7 Surprises from Sundance

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1) Everyone old is new again: From Away From Her, a late-life love story starring Julie Christie, 65, and Gordon Pinsent, 76, to Clubland, in which Brenda Blethyn, 60, plays a raucous comedian, to Slipstream, the directorial debut of Anthony Hopkins, 69, to King of California, in which Michael Douglas, 62, is a man just released from a mental hospital, and even to the Apollo space mission documentary In the Shadow of the Moon, which had Buzz Aldrin, 77, cruising the streets of Park City, some of the biggest stars of the youth-obsessed festival were 60-plus. Perhaps Hollywood is finally catching on that many actors don't peak until their third act.

2) Swag lags: At a festival that had become known for its freebies as much as its films, celebrity "gifting," the practice of lavishing luxury products on tastemakers who breeze in from New York City and Los Angeles, was toned down. With the IRS warning celebs that the gifts should be reported as taxable income, stars and their entourages were less likely to snap up potentially useless electronics and accessories that require a 1099 form. Some stars opted to give their wares to Kevin Bacon's new charity, Sixdegrees.org, and others chose to keep their receiving quiet by using gift cards from the privacy of their hotel rooms instead of trudging conspicuously through the snow with bags in hand. In an effort to remind attendees that Sundance really isn't about collecting the right size parka, festival organizers gave away 25,000 buttons that said "Focus on Film." That was one gift no one was ashamed to claim.

3) Dakota Fanning tries something dangerous — skiing: The most controversial film going into the festival was Hounddog, in which 12-year-old Dakota Fanning plays a victim of sexual abuse who finds comfort in Elvis Presley music. Protested by religious groups and child advocates, the movie's much-debated rape scene turned out to be disturbing but not at all graphic. The camera fixes on a closeup of Fanning's face while the actions of a predatory neighbor boy are mostly implied. Despite protests, it appears the young star of Charlotte's Web and War of the Worlds was not harmed in the making of this movie. She also skied for the first time while in Park City. And seemed to come out of that unscathed, too.

4) Documentaries get starry: Some of the hottest documentaries at the film festival employed actors to tell their tales: the opening-night movie, Chicago 10, relies on a voice cast including Nick Nolte, Mark Ruffalo and Liev Schreiber in animated scenes of the trial of anti-war demonstrators from the 1968 Democratic National Convention; Woody Harrelson and Mariel Hemingway read letters and journals in Nanking, about the Japanese occupation of the Chinese city in 1937; Strange Culture features Tilda Swinton and other actors dramatizing events that lead to the arrest of a University of Buffalo professor on suspicion of bioterrorism. Yes, everybody in Hollywood is trying to be as cool as that hip documentary A-lister, Al Gore.

5) Shorts go far: The competition to get a short film into Sundance is fierce and the quality of the movies that make it into the festival is high. Usually outshone by the feature competitions, shorts got to screen to wider audiences this year because anybody who couldn't make the trek to Park City — or score tickets once they got there — could download nearly half of Sundance's 71 competing shorts at Apple's iTunes Store for just $1.99 a piece. Films for sale include the German motorcycling documentary Motodrom and High Falls, a relationship drama starring real-life couple Maggie Gyllenhaal and Peter Sarsgaard. That's not a bad deal to discover the next Wes Anderson, Spike Jonze or Alexander Payne — all directors who started out with a Sundance short.

6) Sales skyrocket: With every distributor looking for the next Little Miss Sunshine, Sundance 2007 was a filmmaker's market as 13 movies sold in the feverish first six days of the festival. Sons of Rambow, a British comedy about a boy's obsession with the movie First Blood, sold to Paramount Vantage for just under $8 million; ThinkFilm picked up the astronaut documentary In the Shadow of the Moon for $2.5 million; the Weinstein Co. paid $4 million to win a heated bidding war for the John Cusack drama Grace is Gone, prompting the indie film company's head, Harvey Weinstein, to tell the Hollywood Reporter, "F--- it. I'm good at this. It's fun." We're pretty sure Cusack was happy about it too.

7) Anna Faris takes the lead: Known by younger audiences for her performances as ditzy Cindy Campbell from the Scary Movie franchise, and by attentive grownup filmgoers for her small roles in Brokeback Mountain and Lost in Translation, funny Anna Faris finally gets the screen time she deserves in the stoner comedy Smiley Face. Faris stars as a pothead actress sent on a series of misadventures after she devours some weed-laced cupcakes. OK, so director Greg Araki's picture is not a huge departure from Faris' spacey blonde cinema roots, but it is that rare physical comedy that stars a young woman who is more than just some guy's girlfriend. Ben Stiller, you might want to get tickets to this one.