Three years ago Summit Entertainment surmounted considerable odds — a 17-month viewing window, a Goliath “game changer,” low box office numbers that became the story — to claim the Best Picture prize for Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker.” It was a pretty significant moment. The house that “Twilight” built had secured the industry’s highest honor.
Things have changed a bit since then. Obviously, the biggest event has been Lionsgate’s acquisition of the company, which yielded plenty of personnel changes. But in the frame of awards season, Summit has been there when it had the goods. Last year brought “50/50,” a near-Oscar player that had a good time at the Independent Spirit Awards, and summer release “A Better Life,” which brought a surprising Best Actor nomination for star Demián Bichir. This year, they have another one-two punch, a pair of films that couldn’t be more different but that nevertheless showcase strong directorial voices.
Both Juan Antonio Bayona’s “The Impossible” and Stephen Chbosky’s “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” will be playing the Toronto Film Festival in a few weeks, and they could emerge as Oscar season stories when the dust settles. The former, from a Guillermo Del Toro-mentored horror maestro, tells the story of one family’s plight during the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004. The latter, from an author-turned-director, is a coming-of-age yarn full of damaged high-schoolers told against a brisk Pittsburgh backdrop.
Like I said — the two films couldn’t be more different. But that’s part of what makes their strong visions so exciting.
Bayona’s genre sensibilities make for such an intriguing filter for “The Impossible” that I was often exhilarated at some of the things he was trying. The emotion of the film is considerable, depicting a family of five being viciously separated during the tsunami and desperately trying to find their way back to one another under the most extreme of circumstances.
Naomi Watts shines as a woman under duress throughout, flashes of primal motherly instinct and tender vulnerability making for quite the opportunity. Ewan McGregor doesn’t get as many chances to strike such notes, but when he does, he makes them count. And a trio of child actors — Oaklee Pendergast, Samuel Joslin and particularly Tom Holland — are quite moving as well.
Beyond that, though, the craft on display is noteworthy. In particular, the sound design is just stunning. Every element of the tsunami sequence is more riveting and terrifying than the last, while makeup employed to depict its shattering effects is realistic and impressive. Bayona navigates all these different strands well and, crucially, brings his own voice to the proceedings in fresh ways.
Chbosky, meanwhile, takes the big plunge himself on the film version of his beloved novel “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” It’s a risky move, both for the artist and the financiers (even with 1995’s “The Four Corners of Nowhere” under his belt), but it’s a bit surprising how confident and authoritative Chbosky is as a visual storyteller.
The real story of the film is Logan Lerman, who is an absolute revelation and deserves his own post (which he will get soon enough). But co-stars Ezra Miller (fantastic), Emma Watson and Mae Whitman, among others, help round out an impressive ensemble of youngsters in a unique if still somewhat familiar take on the genre.
But, again, it’s Chbosky’s deft handling of the narrative and how it unfolds that is truly surprising. Of course, he knows the material intimately. And he’s clearly had this movie in his head for some time. But having it in your head and executing it are two very different things.
Of course, neither film is perfect. “The Impossible” flirts with repetition, “Perks” with cliche. But it’s the directorial visions that stand out. I guess that’s what I keep coming back to.
So I’d say Summit has an exciting pair of hopefuls on its hands. Three years after winning the big one, maybe one or both of these strikingly different films can strike the right emotional chord and find some Academy love. “Perks” will hit theaters just a few short weeks after its Toronto bow (September 21), “The Impossible” three months later (December 21), right in the thick of the season — and just a few days before the eighth anniversary of the disaster.
This is just one guy’s opinion, though. It’ll take a chorus out of Toronto to help get the films there. Let’s see if it comes.
Check out the new trailer for “The Impossible” below, which debuted at Apple yesterday.