Jennifer Aniston and the Beastie Boys are just a few of the major stars who'll be getting some indie cred at Sundance
Credit: Friends with Money: Mark Lipson

Film fans who make it to Park City for the 2006 Sundance Film Festival (which kicks off Jan. 19) will find what has become a predictable mingling of indie potential and good ol’ reliable star power. Consider the opening night premiere: Friends With Money, from Sundance veteran Nicole Holofcener (Lovely and Amazing, Walking and Talking), which stars the writer-director’s usual muse Catherine Keener (newly sizzling from the mainstream success of 40-Year Old-Virgin and Capote), with Jennifer Aniston on the cast list for good measure. (Back in 2002, Aniston made a Sundance splash with The Good Girl).

The closing night film, Nick Cassavetes’ Alpha Dog, not only has a cast of young upstarts like Ben Foster, Shawn Hatosy, and Justin Timberlake (making his acting debut) but also heavyweights Bruce Willis and Sharon Stone. Paul Giamatti returns to the festival with two films, The Hawk is Dying (a drama about a Florida auto upholsterer and his attempts to train a hawk) and The Illusionist, a premiere about a Viennese magician played by Edward Norton. Other buzzworthy roles include Robert Downey Jr. as an ex-street tough in A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints and Forest Whitaker putting on an Irish accent for A Little Trip to Heaven. In fact, with critics’ faves like Maggie Gyllenhaal, Ryan Gosling, and Chiwetel Ejiofor all appearing in films, festival attendees will be hard-pressed to throw a snowball in Park City without hitting a Highly Anticipated Performance.

Several documentaries have their own celebrity imprimatur, including the Beastie Boys’ Awesome I F—in’ Shot That and the Rosie O’Donnell exec-produced All Aboard: Rosie’s Family Cruise. As always, the fest’s mandate is to shine light on new filmmakers and fresh perspectives, but it doesn’t hurt having some big names to boost the wattage.