The 40th Sundance Film Festival kicks off Thursday in snow-covered Park City, Utah. In the wake of twin strikes and an indie biz still recovering from the Covid pandemic, it’s difficult to read how hungry buyers are for films that are mostly light on starpower and an overtly commercial premise. For instance, the buzziest title seems to be Love Me, because it stars Kristen Stewart and freshly minted Emmy-winning Beef star Steven Yeun. But it is a completely execution dependent premise — long after humanity’s extinction, a buoy and a satellite meet online and fall in love. Two fine actors, but neither is a giant theatrical So there could be competition for this one, but buyers will be coming in cold and, as one veteran fest buyer said, “it’s like every other movie here. Let’s see what you got.”

One wrinkle in the continuing tectonic shifts in the theatrical space is a number of titles on my cheat sheets that have distributors aligned with them. Buyers are being encouraged to come kick the tires, and if the studios can find a better home for a film it invested in early, deals could be made. Start with Rob Peace, a film that Paramount had been aligned with that is directed and written by 12 Years A Slave star Chiwetel Ejiofor, an adaptation of the bestselling biography. By my count, there are multiple titles that have A24 aligned to them, as well as Neon, Focus, Lionsgate and others. I’ve never seen this before, but I am told it’s all about getting these breakthrough films seen, coupled with distributors hedging bets. The filmmakers can see these distribs that put in money are mindful of getting the best deal and finding the best home, which might be a streaming deal. Another of these could be tonight’s premiere of Freaky Tales, the Anna Boden-Ryan Fleck-helmed film that stars Pedro Pascal and Ben Mendelsohn. I’m told Lionsgate has the movie through its acquisition of EOne. If another distributor is very excited, the film could change hands.

As for the other market variables, we’ll have to see if streamers step up to gobble many films as they’re making a lot more content now. Last year we expected a downturn but they bought some titles. But distributors have holes in schedules, and it’s up to the quality of these fledgling filmmakers to see if one of them has made the next CODA, Get Out, Precious, Little Miss Sunshine, Fruitvale Station or (500) Days of Summer. No one will be surprised if many deals get done with the crowd returns to LA and New York, so it won’t be possible to gauge success for a few weeks.

I’ll work the festival from Los Angeles (hate the thin air), but our younger and fitter Deadline team is out in force looking to shake loose news and deals. Here’s the look today:

Deadline Sundance Studio

Here are the dozen titles that sellers and buyers are talking up most:

LOVE ME – Director/Writer: Sam & Andy Zuchero. Cast: Kristen Stewart, Steven Yeun. Humanity is extinct, but a buoy and a satellite meet online and fall in love. U.S. Dramatic Competition. Premiere: Jan 19th @ 12:00pm Eccles Theatre / P&.I.: JAN 19 @ 7:00PM Holiday Village Cinemas.

MY OLD ASS – Director/Writer: Megan Park. Cast: Audrey Plaza, Maddie Ziegler, Percy Hynes White. Margot Robbie’s LuckyChap is in the middle of this unusual coming of age tale. The summer before college, bright-yet-irreverent Elliott comes face-to-face with her older self during a mushroom trip. The encounter spurs a funny and heartfelt journey of self-discovery and first love as Elliott prepares to leave her childhood home. Premiere: Jan 20, 7:00P.M. Eccles Theatre. P&I.: Jan 21 @ 8:30P.M. Holiday Village Cinemas

Maisy Stella and Aubrey Plaza appear in My Old Ass by Megan Park, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Shane Mahood.

A REAL PAIN – Director/Writer: Jesse Eisenberg. Cast: Kieran Culkin, Jennifer Grey, Jesse Eisenberg, Will Sharpe. Mismatched cousins David and Benji reunite for a tour through Poland to honor their beloved grandmother. The adventure takes a turn when the pair’s old tensions resurface against the backdrop of their family history. Emma Stone is among the producers. U.S. Dramatic Competition. Premiere: Jan 20th, 11:45 Eccles Theatre. P&I: Jan 21st 9:30am Eccles Theatre.

EXHIBITING FORGIVENESS – Director/Writer: Titus Kaphar. Cast: André Holland, Andra Day, Jaime Ray Newman, Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor. The narrative film is directed by renowned painter Kaphar. Utilizing his paintings to find freedom from his past, a Black artist on the path to success is derailed by an unexpected visit from his estranged father, a recovering addict desperate to reconcile. Together, they learn that forgetting might be a greater challenge than forgiving. A Killer cast will help drive a sale, possibly before the buying crowd leaves after the weekend. U.S. Dramatic Competition. Premiere: Jan 20th 3:00pm Eccles Theatre. P&I Jan 21 5:00PM Holiday Village Cinemas.

André Holland and Andra Day appear in Exhibiting Forgiveness by Titus Kaphar, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

BETWEEN THE TEMPLES – Director/Writer: Nathan Silver. Cast: Jason Schwartzman, Carol Kane, Caroline Aaron, Dolly De Leon, Robert Smigel. A cantor in a crisis of faith finds his world turned upside down when his grade school music teacher reenters his life as his new adult bat mitzvah student. U.S. Dramatic Competition. Premiere: Jan 19th @ 2:30pm Library Center Theater. P&I.: Jan 20 @ 3:30PM Holiday Village Cinemas.

DIDI – Director/Writer: Sean Wang. Cast: Joan Chen, Izaac Wang, Shirley Chen, Joziah Lagonoy, Sunil Mukherjee Maurillo. In 2008, during the last month of summer before high school begins, an impressionable 13-year-old Taiwanese American boy learns what his family can’t teach him: how to skate, how to flirt, and how to love your mom. U.S. Dramatic Competition. Premiere: Jan 19th @ 7:30pm The Ray Theater. P&I: Jan 20 8:30AM Holiday Village Cinemas.

IT’S WHAT’S INSIDE – Director/Writer: Greg Jardin. A pre-wedding party descends into an existential nightmare when an estranged friend shows up with a mysterious suitcase. Lotta crazy twists and turns in this one make it one that might be a quick sale after its Midnight screening. Premiere: Jan 19, 11:00P.M. The Ray Theatre. P&I.: JAN 20 1:00PM Holiday Village Cinemas

LITTLE DEATH – Director: Jack Begert. Cast: David Schwimmer, Gaby Hoffman. Darren Aronofsky, who was introduced to Hollywood through Pi (he won the director award) produces this one by Begert, a protégé of the Black Swan helmer. A middle-aged filmmaker on the verge of a breakthrough. Two kids in search of a lost backpack. A small dog a long way from home. Next. Premiere: Jan 19, 9:15P.M,  Egyptian Theatre. P&I: Jan 20 9:30AM Holiday Village Cinemas.

A still from Super/Man: The Christopher Reeve Story by Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | Photo by Warner Bros / Alamy.

SUPER/MAN: THE CRISTOPHER REEVE STORY – Director: Ian Bonhote, Peter Ettedgui. This docu has never-before-seen home movies and extraordinary personal archives that reveal how Christopher Reeve went from unknown actor to iconic movie star as the first screen Superman. Then he learned the true meaning of heroism as an activist after suffering a tragic accident that left him quadriplegic and dependent on a ventilator to breathe. Premieres Section. Premiere, Jan 21, 9:00A.M. The Ray Theatre.

YOUR MONSTER – Director/Writer: Caroline Lindy. After her life falls apart, soft-spoken actress Laura Franco finds her voice again when she meets a terrifying, yet weirdly charming, monster living in her closet. Midnight. Premiere Jan 18, 10:15P.M. Egyptian Theatre. P&I Jan 19 1:00PM Holiday Village Cinemas.

WILL & HARPER – Director: Josh Greenbaum. I added this documentary as a wild card because it sounds potentially valuable to an audience that embraces tolerance, but doesn’t understand the Trans community, and who better a tour guide than Will Ferrell? He brightens everything he does, including his recent presenter turn on the Golden Globes. It’s Ferrell and Harper Steele in a car on a road trip. Ferrell finds out his close friend of 30 years is coming out as a Trans woman, and the two decide to embark on a cross-country road trip to process this new stage of their relationship in a portrait of friendship, transition, and America. Steele was a formative influence for Ferrell, writing material for him, and bolstering his confidence early on. Premiere, Jan 22, 7:30P.M.

Will Ferrell and Harper Steele appear in Will & Harper by Josh Greenbaum, an official selection of the Premieres Program at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

PRESENCE – Director: Steven Soderbergh. Cast: Lucy Liu, Julia Fox, Chris Sullivan. The film is scripted by David Koepp, and on the 40th installment of the festival, what Sundance Hot List could be complete without the entry from Soderbergh, who changed Sundance into a formidable launcher of bright young filmmakers and made indies a real business when he debuted sex lies & videotape in Park City? A family moves into a suburban house and becomes convinced they’re not alone. Premiere: Jan 19, 9:45P.M. Library Center Theatre. P&I JAN 21 12:00PM Holiday Village Cinemas.

A still from Presence by Steven Soderbergh, an official selection of the Premieres Program at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.