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Ten Films to See at Sundance

Little Miss Sunshine, Napoleon Dynamite, Once, Precious and . . .

Time to fill in the blank.

Hollywood is heading to the Sundance Film Festival in search of the next big art-house movie, hoping to find something as popular as those films that premiered at the annual movie showcase in Park City, Utah.

The 10-day gathering opens today as 113 films try to make the same mark as such classics as Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs, Kevin Smith's Clerks and Steven Soderbergh's sex, lies and videotape. Here are 10 movies generating early interest.


Allen Ginsberg's Howl begins: "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked . . .." This is the story of how the poem defined the Beat Generation and led to an obscenity trial in 1957. "I think a lot of young men from my generation are drawn to the Beats, and that has to do with their search for something new . . . breaking the rules, and also breaking out of rigid strictures," says James Franco, who plays Ginsberg as a brilliant but troubled student who unleashed his frustrations through his most famous work. "If you know the events of his life . . . you can see them in the poem."

The Runaways

Twilight's Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning play 1970s rocker girls Joan Jett and Cherie Currie, who became punk sensations before they could legally drive. "They were so young," Stewart says. "They were 15, all of the girls, and they were hanging out in Hollywood at all the famous clubs that are infamous now." But Stewart says the film is also about the risks of growing up too fast. "It put (Jett) in a place where she could go further," Stewart says. "But she thought the band could have been bigger and was disappointed about how it turned out. It's something really close to her. She was so young."

Welcome to the Rileys

Kristen Stewart's other starring role at the festival. James Gandolfini and Melissa Leo (Oscar nominee for Frozen River) play a grieving couple, pushed apart by the death of their daughter. During a business trip to New Orleans, Gandolfini encounters Stewart while searching for some easy passion. "He meets this girl, this runaway, street kid, stripper who is prostituting herself and squatting in an abandoned, devastated Katrina house," Stewart says. Gandolfini tries to become her protector, saving someone else's daughter, if not his own. But the girl doesn't want a savior. "She tells him, 'You can't just come in and fix everything.' "

Blue Valentine

Ryan Gosling has explored romance in The Notebook and love in an offbeat way in Lars and the Real Girl. Here, he plays a man trying to hold together a marriage even though his wife (Michelle Williams) no longer feels the same. The movie jumps back and forth between the beginning and end of the relationship. "Sex is a really important character in the film, a bone of contention in the present and a dialogue of their love in the past. . . . I've heard (the film) described as a portrait of love falling apart, but I think they should call it an 'erotic thriller,' " he says with a laugh. "That sounds way more fun."

The Freebie

An entry in Sundance's Next category for ultra-low-budget films: A husband and wife (Dax Shepard and writer/director Katie Aselton) agree to let the other sleep with one person, no strings attached. "What's cool about this couple is there's really nothing wrong with their relationship," Aselton says. "They're tinkering with something that's not really broken. They think they'll get a taste of the outside and come back knowing this person is the person for them." It's a "best-laid" plan that goes astray.

The Dry Land

How do you go from constant life-and-death situations back to a place of just . . . life? "This is a film about soldiers coming home and reintegrating to the lives they left behind," says Ugly Betty's America Ferrera, who plays the young wife to whom one soldier comes home. "I loved playing this part, especially researching and speaking with women who had husbands go away and come back a different person. Their experiences you can't ever truly know, but you still try to find that connection."


It's a slang term for a long-haired, destructive burnout, and that pretty much sums up the guy Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays in this comedy about a loser who sets his sights on a grieving father and son (The Office's Rainn Wilson and 13-year-old Devin Brochu). "Hesher is this bizarre agent of chaos and trickery, and works his way into the life of this kid," Gordon-Levitt says. But things turn bad when Hesher goes after the boy's crush, a grocery-store clerk (Natalie Portman). "My interpretation of a Hesher is he's the outcast at school," says Gordon-Levitt. "But one you don't want to (mess) with."


Josh Radnor, best known as the man in search of his soulmate in TV's How I Met Your Mother, stars in and makes his writing/directing debut as a writer who finds a lost child on the subway and is stuck with him for the day. "It's a rather ill-advised move," Radnor says. "The kid won't talk to him, even though he's really late for a meeting and wants the kid to open up, tell him his name and address, but the kid won't tell him anything." Ultimately, the kid helps the writer open up in his own troubled life.

The Company Men

Give your life to your job, and its just another asset to lose in bankruptcy. This drama about a corporation's downfall focuses on three different white-collar workers: the company founder (Tommy Lee Jones), a middle manager (Chris Cooper) and a young, hotshot salesman (Ben Affleck), all of them cogs in a machine that is breaking down. "People struggle mightily with the notion of 'Did I have any value?' and feeling that when they lose their job, they lose their identity," says writer/director John Wells (ER and The West Wing). "But we actually are more than the sum total of what we make and of what our job is."

Holy Rollers

Jesse Eisenberg (Zombieland) returns to Sundance with this drama about a young Hasidic Jew caught up with ecstasy smugglers. "His father wants him to follow in his footsteps and be a rabbi, but as he moves into the drug world, he starts following in the footsteps of the guy who wants him to run the operation," Eisenberg says. The story is a fictionalized version of a case in which Hasids were recruited to sneak drugs through airports. It is often an insular culture, even among Jews, Eisenberg says. "Like any religion, the people who are really interested feel bad for the people who haven't found God the way they have."

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