For years the Sundance Film Festival has featured a smattering of big-time stars in its smaller movies. But January's gathering might have more recognizable faces than most Sundance red carpets in recent memory -- Jim Carrey, Richard Gere, William Hurt, Robin Williams, Kim Basinger, Uma Thurman and Kevin Spacey, just to name a few.
In announcing his Sundance premieres on Thursday, festival programmer John Cooper acknowledged that plenty of stars dominated the cast lists of the top movies playing outside of competition, but he said the glitter was a consequence of independent film economics rather than the festival, celebrating its 25th anniversary, suddenly becoming star-struck.
"I think you should always get good actors in your movies," Cooper says. "But to get financing of any kind these days, you need stars in your movie. It's sad, but it's true."
Those stars figure prominently in the 16 premieres added to the Sundance lineup, and many of those movies will come to the January festival in Park City, Utah, looking for a distribution deal.
Comedian Carrey stars in "I Love You Philip Morris," a fact-based story of an inmate's love affair not with a cigarette maker but another man. Buyers have identified the film as one of the festival's most important acquisition screenings.
The distributors also have singled out "Brooklyn's Finest," a police drama from director Antoine Fuqua ("Training Day") that stars Gere, Ethan Hawke, Wesley Snipes and Don Cheadle. "Endgame," a British political thriller likely to draw crowds of acquisition executives, stars Hurt and Chiwetel Ejiofor.
Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson star in "The Messenger," a look at soldiers obligated to convey the grim news of combat deaths to family members. And Ashton Kutcher anchors the cast of "Spread," a profile of a Los Angeles gigolo wooing older women. Both movies are looking for a distributor.
" Twilight's" Kristen Stewart stars in "Adventureland," Billy Bob Thornton and Basinger are among the ensemble in "The Informers," Spacey stars in both "Moon" and "Shrink" (opposite Williams), and Thurman appears opposite Minnie Driver in "Motherhood."
The festival opens Jan. 15 with "Mary and Max," director Adam Elliot's clay-animated movie about the pen-pal relationship between two troubled people, an 8-year-old Australian girl (voiced by Toni Collette) and a morbidly obese New Yorker (Philip Seymour Hoffman). The festival closes Jan. 23 with "Earth Days," a documentary from director Robert Stone tracing the environmental movement's history.
Horn is a Times staff writer.
For a list of all the films playing in the out-of-competition sections at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, go to latimes.com/sundance.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times