Sundance Film Festival's 5 Biggest Trends

Marlow Stern

Talk of the Town

Fox Searchlight paid $6 million for The Surrogate, a poignant, terribly funny story about a crippled poet’s bumpy path toward losing his virginity via a “sex surrogate” (played by Helen Hunt). John Hawkes is charming as O’Brien in a welcome break from his typically sinister roles. In the resplendent fairy tale Beasts of the Southern Wild, a 6-year-old girl tries to save her family from snow monsters unleashed when the polar ice caps melt. It’s The NeverEnding Story for a new generation. —M.S.

Art-umentaries Rule

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry offers an insider’s look at the artist and political dissident’s creative process and free-speech struggles; Ai so thoroughly upset China’s government, officials locked him down for 81 days. Meanwhile, Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present provides a mesmerizing view of the performance daredevil and chronicles her career retrospective at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. There, Abramovic engaged in silent face-off with thousands in a demonstration of physical endurance and spiritual uplift. —C.L.

Grumpy Old Men

Last year’s festival was buzzing over ingénues, but this year was all about the grizzled vets. In Arbitrage, Richard Gere delivers a career-defining turn as a billionaire hedge-fund magnate attempting to unload his company before his fraud is uncovered. And Sean Penn extends his range as an aging ex–goth rocker hunting for a Nazi in this must be the place. —M.S.

A Musical Backbeat

Rapper turned actor Ice-T codirected Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap, interviewing hip-hop’s founding fathers and reigning superstars to trace the genre’s rise to mainstream ubiquity. At the other end of the spectrum, Shut Up and Play the Hits documents the final concert of electronic dance-rock outfit LCD Soundsystem. On the ground, Park City crowds took in performances by mysterious producer Deadmau5, party duo LMFAO, comedian Aziz Ansari, and Canadian superstar Drake. —C.L.

Special thanks to Sundance Channel for partnering with Newsweek and The Daily Beast during the festival.