possibly Satanic child” sub-genre, following in the shadow of “The Omen,” “The Bad Seed,” “The Good Son,” etc. The film stars Sam Rockwell and Vera Farmiga as upper-middle-class parents whose lives turn into a nightmare when their daughter is born.

Their first child, you see, doesn’t want a sister. But instead of actually doing something about it, he just walks around the house looking creepy–appearing out of nowhere to jolt the audience, that sort of thing–while he somehow, supernaturally, turns the new baby into a crying monstrosity and making his parents crazy.

I admire the performances of Rockwell and Farmiga; they’re real troopers. It’s just too bad the director doesn’t find any kind of point to the proceedings. Ratliff doesn’t show much of a gift for building suspense that would be necessary for us to overlook all the glaring logical holes. He telegraphs his intentions way too early, never making time to just let the suspense burn. Hasn’t he ever watched a Hitchcock movie?

But it got picked up for $4 million and is expected to get a wide release this summer. Why, when better films such as “Snow Angels” are still waiting for distributors? It’s like I said–there’s a built-in audience for this kind of movie.

The Weinstein Co. has been busy, picking up John Cusack-starrer “Grace is Gone” for $4 million, as well as “La Misma Luna” and “Dedication,” while Mark Cuban’s Magnolia Pictures has purchased “The Signal” and “Crazy Love.”

But the biggest bidding that has emerged has been for Garth Jennings’ “Son of Rambow,” a British coming-of-age movie that may sell for more than $10 million before all is said and done. I haven’t seen the film yet, but now I’ll have to, won’t I?