SUNDANCE: Liberal Arts, Robot and Frank, V/H/S and The Pact Sell

It may be a relatively quiet Sundance year – even Pixar’s Lee Unkrich, in town for the festival, Tweeted his dismay at the “mixed bag” of movies – but films are selling. Granted, they’re mostly the ones with name actors and mostly okay-to-decent reviews (with a few exceptions), but buyers continue to be getting busy in the snow. The latest batch of pick-ups (Olsens and robots and scares, oh my!) after the jump.

Liberal Arts (IFC Films) – Josh Radnor’s follow up to happythankyoumoreplease, another Sundance pick, features Radnor as a thirty-something man who returns to his college campus and is intrigued by both his former professor (Alison Janney) and a young coed (Elizabeth Olsen). IFC picked up Liberal Arts and plans on releasing it later in 2011.

Robot and Frank (Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions/Samuel Goldwyn Films) – It’s Frank Langella and a robot. What more do you need to know? Oh, fine: Directed by Jake Schreier and co-starring Susan Sarandon, Peter Sarsgaard, and Liv Tyler, this charmer won over critics during Sundance.

V/H/S (Magnolia) – The horror anthology opened to such a raucous, receptive Midnight debut that it’s no wonder a specialist like Magnolia snapped up the surefire genre pleaser. Did reports of a seizure at this week’s screening help?

The Pact (IFC) - This deal's a bit of a surprise, given the negative-to-lukewarm reviews Nicholas McCarthy's feature debut (adapted from his own Sundance short of the same name) received this week. Yet another spooky tale, about a young lady investigating bumps and scares in her dead mother's house, it went to IFC for a reported "high-six-figure deal" as the distrib hopes it catches fire in limited release/VOD.


Arbitrage (Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions) - Nicholas Jarecki's dramatic feature-filmmaking debut stars Richard Gere as a billionaire hedge-fund fraud seeking to cash in before he's exposed. Susan Sarandon, Brit Marling and Tim Roth co-star. Look for the studio duo to duplicate the multi-platform success they enjoyed in 2011 with Margin Call, another financial-world potboiler picked up in Park City.

The Surrogate (Fox Searchlight) - Sundance favorite John Hawkes turns in an brave performance as real life poet Mark O’Brien, who yearns to lose his virginity with a sex therapist (Helen Hunt) despite being paralyzed from the head down. Fox Searchlight paid a reported $6 million for the pic, which may face tricky ratings deliberations due to Hunt’s full frontal nudity.

Beasts of the Southern Wild (Fox Searchlight) – The smallest narrative to get a deal thus far at Sundance comes off of strong buzz and acclaim for the tale of a young girl and her ailing father who live in a fantastical alternate version of the American South.
Red Lights (Millenium Films) Negative reviews hurt the profile of this Rodrigo Cortes (Buried) thriller, despite featuring Cillian Murphy, Sigourney Weaver, Robert De Niro, and last year’s Sundance darling Elizabeth Olsen.

For a Good Time, Call… (Focus Features) - The feature debut of shorts director Jamie Travis pairs Lauren Anne Miller and Ari Graynor as frenemies who start a phone sex line together, one of a gaggle of raunchy female-driven comedies in this year’s line-up.

Celeste and Jesse Forever (Sony Pictures Classics) – With Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg leading a cast of familiar players, this was bound to attract buyer attention galore. Sony Pictures Classics snatched it up for a reported $2 million, adding C&J to their previous Sundance acquisitions Searching for Sugar Man and The Raid.

Searching for Sugar Man (Sony Classics) – The documentary about 1960s musician Rodriguez played well to critics and was snatched up by SPC for a reported six figures.

The Queen of Versailles (Magnolia Pictures) – Another well-received doc, Lauren Greenfield’s examination of Florida real estate mogul David Siegel was picked up by Magnolia on Friday.

Black Rock (LD Distribution) – Katie Aselton’s thriller about three female friends (Aselton, Lake Bell, Kate Bosworth) surviving a weekend getaway gone wrong was the first Midnight selection to seal a deal, partnering with newbie venture LD Distribution.

The Words (CBS Films) – Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana, and Jeremy Irons lead a cast of recognizable stars in this literary drama about a writer (Cooper) who claims credit on someone else’s manuscript and is confronted by its real author, so it’s easy to see why buyers were interested. CBS Films reportedly made the most expensive buy of the fest so far, laying down $2 million for the film. Whether or not that move was smart remains to be seen, as this first review over at The Playlist is less than encouraging.

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