Sundance 2012: The 12 biggest stories of the indie film fest

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Sundance 2012 took place over 10 days, featured 117 movies, marked the debut of 45 first-time filmmakers, and for film lovers there was no better place to be than Park City, Utah — even if not all the news coming out of the festival was happy.

Studio sales were strong, which means many of the most buzzed-about titles will make it to theaters, and — as usual – a few previously unknown storytellers emerged as stars, while a handful of Hollywood veterans faceplanted in the snow.

One high-profile death cast a sense of mourning over the gathering, but a particularly upbeat lineup of movies managed to keep spirits high overall.

Here’s a wrap-up of what went down at Sundance 2012.

BRISK SALES

It was a strange situation, but none of the movies in the Premieres section this year came into the festival with distribution already lined up. (Typically there are a few already prepped for theatrical release by one of the mini-major studios.)

With everything for sale, studios went on a buying spree. The festival’s first four days were quiet, leading some to speculate that it would be a slow year, but that lull is now common at Sundance, where very-next-day, big-dollar acquisitions (such as the record holder, Little Miss Sunshine, which sold for $10.5 million in 2006) are now rare.

Once opening weekend passed, every day brought new sales: The billionaires-in-crisis doc The Queen of Versailles was the first to get picked up, while Bradley Cooper’s The Words, Richard Gere’s Arbitrage, Rashida Jones’ Celeste and Jesse Forever, Frank Langella’s Robot & Frank (pictured left), and the dreamlike Beasts of the Southern Wild soon found homes, too. There were plenty of others. (See the EW.com Deal Report.)

Late festival acquisitions included FilmDistrict (the company behind Drive and In the Land of Blood and Honey) picking up the Aubrey Plaza, Jake Johnson, and Mark Duplass time-travel comedy Safety Not Guaranteed (pictured right).

Meanwhile, the John Krasinski drama Nobody Walks, the Compliance, and the Julie Delpy-Chris Rock romance 2 Days in New York all went to Magnolia Films, while The Weinstein Company stepped in to rescue the gambling comedy Lay the Favorite, which suffered withering reviews but featured Bruce Willis and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

The biggest price tag of all, however, went to a film that sounded like the toughest sell: The Surrogate.

NEXT PAGE: The Surrogate — more laughs than tears

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