On paper, nearly every film scheduled to screen at this year’s Sundance Film Festival looks like a breakout. That’s why predicting the titles that will draw the most interest from studios and score the biggest deals is nearly impossible. You don’t know which films will deliver on the hype and which will wither under the spotlight as much of Hollywood descends on Park City hoping to find the next “Little Miss Sunshine” or “Brooklyn.”
That said, here are 10 films that are certain to draw interest from bidders by virtue of their casts, their concepts, or the director calling the shots.
Director: Antonio Campos
Stars: Rebecca Hall, Tracy Letts, Michael C. Hall
Sales: UTA, WME/Great Point Media
Why Buyers Are Circling: The story of an ambitious journalist struggling to make a name for herself in the 1970s world of TV news showcases a tour de force performance from Hall. Campos, who courted controversy with his most recent film, “Simon Killer,” can be relied on to inject some dark humor into a tale of a woman who must balance her professional ethics with her drive to get ahead. Think of it as “Broadcast News” with acrid after-taste.
Director: James Schamus
Stars: Logan Lerman, Linda Emond, Sarah Gadon, Danny Burstein
Why Buyers Are Circling: The directorial debut of the former Focus Features chief arrives with literary pedigree (it’s based on a Philip Roth novel), a tasteful period setting, unfolding as it does in the Korean War era, and a meaty part for Lerman, an actor who always seems one role away from major stardom. Roth’s story packed a devastating punch. If Schamus can capture the writer’s spirit on screen — no sure thing given how notoriously difficult great books are to adapt — there won’t be a dry eye in the house.
Director: Ira Sachs
Stars: Jennifer Ehle, Greg Kinnear, Theo Taplitz, Michael Barbieri
Why Buyers Are Circling: The “Love is Strange” director takes on gentrification in this tale of two middle schoolers whose friendship is tested after their parents become embroiled in a dispute over rent. A coming-of-age story about class and the changing face of Brooklyn, “Little Men” will rise or fall on the strength of the performances of its youthful leads.
MORRIS FROM AMERICA
Director: Chad Hartigan
Stars: Markees Christmas, Craig Robinson
Why Buyers Are Circling: An African-American teenager finds himself transplanted to Heidelberg, Germany. In addition to culture shock, he must deal with his burgeoning weight, his well-intentioned, but emotionally ill-equipped father, and his infatuation with a rebellious girl. Who doesn’t love a fish out of water story?
LOVE & FRIENDSHIP
Director: Whit Stillman
Stars: Stephen Fry, Kate Beckinsale, Chloe Sevigny, Xavier Samuel
Why Buyers Are Circling: The foremost chronicler of WASP mores seems like the perfect fit to adapt an early novella from Jane Austen. This film returns Stillman to Sundance where “Metropolitan,” the film that introduced him to the world, premiered more than 25 years ago. It promises to be a homecoming served with a healthy dose of sophistication.
SWISS ARMY MAN
Directors: Daniel Scheinert, Daniel Kwan
Stars: Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Sales: WME with ICM, UTA
Why Buyers Are Circling: Talk about an off-beat buddy movie. A man stuck on a tiny island forms a bond with a body that washes up on shore. Radcliffe keeps working hard to shed that Harry Potter wand and spectacles, and Dano remains a critics favorite after his turn as Brian Wilson in “Love and Mercy.”
THE BIRTH OF A NATION
Director: Nate Parker
Stars: Nate Parker, Armie Hammer, Aja Naomi King, Jackie Earle Haley
Why Buyers Are Circling: Hollywood has a tortured history of racial politics. That’s referenced in the film’s title — a nod to D.W. Griffith’s 1915 silent epic, which was simultaneously one of the most influential movies ever made and a picture that lionized the Ku Klux Klan. And it’s evident in the headlines being generated this week, as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences battles boycott threats after black actors were shut out of the Oscar nominations. With this backdrop, the timing seems right for the story of Nat Turner and his slave rebellion to make its way to the screen.
Director: Kelly Reichardt
Stars: Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart, Michelle Williams
Why Buyers Are Circling: Maile Meloy’s stories inform this tale of the lives of a lawyer, a married couple and a ranch hand. Thanks to “Meeks Cutoff” and “Wendy and Lucy,” Reichardt and Williams have formed one of those rare director and actor duos that works as sort of an arthouse complement to the relationships Martin Scorsese enjoys with Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro or David O. Russell has with Jennifer Lawrence. It helps that in a business where female roles are often “the girlfriend,” Reichardt creates fully developed, flawed, and fascinating roles for women.
MANCHESTER BY THE SEA
Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Stars: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Lucas Hedges, Kyle Chandler
Why Buyers Are Circling: Kenneth Lonergan may not be the most prolific director having made two movies in 15 years, but he is one of the most consistent filmmakers working. Both “You Can Count on Me” and “Margaret” deservedly rank as masterpieces. Can he make three for three with this story of Boston handyman who finds himself guardian to his 16-year old nephew? The odds are in his favor.
Director: Kim A. Snyder
Sales: WME/Preferred Content/Ro*co Films
Why Buyers Are Circling: The debate over gun control continue to dominate the national political stage. This searing documentary is a searing reminder of the tragic consequences of mass killings as it interviews the families that lost loved ones in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings. A harrowing portrait of grief and a call for action that is all too topical.