In a return to 2004 of sorts, Richard LInklater's "Before Midnight" and Shane Carruth's "Upstream Color" both bowed at Park City to wide acclaim, harkening back to the year when Linklater's "Before Sunset" hit theaters and Carruth's "Primer" won Sundance's Grand Jury Prize.
In this year's Indiewire/Criticwire poll of critics attending the festival, "Before Midnight" and "Upstream Color" each captured top spots in multiple categories. Linklater ranked the highest for Best Director while "Before Midnight" landed Best Narrative Feature. "Upstream Color," which encountered a slightly more polarizing reception, still managed to rank among the top five finalists for Best Feature, as it did for Carruth's direction and the performance of star Amy Seimetz.
The highest ranking finalist among the films without nearly as much pre-fest publicity as those two was David Lowery's "Ain't Them Bodies Saints," which drew favorable comparisons to early Terrence Malick by multiple critics. Lowery came in right behind Linklater for the Best Director prize, while Ben Foster claimed the most votes for Best Supporting Performance.
In the documentary category, "After Tiller" received the highest ranking, followed closely by Sarah Polley's "Stories We Tell."
Critics were asked to give name top five choices in each of the following seven different categories: Best Narrative Feature, Best Documentary Feature, Best Lead Performance, Best Supporting Performance, Best First Feature, Best Director and Best Ensemble. Scores were then tallied on a reverse point scale (5 for a 1st place vote, 4 for a 2nd place vote, 3 for a 3rd place vote, etc.). Among the dozens of critics attending Sundance this year, 42 participated in our poll.
As a festival curiosity, many of the highest awarded performances came in pairs. Miles Teller took the Best Lead Performance prize for his role in James Ponsoldt's "The Spectacular Now," while his co-star Shailene Woodley ended up on the heels of Foster in the final Best Supporting Performance margin. As the central couple in their third visit to the Linklater's romantic universe, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy both scored high for their in "Before Midnight." Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck also landed in the top ten for Lead Performance for the aforementioned "Ain't Them Bodies Saints."
Perhaps the most impressive debut of this year's Sundance field was Ryan Coogler's "Fruitvale," the story of the final day of Oscar Grant, the victim of a BART station shooting in the first hours of 2009. Anchored by Michael B. Jordan's central performance, "Fruitvale" won the top prize for Coogler in the Best First Feature category.
For a full list of winners in all the above mentioned categories and detailed explanation of how individual critics voted, be sure to check our Indiewire Survey homepage. Move your cursor over individual results to view the names of the critics who voted for each finalist.
To view the full list of participating critics, go here.