Ten titles likely to heat up the chilly acquisitions market

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"Blue Valentine"
 
Blue Valentine
Director: Derek Cianfrance
(U.S. dramatic competition)
Indie darlings Ryan Gosling and
Michelle Williams tear into scenes from a disintegrating marriage. The screenplay, which Cianfrance wrote with Cami Delavigne and Joey Curtis, won the 2006 Chrysler Film Project, and it shuttles between the early days of the couple's marriage -- before things went sour -- and their final attempt to patch things up. Cianfrance wrote manifestos setting out rules for filming the drama, which promises to be nothing if not intense.
Sales: WME

The Company Men
Director: John Wells
(Premieres)
When his brother-in-law lost his job more than a half-dozen years ago, TV writer-producer John Wells ("ER") experienced corporate downsizing first-hand. That led to this long-in-development project, which marks Wells' feature directorial debut and attracted a name cast that includes Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper, Kevin Costner, Maria Bello and Tommy Lee Jones. Undaunted by the fact that "Up in the Air" touched on the same issue, Wells says, "In some way, they're companion pieces. If you're interested in those people in 'Up in the Air,' this is the story of who those people are and what happens to them."
Sales: CAA (domestic); IM Global (foreign)

More Sundance coverage  
The Extra Man
Directors: Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini
(Premieres)
Berman and Pulcini went home with the dramatic grand jury prize in 2003 for their feature debut, "American Splendor." After a detour into studio fare with "The Nanny Diaries" (2007), they return to Park City with a comedy about an aging New York playwright (Kevin Kline) who escorts wealthy widows to social events and the
F. Scott Fitzgerald-obsessed aspiring writer (Paul Dano) he takes under his wing.
Sales: CAA and Anonymous Content (domestic); Wild Bunch (foreign)


"Hesher"
 
Hesher
Director: Spencer Susser
(U.S. dramatic competition)
Video director Susser makes his feature debut with this dramedy about a twenty­something loser who invades the life of an awkward 13-year-old living with a pill-popping father and grandmother. The cast of indie stars includes Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rainn Wilson and Natalie Portman -- in her first film as a producer -- guaranteeing that buyers will take a look.
Sales: CAA and WME (domestic); Kimmel/Sierra Pictures (foreign)



Howl

Directors: Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman
(U.S. dramatic competition)
Epstein and Friedman ("Common Threads") originally planned to take a documentary look at Allen Ginsberg's 1956 "Howl," a raw lament of a poem that gave voice to the beat generation. But the project morphed into three interconnected dramatic strands: An imaginary interview with Ginsberg; a re-creation of Lawrence Ferlinghetti's 1957 obscenity trial over its publication; and an animated version of the poem, designed by illustrator Eric Drooker. Executive producer Gus Van Sant suggested James Franco for the lead, and, though not the most obvious choice, Epstein says, "James really internalizes the character and was able to physicalize Ginsberg." Its impeccably hip credentials guarantee Sundance scenesters will check it out.
Sales: Cinetic

Joan Rivers -- A Piece of Work
Directors: Ricki Stern, Annie Sundberg
(U.S. documentary competition)
Will Rivers be this year's Anna Wintour? Those who have seen this revealing bio-doc think it's at least as engaging as last year's breakout doc "The September Issue."
Sales: Submarine

The Kids Are All Right
Director: Lisa Cholodenko
(Premieres)
Cholodenko's previous Sundance efforts "High Art" (1998) and "Laurel Canyon" (2003) became breakouts, and this comedy about a sperm donor (Mark Ruffalo) meeting his kids and their lesbian parents (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore) offers added star power. But the film was added late to the lineup, and Cholodenko is said to be racing to finish it on time.
Sales: Cinetic (domestic); Inferno Entertainment (foreign)

The Killer Inside Me
Director: Michael Winterbottom
(Premieres)
A master of eclecticism, Winterbottom hasn't shown at the festival since "9 Songs" in 2005. This year, he's doubled up: In addition to the nonfiction "The Shock Doctrine," he co-wrote and directed this adaptation of the pulpy 1952 Jim Thompson novel. Casey Affleck gives a black-edged performance as a small-town Texas deputy sheriff with sociopathic tendencies. The film's brutality could polarize (there's a vicious beating of Jessica Alba as a prostitute), but the cast, which also includes Kate Hudson, Simon Baker, Bill Pullman and Elias Koteas, should draw buyers looking to provide audiences with a dark thrill.
Sales: WME and Wild Bunch (domestic); Wild Bunch (foreign)


"Splice"
 
Splice
Director: Vincenzo Natali
(Midnight screening)
Horror has always done well at Sundance and "Splice" comes with a classy pedigree: indie stalwarts Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley star in this sci-fi cautionary tale, exec produced by Guillermo del Toro. Natali, who directed the well-regarded thriller "Cube," helms a tale of scientists who genetically cross-breed species, with horrible results. The film's budget is said to be on the high side for an acquisition title, though del Toro's name will help deliver bang for a buyer's buck.
Sales: CAA (domestic); Gaumont (foreign)


Welcome to the Rileys
Director: Jake Scott
(U.S. dramatic competition)
Scott's drama has a number of things going for it, not least its inclusion of "Twilight" star Kristen Stewart as an underage New Orleans streetwalker (Apparition picked up Stewart's other 2010 festival entry, "The Runaways," in December). The story, about a couple (James Gandolfini and Melissa Leo) who attempt to overcome devastating grief, is a Sundance staple, though last year's version, "The Greatest," took its time finding a benefactor.
Sales: UTA

-- Profiles by Matthew Belloni, Jay A. Fernandez, Gregg Kilday and Borys Kit
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