What will be this year’s Sundance story?

Posted by · 2:50 pm · January 31st, 2011

I must confess, this year’s Sundance Film Festival kind of passed me by. Admittedly, I’ve been distracted by a busy couple of weeks on the awards circuit, but the Sundance coverage I did follow suggested a high-quality if nonetheless rather quiet festival, one with fewer noisy breakout films than usual.

In the last few years, it’s been worth keeping an eye (or an ear, rather) on the Sundance buzz, as the festival has birthed a number of future critical hits, and even awards-season success stories: recent Best Picture nominees “Little Miss Sunshine,” “Precious,” “An Education” and now “The Kids Are All Right” and “Winter’s Bone” all premiered there, as did “Frozen River,” “Blue Valentine” and a plethora of Oscar-nominated documentaries. (No fewer than four of this year’s Best Documentary Feature nominees are Sundance babies.)

So it’s easy to assume at least one film from this year’s Sundance crop is something we’ll still be talking about a year from now — but where the crossover potential for a film like “The Kids Are All Right,” or a performance like Jennifer Lawrence’s, was immediately evident, this year’s potential Sundance “stories” don’t seem quite as obvious.

Last week, noting the lack of festival buzz coming out of Utah, I did a highly unscientific Twitter survey, asking my Sundance-attending followers what the hot titles were. Amid a scattered range of responses, one film seemed to emerge as a consensus pick: writer-director Sean Durkin’s “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” a solemn-sounding drama starring Elizabeth Olsen (younger sister of Those Twins) as a damaged young woman rebuilding her life after fleeing a religious cult. Reviews have been uniformly strong, and the film boasts the additional good omen of “Winter’s Bone” star (and brand-new Oscar nominee) John Hawkes in a supporting role.

The next few days bore out the buzz: the ever-savvy Fox Searchlight nabbed the distribution rights, and Durkin won directing honors at yesterday’s Sundance awards ceremony. The film doesn’t appear to be the easiest of sells — but then again, the last three years have been kind to downbeat, female-led Sundance hits, as “Winter’s Bone,” “Precious” and “Frozen River” were all embraced by critics and Academy voters alike. (I dare say this last would also have been a Best Picture nominee in a year of 10.)

That trio of successes, however, are all linked by first having won the festival’s Grand Jury Prize — which this year went to “Like Crazy,” a romantic drama that also took an acting award for British ingenue Felicity Jones. The award seemed to catch a number of critics off-guard; indeed, in today’s indieWIRE critics’ poll of the festival’s best films, “Like Crazy” only comes in ninth place. That said, the film was clearly another of the festival’s biggest sales: Paramount, no less, snapped up the rights.

The critics polled by indieWIRE were evidently far more jazzed about Jeff Nichols’s sophomore feature “Take Shelter,” a psychological thriller starring Michael Shannon as a family man plagued by dreams of an apocalyptic storm — it beat “Martha Marcy May Marlene” to first place in the poll, with Shannon pipping Olsen to the top spot in a separate Best Performance survey. The critics aren’t alone in their enthusiasm: another prestige giant, Sony Pictures Classics, holds the rights to this one.

In the world cinema field, interesting to see Brit actor Paddy Considine scoring a directing award for his debut feature “Tyrannosaur,” a relationship study that also scored an acting prize for stars Peter Mullan and Olivia Colman (best known to Anglophiles for her wonderful work in the sitcom “Peep Show”). I’m very keen to check that one out.

Over in the documentary category, it seems that “Man on Wire” Oscar-winner James Marsh might have another hit on his hands, as his “Project Nim” — the story of a chimpanzee raised as a child by scientists in the 1970s — tops the indieWIRE documentary poll, and also won him a directing award yesterday. The critics are also high on the Grand Jury Prize winner in the category, the euthanasia-themed doc “How to Die in Oregon.” Could it follow the path of recent champs “Restrepo” and “Trouble the Water?”

Full list of feature film winners below. Seems like it gets longer every year.

Grand Jury Prize (Dramatic): “Like Crazy”
Grand Jury Prize (Documentary): “How To Die In Oregon”
World Cinema Jury Prize (Dramatic): “Happy, Happy”
World Cinema Jury Prize (Documentary): “Hell and Back Again”
Audience Award (Dramatic): “Circumstance”
Audience Award (Documentary): “Buck”
World Cinema Audience Award (Dramatic): “Kinyarwanda”
World Cinema Audience Award (Documentary): “Senna”
The Best of NEXT Audience Award: “to.get.her”
Directing Award (Dramatic): Sean Durkin, “Martha Marcy May Marlene”
Directing Award (Documentary): Jon Foy, “Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles”
World Cinema Directing Award (Dramatic): Paddy Considine, “Tyrannosaur”
World Cinema Directing Award (Documentary): James Marsh, “Project Nim”
Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award: “Another Happy Day”
World Cinema Screenwriting Award: “Restoration”
Documentary Editing Award: “If a Tree Falls”
World Cinema Documentary Editing Award: “The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975”
Cinematography Award (Dramatic): “Pariah”
Cinematography Award (Documentary): “The Redemption of General Butt Naked”
World Cinema Cinematography Award (Dramatic): “All Your Dead Ones”
World Cinema Cinematography Award (Documentary): “Hell and Back Again”
Special Jury Prize (Acting): Felicity Jones, “Like Crazy”
Special Jury Prize (Dramatic): “Another Earth”
Special Jury Prize (Documentary): “Being Elmo”
World Cinema Special Jury Prize (Documentary): “Position Among The Stars”
World Cinema Special Jury Prize (Dramatic): actors Olivia Colman and Peter Mullan, “Tyrannosaur”
Alfred P. Sloan Prize: “Another Earth”
Sundance/NHK International Filmmakers Award: Cherien Dabis

[Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures]




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24 responses so far

  • 1 1-31-2011 at 2:57 pm

    DarkLayers said...

    Guy as far as “Best Picture” nods at Sundance, didn’t “Precious”, “An Education”, “Winters Bone” and “The Kids are All Right” win prizes at Sundance?

  • 2 1-31-2011 at 2:58 pm

    Sertan said...

    I only heard about “Like Crazy” and Felicity Jones’ performance in it and the third Olsen sister!

  • 3 1-31-2011 at 3:05 pm

    qwiggles said...

    Wow, Lawrence is in Like Crazy, too? I guess someone has to be Queen of Sundance.

  • 4 1-31-2011 at 3:15 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Dark Layers: As I say in the piece, Precious and Winter’s Bone both won the Grand Jury Prize, as well as acting and writing awards, respectively. An Education won audience and cinematography awards.

    The Kids Are All Right played out of competition.

  • 5 1-31-2011 at 3:32 pm

    Jacob S. said...

    I just really want to see “The Future.”

  • 6 1-31-2011 at 3:38 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    Go Take Shelter, go!

  • 7 1-31-2011 at 3:46 pm

    Michael W. said...

    Crazy as I am, I have already begun writing down my first predictions for next years Oscars, and I have added Martha Marcy May Marlene down for best picture, actress, supporting actor and original screenplay.

    Oscar noms often come in pairs for first timers, so if the film catches on I could easily see John Hawkes being nominated again next year.

    But at this point anything goes and we also have to remember that we for the second year in a row have two Sundance films nominated for best picture. Can it continue?

  • 8 1-31-2011 at 3:48 pm

    will said...

    this really has little chance to be a big breakout, but Bellflower is the film that I’m really eager to see.

    also, Jessica Chastain is in Take Shelter AND Tree of Life. I think this will be a big year for her.

  • 9 1-31-2011 at 4:07 pm

    Anita said...

    Any idea how Submarine played at Sundance? I really hope it gets some attention whenever it comes out. My expectations were high with Richard Ayoade and it was one of my favourites at TIFF. Also, Noah Taylor is incredible.

  • 10 1-31-2011 at 4:20 pm

    Squirrelman said...

    Go, Like Crazy, Go!

    BTW, Guy, it’s Waldo Salt, not Waldo Scott. :P

    Carry on.

  • 11 1-31-2011 at 4:36 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Thanks for the correction, Squirrelman. You can blame indieWIRE for that — I stole the list from their site.

  • 12 1-31-2011 at 5:19 pm

    DylanS said...

    I read “How to Die in Oregon” fast and it read “How to Train Your Dragon”, haha.

  • 13 1-31-2011 at 5:37 pm

    Matt King said...

    There are a bunch of movies I’d like to see coming out of Sundance, but the main ones are definitely “Take Shelter,” “Like Crazy” (mostly because I’ve been in love with Felicity Jones since seeing her in an adaptation of Northanger Abbey some years ago), “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” “Submarine” (yes, I know it was at other festivals first), and “The Future,” even though I didn’t care for July’s last effort.

  • 14 1-31-2011 at 5:44 pm

    Bia said...

    Elizabeth Olsen was incredibly charming and intelligent in all her interviews.

  • 15 1-31-2011 at 6:44 pm

    Matthew Starr said...

    I want to see Take Shelter. After Revolutionary Road and Boardwalk Empire, Michael Shannon is officially the man.

  • 16 1-31-2011 at 6:48 pm

    tim said...

    There seems to always be the hot new ingenue every year recently. Usually, if not always, spawning from Sundance. Ellen Page, Carey Mulligan, Jennifer Lawrence. Maybe Elizabeth Olsen this year? She seems to be who everyone is talking about. Though maybe it’ll end up being Rooney Mara’s year.

  • 17 1-31-2011 at 7:23 pm

    Mitchell said...

    Go, Being Elmo, go!

    I know that’s not happening, but how great would that be?

  • 18 1-31-2011 at 8:36 pm

    Speaking English said...

    “Martha Marcy May Marlene” – they should get consider a title change. My eyes and brain go crazy just looking at that.

  • 19 1-31-2011 at 8:53 pm

    Awesome said...

    5 Movies and 5 Performances that stood out to me this year at Sundance (of the ones I saw)

    Gun Hill Road
    Take Shelter
    The Guard
    Being Elmo
    How to Die in Oregon

    Harmony Santana in Gun Hill Road
    Esai Morales in Gun Hill Road
    Jeremy Irons in Margin Call
    Laura Linney in The Details
    Michael Shannon in Take Shelter

  • 20 1-31-2011 at 9:11 pm

    Ziyad Abul Hawa said...

    I love the title “Martha Marcy May Marlene”, it sounds like a drag queen’s name. I love it.

  • 21 2-01-2011 at 12:52 am

    S said...

    You can’t use “the latter” where three or more things have been listed, it’s reserved for referring to the second thing in a list of two. “This last” is what you should have said. Very disappointing grammatical performance today Guy.

  • 22 2-01-2011 at 3:23 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    That’s what I get for dropping titles into sentences after I write them — I changed the number, neglected the rest. Thanks for the correction.

  • 23 2-01-2011 at 3:53 pm

    Tyler said...

    Vera Farmiga’s “Higher Ground” looks beautiful.

  • 24 2-01-2011 at 5:02 pm

    Justin said...

    Can someone tell me the full plot of “Another Happy Day”? Not necessarily spoilers, but more like the plot points.

    All the information I try to find about it is kind of general ensemble-piece kind of stuff… and it happens to be the one Sundance film I am most interested in.