01/18/2008 10:31 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Sundance: Let the Names Begin

Movies started unspooling last night at Sundance, and the gears of the festival's other big machine -- the celebrity-fashion juggernaut -- have started turning too. You can already feel the impact of its heavy wheels on Main Street, where festivalgoers stop to gawk at the same celebrities publicists are trying to lure into branded "cafes" and "lounges" to be photographed holding their products. If you've got a shred of naivete left you regarding this sort of thing -- as I did last year, when I witnessed Nick Nolte tipping his swag toward the cameras and Molly Shannon grinning her free clothes piled up -- it can be a bit of a downer. If you don't -- like me, this year -- it's merely good people-watching.

Everyone seems excited about the quality of the movies this year -- is the indie film making a comeback? If it isn't, the festival's stated mission risks being (even more) thoroughly outpaced by the growth in random attending celebrities. Rumors have already broken that that a sponsor has paid Paris Hilton to host a party at its lounge Monday night. Another blog reports that 50 Cent, who also no legitimate reason to be here, will take advantage of her presence to interview her. Can't wait to see the transcript of that one. 50 is making the most of his Sundance "debut," participating in a dinner this weekend sponsored by Vitamin Water. What's more upsetting than the existence of this outlandish occasion is that the list of people "expected" (say the publicists) to attend it includes Robert DeNiro and Quentin Tarantino.

But at least those two have roles in the cinematic side of the festival. As does Woody Harrelson, whom I overheard describing himself as "a world-class loafer" -- despite the fact that he's been all over the screen lately, playing a gay Washington socialite (albeit with mixed results) in Paul Schrader's The Walker and starring in two films at Sundance, the Russian-steppes thriller Transsiberian and Sleepwalking, a working-class drama set in the American West co-starring Charlize Theron, Nick Stahl, Dennis Hopper, and the up-and-coming 14 year-old AnnaSophia Robb.

The festival kicked off last night with Martin McDonagh's "In Bruges," a reportedly smart, stylish drama about two guilt-burdened hitmen (Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson). Farrell appeared at the Hypnotiq (a blue-liquor brand) Lounge after party, not really in a mood for questions; reports of him flirting in a Main Street, well, it's really not that interesting.

Of course, the right F-lister sighting can be just as good as catching a glimpse of Charlize Theron or Bruce Willis. Last year, Gary Coleman descended Main Street amid, I have no idea why, a mini-frenzy of papparazzi. So far all I've got in an encounter with a friend in the street who announced: "I just saw Baby from Dirty Dancing!"