After kicking off last night with Sebastian Silva's "Crystal Fairy," the Sundance Film Festival is now underway — movie goers and critics will, in a couple of hours, start lining up for the first full day of the fest, with "Kill Your Darlings," "The Spectacular Now" and "Sound City" among the high-profile pictures of the day.
As we discussed yesterday, Sundance is one of the big markets for companies to pick up films for the coming year, as almost nothing comes to the festival with a distributor already in place. Sometimes, it works out brilliantly, sometimes, not so much.
But with the festival now getting underway properly, we thought we'd take a stab at highlighting the five films that we think are most likely to kick off serious bidding wars. This is all, it should be said, sight unseen, but sometimes the quality is less important than the package, and the below should all be among the big ticket buys of the next ten days or so. Stay tuned throughout the fest for our continuing Sundance coverage.
We'd actually assumed when we came to write this feature that Richard Linklater's "Before Midnight," the third part of the trilogy that began with "Before Sunrise" and "Before Sunset," and one of the most anticipated films of the festival, already had a distributor. The first film was released by Columbia, the second by Warner Bros, each through deals with the films' producers Castle Rock Entertainment, and we'd figured that a similar system would operate for the third. And while IMDB lists the movie with Warner Bros, the Greece-set Ethan Hawke/Julie Delpy reteam actually doesn't have a U.S. distributor, which must make it one of the hotter prospects at the festival. Admittedly, the films are hardly blockbusters — they made $5.5 million and $5.8 million domestically on their releases back in 1995 and 2004 (though 'Sunset' did even better business overseas). But we'd wager that they're probably big home video hits, and over the time, the films have been become cherished by scores of fans. We'd wager this would be an ace multi-platform release for an indie shingle, who could do very well with a limited theatrical/VOD rollout. But in any event, there will be more than few folks kicking the tires on this one.
"Ain't Them Bodies Saints"
Much of the buzz going into the festival is centered on this period lovers-on-the-run tale from acclaimed shorts filmmaker David Lowery (who we can pretty much guarantee has the best mustache in Park City). Crime pictures are always an attractive buy at the fest (see everything from "Reservoir Dogs" to "Animal Kingdom"), and this one comes with some big names on board. In addition to familiar character actors like Keith Carradine, Ben Foster, Nate Parker and Rami Malek, it features Casey Affleck and the continually rising Rooney Mara in the lead roles, and that's surely enough to get the buyers lining up. Plus, all the whispers we've heard about the film suggest that it's about to make Lowery's name in a big, big way. It's likely to be more "Badlands" than "Lawless," but even so, we'd expect all the top players to be lining up for this one.
"Don Jon's Addiction"
After being essentially anointed the next Batman at the end of "The Dark Knight Rises," and leading sleeper hit "Looper," Joseph Gordon-Levitt has become one of the most in-demand leading men around. Indeed, "Guardians of the Galaxy" and "Godzilla" are among the films he's turned down of late, while he recently joined the highly anticipated "Sin City: A Dame To Kill For." So it's understandable that distributors will be keeping a close eye on this one, especially with Scarlett Johansson and Julianne Moore also in the cast, and the film seemingly being a light rom-com ish look at a modern-day lothario. It's the sort of thing that could have the mini-majors throwing cash at it, but directorial debuts by actors don't always have the best track record. (Remember Mark Ruffalo's "Sympathy For Delicious" a few years back?) Someone will pick it up, but who, and how much they pay, will likely be dependent on the reviews.
"The Necessary Death Of Charlie Countryman"
Seemingly one of the more openly commercial pictures at the festival this year, the long-in-development "The Necessary Death Of Charlie Countryman" could be a sort of teen-friendly version of "Drive" — stylish visuals, courtesy of commercials director Fredrik Bond, a mix of romance and violence, and an attractive, young-skewing cast including Shia LaBeouf, Evan Rachel Wood, Rupert Grint and James Buckley, plus vets like Mads Mikkelsen and Melissa Leo. Unlike a coming-of-age story or low-key indie, 'Charlie Countryman' is a straight ahead genre flick, and one that is already an easier sell to whoever snaps it up. As always, how the film is received will be a big determining factor, but the script made the Black List (and helped attract this calibre cast for the first time feature filmmaker) and if the tricky balance of tones can be pulled off and Sundance audiences are receptive, we'd wager this could be one of the big sells of the festival.
A biopic always has some degree of curiosity value for distributors, but when it's one that promises all kinds of scurrilous sex and nudity, than that interest can skyrocket, and "Lovelace," the story of "Deep Throat" pornstar Linda Lovelace (Amanda Seyfried) promises exactly that. Seyfried leads a strong cast that includes James Franco, Peter Sarsgaard, Juno Temple, Sharon Stone, Adam Brody and Wes Bentley, the subject matter is dramatic, and the film's been attracting attention from the tabloids and EWs of the world since it went into production, all of which suggests it could be a canny buy. There are cautionary tales with similar, earlier pictures ("The Notorious Bettie Page" made only $1.5 million back in 2006), but even if "Howl" directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman fail to deliver quality-wise, there's a certain exploitation value to the story that could make it a profitable pick-up.
Also Looking For Distributors: Other starry pictures looking for homes include David Gordon Green's "Prince Avalanche" with Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch; Adam Scott-starring comedy "A.C.O.D"; Drake Doremus' "Breathe In" with Guy Pearce and Felicity Jones; "The Way Way Back" with Steve Carell and Sam Rockwell" and "Very Good Girls," which toplines Dakota Fanning and Elizabeth Olsen. Any of them have the potential to be one of the big buys of the festival.
There's also a lot of buzz around "The Spectacular Now," which someone like Fox Searchlight would be a good fit for, while a genre distributor like Screen Gems or Magnet could end up making a pretty penny with horror-comedy "Hell Baby." "The Inevitable Defeat Of Mister and Pete" has echoes of "Precious," which made a killing for Lionsgate, while "Toy's House" could be poised to surprise.
Lynn Shelton is back with "Touchy Feely," and given that IFC did well with "Your Sister's Sister," they may be keen to get her back in the fold. And it's worth keeping an eye on Jerusha Hess's "Austenland" with Keri Russell and Bret McKenzie. The film might seem like a throwback to a certain kind of '90s rom-com, but let's not forget how much money things like "Muriel's Wedding" and "Bridget Jones' Diary" made back in the day. Oh, and for the record, "Stoker," "The East," "Sound City," "jOBS" and "Upstream Color" all have distribution, VOD deals or self-releasing strategies already in place, so won't be part of the market. Finally, Anchor Bay snapped up "The Rambler" starring Dermot Mulroney just as the festival was getting underway.