Clearly, one to see is January 21 opening night competition film Howl, Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman's reenactment (with animation) of gay beat poet Allen Ginsberg's obscenity trial starring James Franco, Jeff Daniels, Jon Hamm and David Straithairn.
Other must-sees include directing debuts by actors Mark Ruffalo (Sympathy for Delicious) and Philip Seymour Hoffman (Jack Goes Boating) and The Perfect Storm writer Sebastian Junger, who was embedded with Restrepo co-director and photographer Tim Hetherington with the Second Platoon in Afghanistan.
Prolific director Michael Winterbottom has two movies, an adaptation of Jim Thompson's The Killer Inside Me (starring Casey Affleck, Jessica Alba, Kate Hudson and Simon Baker) and a doc co-directed with Mat Whitecross, The Shock Doctrine, based on Naomi Klein's examination of "disaster capitalism." So do Twilight starlet Kristen Stewart (The Runaways and Welcome to the Rileys) and Juliette Lewis (Sympathy for Delicious and Tony Goldwyn's Betty Anne Waters). And John C. Reilly stars in two too: American Splendor team Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini's The Extra Man , co-starring Katie Holmes, and Humpday star Mark Duplass and his brother Jay's Cyrus, co- starring Marisa Tomei and Jonah Hill and financed by Fox Searchlight.
For those of you wondering whatever happened to Ryan Gosling (who was replaced by Mark Wahlberg in Peter Jackson's The Lovely Bones), he stars opposite Michelle Williams in the marital drama Blue Valentine. (500) Days of Summer star Joseph Gordon-Levitt returns as a trickster in Hesher, co-starring Natalie Portman and Rainn Wilson. Writer-director Nicole Holofcener's Please Give boasts a strong ensemble: Amanda Peet, Oliver Platt, Rebecca Hall and Catherine Keener. Writer-director John Wells cast Ben Affleck and Kevin Costner in The Company Men. And Mark Lewis explores an ecological disaster in 3-D with Cane Toads: The Conquest.
Here's the LAT's Sundance take.