Though Sundance hikes on in its snow boots and intellectual-seeming fashion glasses for four more days, the early rush of buzzy films and the deals that follow is wrapping up. As usual, the nattering from Utah is about all the wonderful, interesting films. And some of them do, in fact, sound interesting! People walked out of Tim & Eric's Billion Dollar Movie which can only mean that it's great, Richard Gere is already in the running for next year's Oscars, and one of our favorite plays of 2010, Leslye Headland's Bachelorette, has been turned into a movie with Kirsten Dunst and Lizzy Caplan. That's some exciting stuff! But what really matters is what sold. Sundance is, like everything else, about money at the end of the day.
It's hard to divine any particular trend from the sales so far — like many a Sundance before it, this year's only unifying themes seem to be quirkiness and a tendency toward darkness — but business does seem robust, which hopefully bodes well for good moviegoing this summer and fall. There hasn't exactly been a Precious or Little Miss Sunshine breakout hit, but that could end up being for the better. Sundance buzz has often oddly done films a later disservice. Remember Hamlet 2 and its $10 million price tag? Exactly.
The biggest purchase so far, amount-wise anyway, is The Surrogate, a drama starring Sundance stalwart John Hawkes, William H. Macy, and Helen Hunt. That film, about a man in an iron lung who decides he wants to lose his virginity and thus hires Hunt's sex surrogate, sold to Fox Searchlight for a whopping $6 million. You have to wonder if Fox thinks this might be the movie that finally puts Hawkes, a long-simmering critics' favorite, into the mainstream. Or maybe they're just keen on being front and center for the big Helen Hunt revival that the ancient prophecy foretells.
Also big in the buzz department, if not necessarily in terms of price tag, is the Louisiana flood drama Beasts of the Southern Wild, which has been heftily praised for its innovative style and urgent subject matter. Sparking a bidding war after its screening, the film was eventually snagged by Fox Searchlight for $2 million. Reports suggest that the bulk of Fox's money will be spent on advertising, as the movie is a bit artsy, and thus maybe a tough sell.
Richard Gere's Madoffian movie Arbitrage went to Lionsgate and Roadhouse Attractions for a rumored $2.5 million, while Bradley Cooper's movie The Words, about another conflicted man, one who steals a guy's writing instead of his money, went to CBS Films for $2 million. Other sales include: the romantic comedy(/drama) co-written (and starring) Rashida Jones Celeste and Jesse Forever went to Sony Pictures Classics for about $2 million; the Frank Langella-gets-a-robot picture Robot & Frank was jointly bought by Sony and Samuel Goldwyn; IFC bought Josh Radnor's Kenyon-inspired comedy Liberal Arts; V/H/S, the horror movie that makes people faint, was bought by Magnolia for $1 million; and the supernatural thriller Red Lights went to Millenium for $4 million, a sizable bounty that probably has something to do with the film's impressive cast (Robert De Niro, Sigourney Weaver, Cillian Murphy, Elizabeth Olsen).