Sales and Pitches

Daniel Craig and Ana de Armas in Rian Johnson’s Knives Out (2019)

In September 2019, just days after Knives Out premiered in Toronto, Rian Johnson told Mike Ryan at Uproxx that he’d had so much fun writing and directing the comedic murder mystery starring Daniel Craig as southern private investigator Benoit Blanc that he’d leap at the chance to make a Knives Out 2, maybe even a Knives Out 3. “I’ve never really been interested in doing sequels,” he said, “but this, the idea of doing more of these with Daniel as his character, is not sequels. It’s just what Agatha Christie did. It’s just coming up with a whole new mystery, a whole new location, all new cast, whole new mechanics of the appeal of a mystery and everything. It’d be a blast.”

Made for $40 million, Knives Out eventually brought in well over $300 million, making those not-sequels hot properties. On Wednesday, Variety reported that Netflix was “plunking down an astounding $450 million” for the second and third installments in what looks to be a franchise with legs. As Chris Lee points out at Vulture, the “price tag eclipses Netflix’s biggest movie-acquisition expenditures to date,” including the reported $159 million spent on Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman. Per movie, it’s also more than the $200 million Netflix is currently forking over for Anthony and Joe Russo’s The Gray Man, the spy thriller based on Mark Greaney’s novel starring Ryan Gosling, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Wagner Moura, Dhanush, Billy Bob Thornton, and Alfre Woodard.

Rian Johnson has also created and will write and direct a new series for Peacock. Natasha Lyonne will star in Poker Face, which Johnson describes as “the type of fun, character driven, case-of-the-week mystery goodness I grew up watching. It’s my happy place. Having Natasha as a partner in crime is a dream.” Lyonne, in the meantime, is currently in production on the second season of Russian Doll.

Also in the Works

In the five weeks since our last round on notable projects in the works opened with news of Michelle Williams preparing to star in forthcoming films by Kelly Reichardt and Todd Haynes, Williams has been circling another role, this one inspired by Steven Spielberg’s mother. Spielberg is cowriting a screenplay with Tony Kushner, the Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright (Angels in America) and Oscar-nominated screenwriter (Lincoln), that will be loosely based on his childhood, the years he spent growing up in Arizona. Seth Rogen is evidently set to play a favorite uncle, and shooting is slated to begin this summer.

In 2014, Spielberg and Kushner announced that they were working on a project based on The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara, David Kertzer’s 1997 book about the Papal States’ seizure of a six-year-old boy from his Jewish family in Bologna in 1858. According to Variety’s Nick Vivarelli, Spielberg never found a child actor he felt could play the boy. Now Marco Bellocchio is working with writer and director Susanna Nicchiarelli (Nico, 1988; Miss Marx) on a version of the story based not on Kertzer’s book but on diaries, court records, and other firsthand documents.

A more unexpected pairing of filmmakers took part last week in a project lab hosted by the Festival Internacional de Cine UNAM in Mexico City. Rick Alverson (The Comedy, The Mountain) is teaming up with Argentine writer and director Lisandro Alonso (Jauja) on The God Beside My Bed, which Charles Bramesco describes at Little White Lies as “a new project that will bring them into the jungles of Brazil for an existential epic within the Amazon.”

At Screen, Jeremy Kay has the full list of lab participants, including Oliver Laxe (Fire Will Come), whose After will track a man’s search for his missing daughter in northern Africa; Eduardo Williams, who is working on The Human Surge 3 (was there a 2?); and another surprising team—Sofia Bohdanowicz (Point and Line to Plane), Burak Cevik (Belonging), and Blake Williams (Prototype)—whose A Woman Escapes finds Audrey Benac, a character Deragh Campbell has played in several of Bohdanowicz’s films, struggling with loneliness and isolation in Paris.

How does a director crowd a bundle of people into a frame during a pandemic? At the Stranger, Jasmyne Keimig has come across a call for extras issued by casting director Rich King that offers a window onto the precautions currently being taken on movie sets. Steven Soderbergh needs one day in May to shoot a staged protest against the city council in Seattle. The movie is KIMI, starring Zoë Kravitz as an agoraphobic tech worker who discovers evidence of a violent crime but can’t seem to get anyone at her company to do anything about it.

Working with cinematographer Darius Khondji and Spanish-born Mexican actor Daniel Giménez Cacho (Zama), Alejandro González Iñárritu has been shooting Limbo, his first feature since The Revenant (2015). The film is described “as ‘a kind of fable’ that will explore ‘the political and social modernity of Mexico,’” and “additional details are sparse,” but Jordan Raup does have a few at the Film Stage.

Miguel Gomes (Tabu) has teamed up with French documentarian Maureen Fazendeiro on Tsugua Diaries, a fictional feature shot on 16 mm during the lockdown in Portugal. The cast includes Crista Alfaiate and Carloto Cotta, both of whom starred in Gomes’s Arabian Nights trilogy. Screen’s Michael Rosser reports that Gomes is also still working on Savagery, a free adaptation of Rebellion in the Backlands, Euclides da Cunha’s 1902 account of the bloody conflict between the Brazilian army and a group of messianic separatists.

More Adaptations

One of the most anticipated adaptations in the works is Noah Baumbach’s White Noise, based on Don DeLillo’s 1985 novel and starring Adam Driver and Greta Gerwig. Producer Uri Singer has now also picked up the rights to DeLillo’s latest novel, The Silence, in which, as Joshua Cohen writes in the New York Times, “humans deprived of technology resign themselves to death, and not just to individual death but to cultural death, the end of the world, the end of time.”

Ryusuke Hamaguchi (Happy Hour) has completed Drive My Car, a feature based on a 2013 short story by Haruki Murakami. Hidetoshi Nishijima plays an actor whose wife, a playwright (Reika Kirishima), disappears. Two years later in Hiroshima, he has a fateful encounter with a quiet chauffeur (Toko Miura). As Mark Schilling reports for Variety, Hamaguchi plans to carry on shooting a series of short stories begun with Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy, which premiered last month in the first phase of this year’s Berlinale.

For his first feature film, French playwright Florian Zeller adapted his own play, The Father, which is now in the running for six Oscars, including one each for his two leads, Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman. The play, which was written in 2012 and opened in London in 2014, is the first in a trilogy. The Mother starred Isabelle Huppert when it opened in New York in 2019, and it was followed by The Son later that same year in London. “I’d defy anyone not to be moved by this study of the disruptive dynamics of family life,” wrote Guardian theater critic Michael Billington. Zeller tells Deadline’s Antonia Blyth that he’s just about to finish work on the screenplay.

Knives Out star Toni Collette is making her feature directorial debut with an adaptation of Lily King’s Writers and Lovers. A best seller last year, the novel centers on an aspiring writer grieving the loss of her mother when she finds herself falling for two very different men at the same time.

Scott Cooper is writing an adaptation of Louis Bayard’s 2006 novel The Pale Blue Eye, in which a detective investigating a series of murders at West Point in 1830 is helped out by a young cadet, Edgar Allan Poe. Christian Bale will play the detective, marking his third collaboration with Cooper after Out of the Furnace (2013) and Hostiles (2017).

Screenwriter Lara Wood has drawn on The Legacy of Mark Rothko, Lee Seldes’s 1996 account of the legal battle between the abstract painter’s daughter and the executors of his estate, for Rothko. Sam Taylor-Johnson (Nowhere Boy) will direct Russell Crowe as Rothko and Aisling Franciosi as his daughter, Kate, and the cast will also feature Jared Harris, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson.

From France

For Letterboxd, Sarah Williams has put together a smartly annotated list of ten filmmakers, all of them French women, who will have films coming out later this year. Among the standouts here are Catherine Corsini’s The Divide with Marina Foïs and Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi as a couple trapped in a hospital by a demonstration taking place outside; Marie Amachoukeli’s Rose Hill, which will probably be “a lesbian spy comedy”; Audrey Diwan’s Happening, an adaptation of Annie Ernaux’s memoir about trying get an abortion in 1963; and Claire Simon’s I Want to Talk About Duras with Emmanuelle Devos as Marguerite Duras and Swann Arlaud as her younger partner, Yann Andréa Steiner.

Last spring, when France emerged from lockdown between the first and second waves, François Ozon immediately set to work on Everything Went Fine, an adaptation of an autobiographical novel by Emmanuèle Bernheim, who has worked with Ozon on Under the Sand (2000), Swimming Pool (2003), and Ricky (2009). When Emmanuèle (Sophie Marceau) rushes to the bedside of her eighty-five-year-old father (André Dussollier) after he’s had a stroke, he asks her to help him end his life. The cast also features Hanna Schygulla, known primarily, of course, for her work with Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

In 2000, Ozon shot Water Drops on Burning Rocks, based on Fassbinder’s 1964 play. Now he’s taking on The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, a play that Fassbinder wrote and premiered in 1971 and then filmed the following year. Ozon’s adaptation will evidently not be terribly strict, considering that Variety’s Elsa Keslassy reports that Denis Menochet will be playing Fassbinder himself, while Isabelle Adjani has been cast as “the German director’s muse.”

Turning briefly to a few other productions in France, Catherine Deneuve will play a mother whose son (Benoît Magimel) refuses to believe he’s dying of a terminal illness in Emmanuelle Bercot’s Peaceful. Gaspar Noé is preparing Au bord du monde, a blend of melodrama, thriller, and documentary that centers on a loving elderly couple growing senile together. And Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist) will direct an animated adaptation of Jean-Claude Grumberg’s The Most Precious of Cargoes, the story of a poor woodcutter and his wife who find an abandoned baby during the Second World War.


David Fincher may or may not direct a feature based on Alexis Nolent’s graphic novel series The Killer, but for a couple of years now, he’s been working with Robert Towne on a limited series, a prequel to Chinatown. Towne wrote the screenplays for both the 1974 film directed by Roman Polanski and Jack Nicholson’s 1990 sequel, The Two Jakes. Fincher and Towne’s series would focus on Jake Gittes’s days in Chinatown with Lou Escobar, the police lieutenant played by Perry Lopez. “And I’m working on a show about film appreciation and about movies that I love, with guests I love, about movies that they love,” Fincher told Aaron Sorkin in a recent Director’s Cut podcast.

David Simon and writer and producer George Pelecanos, who have worked together on The Wire, Treme, and The Deuce, are currently preparing We Own the City, a limited series based on Baltimore Sun criminal justice reporter Justin Fenton’s new book, We Own This City: A True Story of Crime, Cops and Corruption. It’s the story of Baltimore’s Gun Trace Task Force, a police unit created to combat a crime wave that was getting out of hand in 2015. These officers, though, robbed drug dealers, sold drugs themselves, planted evidence, and generally skimmed money from wherever they could.

Lady in the Lake, the latest novel from Laura Lippman, who happens to be married to Simon, is being turned into a limited series by Alma Har’el (Honey Boy), who will direct, and Dre Ryan (The Man in the High Castle). Set in Baltimore in the 1960s, Lady tells the story of Maddie Schwartz (Natalie Portman), an investigative journalist determined to crack the case of the murder of Cleo Sherwood (Lupita Nyong’o), a woman whose ghost is not eager to give up clues.

Steven Yeun is currently in talks to join Keke Palmer and possibly Daniel Kaluuya as well in Jordan Peele’s mysterious third feature. And he will definitely be starring alongside Ali Wong in Beef, a ten-episode dramedy created by Lee Sung Jin, who has worked on Silicon Valley and Tuca & Bertie. According to Jordan Moreau in Variety, Beef “follows two people who let a road rage incident burrow into their minds and slowly consume their every thought and action.”

For news and items of interest throughout the day, every day, follow @CriterionDaily.

You have no items in your shopping cart