It is never too early in the year to start talking about next year's Oscar race or the newest, hottest face on the planet.
We're smack in the middle of the best-of-2011 awards season, the 2012 Sundance Film Festival kicks off today (and runs till Jan. 29) in Park City, Utah, and there is so much going on both onscreen and off, we felt it necessary to prepare a cheat sheet for the indie-film extravaganza.
Here's what—and who—will be making noise in the next 10 days:
1. Let's Start at the Very Beginning: A very good place to start, we might add. The 2012 fest opens tonight with a short-film program and four screenings, one from each main competition: The teen-boy-loves-35-year-old-divorced-woman romance Hello I Must Be Going in the U.S. drama category; Australian vacation-gone-wrong mind-bender Wish You Were Here in the world-cinema drama category; the Swedish Searching for Sugar Man, about a now-forgotten singer-songwriter in the world-cinema documentary category; and U.S. documentary The Queen of Versailles, about a couple's ultimately futile dream of building a 90,000-square-foot mansion for themselves.
2. The Guest List: The stirrings of a real-life romance between Bradley Cooper and Zoe Saldana will be on display in The Words, which also stars the ubiquitous Olivia Wilde. Sean Penn does his best Robert Smith impersonation in This Must Be the Place. After winning big at Cannes with the depressing Melancholia, the Kirsten Dunst gets her funny back at Sundance—along with Isla Fisher and Lizzy Caplan in Bachelorette. Sigourney Weaver, Cillian Murphy and Robert De Niro bring the chill in Red Lights. Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon play dangerously with others' money in Arbitrage. Chris Rock costars with director Julie Delpy in 2 Days in New York, the follow-up to Delpy's 2 Days in Paris. More star power than William H. Macy and Helen Hunt may have been needed, however, to get The Surrogate (about a guy in an iron lung who wants to lose his virginity) off the ground.
3. TV Guide: Lots of our small-screen faves tend to hit the festival circuit in support of their side projects, and Sundance 2012 is no exception! Rashida Jones cowrote and stars with Andy Samberg in Celeste and Jesse Forever, which also features Elijah Wood and Emma Roberts. Jon Krasinski holds his own opposite Olivia Thirlby and Rosemarie DeWitt in Nobody Walks. How I Met Your Mother star Josh Radnor wrote and direct Mother—so that he could hit up Elizabeth Olsen, what-what. Joshua Jackson and Laura Prepon are in Stephen Frears' Lay the Favorite along with Bruce Willis, Vince Vaughn and Rebecca Hall. Tracy Morgan pops up as a drug dealer in Predisposed, with Jesse Eisenberg and Melissa Leo. AnnaLynne McCord goes a little mad in Excision (how can she not with John Waters and Traci Lords?). Parks and Rec smartass Aubrey Plaza joins New Girl's Jake Johnson and The League's Mark Duplass in Safety Not Guaranteed (pretty sure laughs are, though). But the cream of the crop may be the fetchingly titled Goats, starring Ty Burrell, Keri Russell, David Duchovny and The Good Wife's Graham Phillips.
4. Coming to a Theater Near You: What's expected to get picked up and distributed with gusto? Early buzz pins high hopes on all of the aforementioned celeb-driven vehicles; the time-travel-utilizing comedy Safety Not Guaranteed; Red Hook Summer, in which Spike Lee reprises the role of Mookie from Do the Right Thing; the Peter Jackson-produced documentary West of Memphis, about three young men convicted of murder who were recently released but not declared "not guilty"; Robot and Frank, starring Frank Langella and a robot with Peter Sarsgaard's voice; the latest incarnation of Wuthering Heights; the Indonesian action flick The Raid; and Where Do We Go Now?, from Lebanon, which won top honors at Toronto.
5. Cold Play: When they don't have a movie to watch or promote, what will the celebs do to stay busy? Well, first they hit up gifting suites to score free stuff. Then, according to talent manager and Sundance party-list overseer Christopher Ryan, there will about 350 events to choose from (and this isn't even including the impromptu hangouts that tend to occur among the tip-top A-listers). From Issey Miyake Sport's Supper Club to Element Electronics Apres Ski House to the Fender Music Lodge, there is a zero percent chance that one person can see everything. And these are just places to go during the day! There's the annual Day One Party tonight at Legacy Lodge and, after Parker Posey hosts the end-of-fest awards ceremony on Jan. 28, there will be the annual Awards Night Party at Basin Recreational Field House. But in between, stars will be gathering at Park City outposts of Tao, STK, Hyde and Goodnight Gansevoort, and hot tickets include HBO's party Sunday at LIVEstyle Film Lounge and the 7 for All Mankind party at Bertolli Meal Soup Chalet. LMFAO is headlining Park City Live on Saturday.
Oh, and we hear there's good skiing.