If you want to see stars at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, which runs through Jan. 30 in sunny Park City, Utah, forget going to movies. Oh, sure, you could have seen Daniel Day-Lewis at Sunday night’s premiere screening of The Ballad of Jack and Rose (directed by his wife, Rebecca Miller) or Kevin Costner the night before at the opening of his new comedy-drama The Upside of Anger. But the easiest way to star gaze is to simply follow the free swag.
Manufacturers of everything from cell phones to cosmetics to mints are falling over themselves to hand out gratis samples to celebrities attending the festival, and the bold face names – bless their greedy little hearts – are making a beeline to receive it. While mere mortals can score the occasional free cup of coffee, pin or baseball cap promoting one of the festival’s movies, publicity-hungry companies are loading down Paris Hilton and her ilk with pricey gifts. How bad has it become? A publicist told me: “This year, actors are canceling press interviews to go scoop up swag instead.”
For those who prefer movies, Sundance still boasts plenty of offerings. During the festival’s 10 days, 120 feature films will unspool, along with 38 documentaries and 82 shorts.
This year’s crop features plenty of marquee names, including Lisa Kudrow and Maggie Gyllenhaal in Happy Endings, a peppy ensemble comedy by director-writer Don Roos (The Opposite of Sex) that opened the festival on Thursday night; Adrien Brody and Keira Knightley in a psychological thriller called The Jacket; Marisa Tomei in a romantic comedy with the memorable title Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing & Charm School; Glenn Close, Holly Hunter and Sissy Spacek in the relationship drama Nine Lives; Naomi Watts baring all in a faux cinema verité story of an actress titled Ellie Parker; and Casey Affleck and Liv Tyler conducting a tentative romance in a wispy drama called Lonesome Jim (directed by actor Steve Buscemi).
But by the end of the festival’s first weekend, three movies were making the biggest splash:
• THE MATADOR: Pierce Brosnan gives a brash, coarse-tongued, hilarious performance as a hit man suffering from burnout in this entertaining comedy drama which also features terrific performances by Greg Kinnear and Hope Davis. Sample salty dialogue by Brosnan’s character: “I look like a Bangkok hooker on a Sunday morning after the Navy left town.”
• HUSTLE & FLOW: A Memphis pimp, also suffering from burnout, decides to compose and record hip-hop tunes. Terrence Howard (Ray) gives a breakout performances as the artistically-endowed pimp. The movie was acquired for $9 million over the weekend by Paramount for release under its MTV logo.
• THE ARISTOCRATS: Some 100 comics tell variations of the same ultra-crude joke during this 92-minute documentary. The joke involves a family showbiz act trying to get a booking. The father describes the act – involving family members (including kids and pets) engaging in ever more revolting sexual and scatological behavior – to a talent agent. The documentary, created by Penn Jillette (of the Penn & Teller magic act) and comedian Paul Provenza, features Robin Williams, Drew Carey, George Carlin, Phyllis Diller and other big name comics. The single most disgusting version is told by, surprisingly, Full House‘s Bob Saget. Wonder if he ever told it to the Olsen twins?