Now that it’s all over, let’s take an Oscar-specific look at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, which could very well serve as a partial crystal ball into what will be happening in the awards race a year from now.
In the past few years, the Best Picture-nominated likes of “Precious,” “An Education,” “The Kids Are All Right,” “Winter’s Bone” and “Beasts of the Southern Wild” all debuted at the festival. Last year was obviously no exception, with Sundance arguably being the film festival MVP when it came to the Oscars. Park City premieres “Boyhood” and “Whiplash” both received Best Picture nominations, with the former the shaky frontrunner to end up winning (the first time a Sundance film will have ever done so).
Is this year’s lineup heading for a similar victory? It’s clearly way too soon to know anything for certain, but here are our early best bets:
Four of the past six years have seen the festival’s Grand Jury Prize for best U.S. dramatic film get a nomination for best picture (“Precious” in 2009, “Winter’s Bone” in 2010, “Beasts” in 2012, “Whiplash” in 2014 — “Like Crazy” and “Fruitvale Station” were the exceptions). Does that suggest this year’s winner, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” will continue the streak? Maybe, given its major sale to Fox Searchlight (on an Oscar roll as of late) and its across-the-board acclaim. But the film — which has the Oscar-unfriendly distinction of being about kids — would probably have to be a breakout hit to make the typically adult-oriented ranks of Oscar’s big category. It’s a definite possibility, but probably more likely is another Fox Searchlight pickup: John Crowley’s “Brooklyn,” an old fashioned love story about an Irish immigrant making her way through 1950’s-era New York that has Oscar written all over it. James Ponsoldt’s take on the final days of David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest” press tour is probably the third most likely to succeed.
Most Valuable Player: “Brooklyn”
Next In Line: “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”; “The End of the Tour”
Dark Horses: “The Diary of a Teenage Girl”
While “The End of the Tour” might be a bit of a long shot for Best Picture (though who knows at this point), it seems like a much safer bet to net Jason Segel his first Oscar nomination as late author David Foster Wallace. Reviews for his performance were downright staggering, and the Oscars love them someone playing a real life person (see this year’s Best Actor category, where four out of five nominees do so). Also possible? Up-and-comer Jack Reynor, who won the Sundance acting prize for his work playing a taxi driver taking care of his troubled mother in “Glassland,” and “The Stanford Prison Experiment” star Billy Crudup, who leads an incredible ensemble in a performance The Playlist called “astounding.”
Most Valuable Player: Jason Segel (“The End of the Tour”)
Next In Line: Billy Crudup (“The Stanford Prison Experiment”)
Dark Horses: Jack Reynor (“Glassland”); Christopher Abbott (“James White”); Thomas Mann (“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”)
This category is generally very kind to Sundance lately, with six of the last 30 best-actress nominees debuting their work at the Sundance Film Festival (Quvenzhane Wallis, Gabourey Sidibe, Carey Mulligan, Michelle Williams, Annette Bening and Jennifer Lawrence). But the last two years both proved exceptions to that rule, with not a single nominee from either Sundance slate. Will 2015 break the slump? It sure looks like it. Refreshingly, there were loads more lead performances from women that broke out at the fest, with Soarise Ronan and Lily Tomlin the best bets for their work in “Brooklyn” and “Grandma,” respectively. Ronan and Tomlin have interestingly each received one previous nomination, both for their debut roles. Ronan was nominated for “Atonement” in 2007, while Tomlin — 55 years Ronan’s senior — was nominated for 1975’s “Nashville.” It already looks like a crowded category, but there’s also tons of other women that could be aiming to join those two in the race, and it’s an eclectic bath: Blythe Danner (“I’ll See You In My Dreams”), Bel Powley (“Diary of a Teenage Girl”) and Sarah Silverman (“I Smile Back”) all received warm notices at Sundance, and all of them would be first time Oscar nominees (which obviously more surprising in some cases than others).
Most Valuable Players: Saorise Ronan (“Brooklyn”), Lily Tomlin (“Grandma”)
Next In Line: Blythe Danner (“I’ll See You In My Dreams”); Bel Powley (“Diary of a Teenage Girl”)
Dark Horses: Sarah Silverman (“I Smile Back”); Anya Taylor-Joy (“The Witch”); Greta Gerwig (“Mistress America”)
Best Supporting Actor
With J.K. Simmons and Ethan Hawke both currently gunning for Oscar via their Sundance premiered work in “Whiplash” and “Boyhood,” respectively, who from the 2015 slate is most likely to follow in their footsteps? Jim Broadbent could ride the “Brooklyn” wave if it ends up being a major player, while Ezra Miller and Tye Sherdian seem like the standouts of the epic supporting cast in “The Stanford Prison Experiment.” But it’s definitely Jesse Eisenberg who is sitting prettiest here — if he campaigns for supporting to Jason Segel’s aforementioned lead. His performance as reporter David Lipsky is part of a two-hander and is getting almost as warm reviews as Segel’s. Eisenberg has also been up for Oscar once before (“The Social Network”), which tends to help.
Most Valuable Player: Jesse Eisenberg (“The End of the Tour”)
Next In Line: RJ Cyler (“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”); Alexander Skarsgard (“The Diary of a Teenage Girl”)
Dark Horses: Jim Broadbent (“Brooklyn”); Ezra Miller (“The Stanford Prison Experiment”); Tye Sheridan (“The Stanford Prison Experiment”)
Best Supporting Actress
Kristen Wiig missed out on awards season for one of last year’s Sundance breakouts, “The Skeleton Twins.” But she has a good shot at a second chance in Marielle Heller’s “Diary of a Teenage Girl.” Though the film’s lead Bel Powley got the film’s most glowing reviews performance wise, she’ll be competing in a potentially very crowded Best Actress race that might not make things easy for newcomers to breakthrough. Wiig, meanwhile, has been slowly building a reputation as a very capable dramatic actress these last few years, and while her role in “Girl” is small — she’s said to be excellent in it. Also standing a decent shot at some recognition a year or so from now is veteran actress Julie Walters, who seems like the most probable of the supporting “Brooklyn” cast to join Soarise Ronan in competition, and Cynthia Nixon, who got big notices for her work in “James White.” Overall, though, it’s probably the slightest batch of contenders for any of the Oscar races.
Most Valuable Player: Kristen Wiig (“Diary of a Teenage Girl”)
Next In Line: Cynthia Nixon (“James White”); Julie Walters (“Brooklyn”)
Dark Horses: Toni Collette (“Glassland”); Lola Kirke (“Mistress America”)
Best Documentary Feature
Here’s where we have some certainty. It’s reasonable to feel assured that at least one of Sundance’s docs will end up an Oscar nominee, if not two, three, four or all five (two years ago, four screened at Sundance, though this past year there was only one). Though while the idea of a doc from Sundance being nominated is a very good bet, knowing which doc makes it is next to impossible. Last year one would have thought films like “Life Itself” or “The Overnighters” might have ended up nominees, but that wasn’t the case. This year, there’s basically a 20 film-long laundry list to choose from, though we’d give “Going Clear,” “Best of Enemies,” “The Wolfpack” and “Cartel Land” the very early upper hand.
Most Valuable Players: “Going Clear”; “The Hunting Ground”; “Best of Enemies”; “Cartel Land”; “Listen to Me Marlon”; “The Russian Woodpecker”; “The Wolfpack”; “Welcome To Leith”; “The Nightmare”