Amidst the increasingly stale Oscar race, where the nominations have been announced and all but a couple races have been set, the Sundance Film Festival has often been a welcome look into the potential contenders of the coming Oscar race. Sometimes it’s a strong indicator, as in 2010 when nine films (including two of the Best Picture nominees, Winter’s Bone and The Kids Are All Right) premiered here. And sometimes it’s a bust – the year after that only three Sundance films (Margin Call, Hell and Back Again, If a Tree Falls) received any nominations.
On the surface, this year looks like more of the latter – it seemed like this festival everyone could agree that nobody could agree on a consensus favorite (though one film in Dramatic Competition did pull off the hat trick of winning both the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize – more on that one in a bit). But that doesn’t necessarily mean that there weren’t any films with future shots at awards glory. Below I’ll highlight the five films that seem most likely to make some sort of appearance come next Awards season (NOTE: mentioning a film does not mean I’m predicting for anything necessarily, just that it could be in the awards discussion once it officially opens).
BOYHOOD (IFC Films; Directed by Richard Linklater) – A last-minute addition to the schedule, Boyhood received by far the strongest reviews of any film that premiered this festival. 12 years in the making, Linklater shot the film for a few days every year so that the film could age with its main protagonist, a young boy that grows into a young college student over the course of the film’s 164 minute running time. This isn’t traditional Oscar fare (the film has no overarching narrative to speak of), and Linklater’s only awards success so far has been with his Before series, but don’t be surprised if the reviews when this opens are just as strong as those films. If critics are passionate about it, the film could reappear during critics awards season, which could help the film contend in Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars, assuming that category isn’t too cluttered with Best Picture contenders.
CALVARY (Fox Searchlight; Directed by John Michael McDonaugh) – This is black comedy McDonaugh’s follow-up to his breakout black comedy The Guard, a film that managed to be a solid art house success (making $5.4 million without expanding past 203 theaters) and received a somewhat surprising BAFTA nomination for its screenplay. The reaction to Calvary seems slightly stronger than that film, and the story (about a priest whose life is threatened by an unseen man during a confession) seems slightly softer as well. This, combined with an acquisition by Fox Searchlight, could mean good things for it come awards season. Assuming it does well financially, I imagine Searchlight will try at pushes for Best Original Screenplay (McDonaugh’s brother Michael pulled off a nod for his debut In Bruges), and if it does very well they might try for a Best Actor push for Brendan Gleeson, who plays the priest. Gleeson received Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations for his tender In Bruges performance, but category confusion (Lead at the Globes, Supporting at BAFTA) meant that he wasn’t taken seriously as a contender. With no such worries here, he might go all the way.
WHIPLASH (Sony Classics, Directed by Damien Chazzelle) – By far the biggest breakout hit of the US Dramatic Competition, this music drama is the film I mentioned earlier that won both the Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize. Granted, while two-time Oscar winner Precious pulled off this feat, the other three films that did – Three Seasons, Quinceañera, and Fruitvale Station – went nowhere. Still, the acclaim for the film has been strong, particularly for J.K. Simmons, in a performance that’s been called an inspirational teacher role as played by R Lee Emrey. It’s a big, loud performance, and Simmons has been steadily working for 20 years now as a character actor, so he should have a decent amount of respect built up. Sony Classics doesn’t often handle films this youth-oriented, but if they can shepherd the film into becoming a breakout in theaters as it was at Sundance, a Best Supporting Actor campaign for Simmons suddenly becomes pretty easy, as well as a possible Best Original Screenplay nomination.
The Documentaries – If there’s one place you can rely on Sundance when predicting the Oscars, it’s in the Documentary Feature category – in fact, four of this year’s nominees premiered at the 2013 Sundance Festival (Cutie and the Boxer, Dirty Wars, The Square, 20 Feet from Stardom). So what films from this year’s festival could be expect to be in the conversation? I think the five most likely are:
–Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory, the Audience Award winner about how music can bring back memories in dementia and Alzheimer’s patients
–The Case Against 8, a film that follows the Proposition 8 case, which won the Directing prize
–Dinosaur 13, a crowd-pleaser about the discovery of the most complete dinosaur skeleton ever, picked up quickly by Lionsgate and CNN Films
–Fed Up, about the obesity epidemic, which was picked by by Radius-TWC, the same company that pushed 20 Feet from Stardom and Cutie and the Boxer to nominations
–The Overnighters, one of the more acclaimed docs about the North Dakota oil fields, which won a Special Jury Prize
[author image=”https://scontent-a.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ash4/1000826_905133195637_1150756764_n.jpg” ]Jonathan Boehle is a contributor to AwardWatch and a moderator of the AW forums.[/author]