Industry Star: Fox Searchlight
The Disney-Miramax split broke the indie-film race wide open in 2005. Last year, Focus pulled ahead with Brokeback. But this year, the clear winner is Peter Rice’s Fox Searchlight, which released fifteen films, including The Last King of Scotland, The History Boys, and a long-shot movie that has redefined the studio’s offbeat niche. Paying the largest sum ever for a Sundance film, the studio gambled on Little Miss Sunshine, a comedy that combined the best of the studio’s most recent triumphs—the dumb laughs of Napoleon Dynamite and the smart charm of Sideways—and won big. Sunshine has taken in over $84 million worldwide and, thanks to a strong marketing campaign (led by Nancy Utley and echoing Avenue Q’s “Vote Your Heart” Tony push), it’s even emerged as a surprise Best Picture contender. Rice, who’s now splitting his time between Searchlight and the teen-oriented Fox Atomic, recently promoted Utley and her distribution pal Stephen Gilula. Now they’ll attempt to work their magic on the Cate Blanchett–Judi Dench thriller Notes on a Scandal—plus new films in 2007 from Wes Anderson, Kenneth Lonergan, Mira Nair, and Chris Rock. Emma Rosenblum
Everyone has beaten up so badly on M. Night Shyamalan for Lady in the Water that it’s tempting to go after someone else for a change—say, Ron Howard for the ultralame The Da Vinci Code. But the Shyamaster’s tale of a “madame narf” who comes to our world to encourage a writer (played by Shyamalan Himself) to finish the book that will help transform the world is a magical combination of messianism and twerpiness. It didn’t help to have a making-of book out there simultaneously, detailing the writer-director’s hissy fit when his loyalists at Disney didn’t respond to his script—a gift from On High—with the requisite awe.