A family drama with Julianne Moore, a Mindy Kaling comedy about late-night TV and a doc insiders are calling a masterpiece round out an eclectic slate of for-sale projects.
If ever there was a market susceptible to hype, it's Sundance. After all, Hollywood buyers have all trekked to a remote mountain location to find the next hidden gem that will either turn a profit in theaters or earn some Oscar love a year later (or, ideally, both). But that feat is easier said than done as groupthink often reigns once inside a cramped Eccles Theatre. "You're trying to separate the buzz of what you hear people saying about a film and what your instinct is," says 30West's Tristen Tuckfield.
One market plus for 2019: fewer distractions, thanks to the fact that, unlike in previous years, the Oscar nominations and the NFL's conference championship games won't conflict with screenings. In the past, business ground to halt during those six hours of football. "Thankfully, that won't be an issue this year," says UTA's Mikey-Schwartz Wright.
Here are 12 films for sale that are sure to generate buzz:
DIRECTOR Bart Freundlich
BUZZ Sundance's opening-night film marks the fourth collaboration for Freundlich, who also wrote the screenplay, and his wife, actress Julianne Moore. The story, which centers on a woman (Michelle Williams) looking for a wealthy benefactor (Moore) to fund her orphanage in India, has the bonus of being based on a Danish Oscar-nominated film of the same name by Susanne Bier, whose work is red hot thanks to Netflix's Bird Box.
DIRECTORS Steven Bognar, Julia Reichert
BUZZ If there's one doc that promises to be this year's RBG or Three Identical Strangers — a market acquisition with breakout box office potential — it's this Participant-financed film, which Sundance programmers call "a masterpiece." In 2014, a Chinese billionaire opened a Fuyao glass factory in a shuttered General Motors plant in Dayton, Ohio. But all did not go according to plan.
DIRECTOR Hannah Pearl Utt
BUZZ Utt wrote the screenplay with her co-star Jen Tullock. Together, they play codependent 30-something sisters grappling with the revelation of a long-hidden family secret. Judith Light, Mandy Patinkin, Mike Colter and Alec Baldwin round out the cast.
DIRECTOR Gurinder Chadha
BUZZ From the director of Bend It Like Beckham, the film centers on a teen immigrant living in Thatcher's austere Britain who learns to find his own voice through the music of Bruce Springsteen. Buyers are calling it "Sing It Like Springsteen." Oh, and The Boss approved the use of his songs, not a small feat.
DIRECTOR Joe Berlinger
BUZZ Buyers saw a promo of this drama with Zac Efron as serial killer Ted Bundy at the Toronto market in September. Now the film is finished, for sale and, if well-executed, could land a wide-release commitment. In a sign of its broad potential, IMDb says Extremely Wicked is the Sundance film its users are most excited to see, based on data derived from page views on the site.
DIRECTOR Nisha Ganatra
BUZZ Emma Thompson stars as a Letterman-esque talk show host whose world is turned upside down after she attempts to address diversity concerns by hiring her first female staff writer (Mindy Kaling). Buyers are calling the film, which makes its world premiere Jan. 25, the most commercial of this year's Sundance offerings and expect a major studio to be among those pursuing.
DIRECTOR Gavin Hood
BUZZ Keira Knightley stars as a real-life British intelligence whistleblower who leaked a top-secret NSA memo that detailed a blackmail scheme to drum up support for the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Matt Smith, Matthew Goode and Ralph Fiennes co-star.
DIRECTOR Scott Z. Burns
BUZZ Adam Driver stars as Daniel Jones, the lead investigator for the U.S. Senate's sweeping study into the CIA's Bush-Cheney era Detention and Interrogation Program. Annette Bening co-stars as Sen. Dianne Feinstein in the political thriller produced by Burns' frequent collaborator Steven Soderbergh.
DIRECTOR Alma Ha’Rel
BUZZ Said to be a return to form for star Shia LaBeouf, who plays a former child TV star reliving his past with his ex-rodeo clown father. Written by LaBeouf, the semi-autobiographical film stars Lucas Hedges and Noah Jupe. Honey Boy is making its debut in competition.
DIRECTOR Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala
BUZZ As Sundance continues to strengthen its reputation as a destination for horror films, this Midnight film heads into the market with the most anticipation among buyers. Riley Keough stars as a young woman who finds herself isolated in a remote winter cabin with her strange new stepchildren.
DIRECTOR David Wnendt
BUZZ Sundance darling Jenny Slate (Obvious Child, Landline, The Polka King) stars in and produces this unlikely love story revolving around an American painter and a Russian émigré who find one another in the Arctic Circle. Zach Galifianakis co-stars.
DIRECTOR Alistair Banks Griffin
BUZZ Buyers will have two Naomi Watts awards-bait performances to pursue with The Wolf Hour and Julius Onah’s Luce (being sold by CAA and Endeavor). Heading into the market, the money is on Wolf Hour, a psychological thriller playing in the Next section that features Watts as a New York shut-in against the backdrop of the infamous Summer of Sam of 1977. But reviews for both will be key.
This story also appears in the Jan. 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.