Richard Linklater and Sundance are becoming quite the fruitful pairing. Just 12 months after “Before Midnight” began its run as the best-reviewed film of the year, Linklater’s long-gestating “Boyhood” finally made its way to the festival circuit to great acclaim. The film topped three of the seven categories in our annual Sundance critics poll, including Best Narrative Feature, Best Ensemble and Best Director for Linklater. (Last year, “Before Midnight” took both Film and Director categories handily.) The 2014 Sundance Poll featured responses from 52 members of our Criticwire Network.
Another emerging success story from this year’s Sundance, “Whiplash,” continues its victory lap after sweeping both the Audience and Grand Jury prizes at Saturday night’s awards ceremony. Here, the film comfortably took home top spots in both the Lead Performance and Supporting Performance categories. As would-be drumming prodigy Andrew, Miles Teller takes his second consecutive Best Lead Performance title (with his turn in “The Spectacular Now,” he narrowly edged out Julie Delpy in last year’s poll), while JK Simmons’ ferocious work as Terence Fletcher, Andrew’s unhinged jazz ensemble instructor clinched the #1 spot in Supporting.
The long-awaited “Life Itself,” profiling the life and career of legendary film critic Roger Ebert, appeared on over half the ballots for Best Documentary, resulting in the widest margin between first and second place of any category. Steve James also finished the highest in the Best Director category of any documentary filmmaker.
Best First Feature turned out to be the closest contested group of the bunch, a testament to the wide selection from this year’s program. Leading the way was Justin Simien’s well-received satire on modern race relations, “Dear White People.” Gillian Robespierre’s “Obvious Child” and Desiree Akhavan’s “Appropriate Behavior” rounded out the top three in the category that where “Fruitvale Station” helped make a name for itself last January.
Of the rest of the high vote-getters, Alex Ross Perry’s “Listen Up Philip” fared extremely well on the acting side. A runner-up in the Best Ensemble category and a strong showing for Jason Schwartzman in the Best Lead Performance tally, the film also had two of the top four Best Supporting Performances: Jonathan Pryce as the titular Philip’s crusty mentor and Elisabeth Moss as Philip’s estranged girlfriend Ashley.
A trio of Sundance 2012 films and filmmakers followed up previous festival success with prominent showings in 2014. After the roaring response from its premiere screening, Gareth Evans’ sequel “The Raid 2: Berandal” took the bronze in both the Best Narrative Feature and Best Director categories. Ira Sach’s “Love is Strange” (two years after “Keep the Lights On“) finished fifth in Best Narrative and garnered a top-five finish for John Lithgow’s lead performance. Similarly, the Zellner Brothers’ “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter,” their first feature after “Kid-Thing,” placed highly in all the same categories, including a runner-up Lead Performance spot for star Rinko Kikuchi.
You can see the full results from this year’s Sundance critics poll here.