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Criticwire Poll: The Top Films and Performances of Sundance 2012

Photo of Steve Greene By Steve Greene | Indiewire January 30, 2012 at 11:9AM

Top films include "Beasts of the Southern Wild,""The Surrogate" and "Compliance;" Quvenzhané Wallis is the star of Sundance 2012.
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Fox Searchlight "Beasts of the Southern Wild."
The unclassifiable film with the pint-size star and enough heart to blanket the state of Louisiana is Criticwire’s favorite film of Sundance 2012.

As anticipated, “Beasts of the Southern Wild” easily captured the top spot on our critics’ lists of best films and performances from this year’s festival. The festival’s other buzzworthy entry, “The Surrogate,” also received significant placement on the overall list and was the only film to have two performances in the top 10 for stars John Hawkes and Helen Hunt.

As we mentioned last week, the volume of feedback for documentaries is almost always less than their narrative counterparts. However, “Room 237,” the conspiracy-laden reexamination of Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining,” did emerge as a clear favorite among those receiving votes.

We asked all Criticwire members at Sundance to send their Top 5s in three categories: Best Narrative Feature, Best Documentary Feature and Best Performance. (Critics could list fewer than five in each category.) Scores were tabulated on a simple weighted scale, with a first-place vote earning 5 points, seconnd place earning 4 points, etc.

Of course, these lists are by no means comprehensive. There are plenty of critics who opt to slow-play their grades and reviews over the course of the coming months as these films come to theaters. As we continue to revamp Criticwire, we’ll make sure all the incoming grades are reflected there.

For now, here is Criticwire’s Instant Sundance Feedback Poll, featuring the best films and performances of 2012 so far:

 

[LEGEND: Film or Performance: Number of Mentions - (First-Place Votes) - Aggregate Score]

BEST NARRATIVE FEATURE

1. Beasts of the Southern Wild: 14 - (8) - 57
2. Compliance: 9 - (4) - 34
3. Simon Killer: 7 - (4) - 28
4. The Surrogate: 7 - (2) - 23
5. Wrong:   6 - (2) - 19
6. Safety Not Guaranteed:  5 (1) - 15
7. Keep the Lights On: 6 - (0) - 14
8. For Ellen: 5 - (0) - 14
9. The Raid: 4 - (0) - 14
10. Sleepwalk with Me: 3 - (1) - 13


BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE


1. Room 237: 8 - (4) - 33
2. West of Memphis: 6 - (3) - 24
3. The Queen of Versailles: 7 - (2) - 24
4. Detropia: 6 - (1) - 20
5. Shut Up and Play the Hits: 5 - (1) - 18
6. How to Survive a Plague: 4 - (2) - 15
7. Under African Skies: 4 - (1) - 13
8. The Invisible War: 3 - (1) - 12
9. The House I Live In: 3 - (2) - 12
10. Bestiaire: 2 - (2) - 10

BEST PERFORMANCE

1. Quvenzhané

Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild: 15 - (4) - 57 (Indiewire interview here)
2. John Hawkes, The Surogate: 10 - (3) - 38
3. Brady Corbet, Simon Killer: 8 - (2) - 26
4. Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Smashed: 4 - (2) - 17
5. Paul Dano, For Ellen: 4 - (1) - 14
6. Ann Dowd, Compliance: 4 - (1) - 13
7. Melanie Lynskey, Hello I Must Be Going: 5 - (0) - 12
8. Helen Hunt, The Surrogate: 5 - (1) - 11
9. Andrea Riseborough, Shadow Dancer: 3 - (2) - 11  (Indiewire interview here) 
10. Thure Lindhardt, Keep the Lights On: 3 - (1) - 9 (Indiewire interview here)

Also receiving first-place votes: Mark Duplass, “Safety Not Guaranteed,” Jack Plotnick, “Wrong,” Gina Rodriguez, “Filly Brown,” James Howson/Solomon Grave, “Wuthering Heights”
 
THE COMPLETE LISTS
 
Ryland Aldrich
TwitchFilm
 
"While there were some obvious stand outs, it seems the overall quality of the Sundance films this year was lower than some past years. Walking out of movie after movie this past week in Park City, there has been one adjective circled in my notebook time and time again: Charming. It seems that right now, indie filmmakers are obsessed with giving audiences funny, attractive, likable, and flawed (but not too flawed) characters. Look at films such as THE FIRST TIME, LIBERAL ARTS, SAVE THE DATE, HELLO I MUST BE GOING, and THE END OF LOVE and it is hard not to see the pattern. Is it just a coincidence that Sundance 2012 will go down as the year of charm, or is some larger cinematic trend at work? Is this a reflection of the economic downturn or is this more based on a fear of distributors taking a chance on challenging films?"
 

BEST NARRATIVE FEATURE
1. Beasts of the Southern Wild
2. Oslo, August 31st
3. The Raid
4. Filly Brown
5. Safety Not Guaranteed

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
1. Shut Up and Play the Hits
2. The Imposter
3. Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry
4. Under African Skies

BEST PERFORMANCE
1. Gina Rodriguez, FILLY BROWN
2. John Hawkes, THE SURROGATE
3. Quvenzhané Wallis, BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD
4. Melanie Lynskey, HELLO I MUST BE GOING
5. Frank Langella, ROBOT & FRANK

 
Raffi Asdourian
The Film Stage
 

BEST NARRATIVE FEATURE
1. Beasts of Southern Wild
2. Compliance
3. Wrong
4. V/H/S
5. Bachelorette

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
1. Room 237
2. Indie Game Movie
3. Slavery by Another Name
4. Queen of Versailles

BEST PERFORMANCE
1. Jack Plotnick - Wrong
2. Quvenzhané Wallis - Beasts of Southern Wild


3. Tim Heidicker - The Comedy
4. Brady Corbet - Simon Killer
5. Gina Rodriguez - Filly Brown
 
Jason Bailey
DVD Talk
 
"Overall, I found it to be a year of a great many good films, but not an abundance of films that really knocked me out. Take that for whatever it's worth..."
 

BEST NARRATIVE FEATURE
1. Sleepwalk With Me
2. Safety Not Guaranteed
3. The Raid
4. The Surrogate
5. Your Sister's Sister

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
1. Room 237
2. Detropia
3. The Invisible War
4. West of Memphis
5. Escape Fire

BEST PERFORMANCE
1. John Hawkes (The Surrogate)
2. Rosemarie DeWitt (Your Sister's Sister/Nobody Walks)
3. Richard Gere (Arbitrage)
4. Helen Hunt (The Surrogate)
5. Clarke Peters (Red Hook Summer)

 
Edward Douglas
Comingsoon.net
 

BEST NARRATIVE FEATURE
1. The Surrogate
2. Liberal Arts
3. Smashed
4. Save the Date
5. Arbitrage

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
1. West of Memphis
2. The Queen of Versailles
3. Shut Up and Play the Hits

BEST PERFORMANCE
1. Andrea Riseborough - Shadow Dancer
2. John Hawkes - The Surrogate
3. Mary Elizabeth Winstead - Smashed
4. Lizzy Caplan  - Save the Date
5. Helen Hunt - The Surrogate

 
Kate Erbland
Film School Rejects, Box Office Magazine
 

BEST NARRATIVE FEATURE
1. Compliance
2. Sleepwalk With Me
3. Safety Not Guaranteed
4. V/H/S
5. Wuthering Heights

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
1. The Queen of Versailles
2. West of Memphis
3. Detropia
4. The House I Live In

BEST PERFORMANCE
1. Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
2. Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Smashed
3. Ann Dowd. Compliance
4. Mike Birbiglia, Sleepwalk With Me
5. Blythe Danner, Hello I Must Be Going

 
David Fear
Time Out New York

BEST NARRATIVE FEATURE
1. Compliance
2. Keep the Lights On
3. For Ellen
4. Wuthering Heights
5. Wrong

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
1. Bestiaire
2. Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present
3. Room 237
4. Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry
5. Detropia

BEST PERFORMANCE
1. Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
2. Parker Posey, Price Check
3. Melanie Lynskey, Hello I Must Be Going
4. Lizzy Caplan, Bachelorette
5. John Hawkes, The Surrogate

 
Jim Fouratt
 

BEST NARRATIVE FEATURE
1. Beasts of the Southern Wild
2. My Brother the Devil
3. Nobody Walks
4. Keep The Lights On
5. Teddy Bear

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
1. The Invisible War
2. The Atomic States of America
3. 5 Broken Cameras
4. The Law In Three Parts
5. Big Boys Go Bananas

5.BEST PERFORMANCE
1. Thure Lindhardt (Keep the Lights On)
2. Quvenzhan

é Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild)
3. Rosemarie DeWitt (Nobody Walks)
4. Fady Elsayed (My Brother The Devil)
5. Helen Hunt (Surrogate)
 
William Goss
Film.com
 

BEST NARRATIVE FEATURE:
1. Wrong
2. The Raid
3. Oslo, August 31st
4. Beasts of the Southern Wild
5. Compliance

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE:
1. The Queen of Versailles
2. Shut Up and Play the Hits
3. West of Memphis
4. Room 237

BEST PERFORMANCE:
1. Andrea Riseborough, Shadow Dancer
2. William Fichtner, Wrong
3. Brady Corbet, Simon Killer
4. Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
5. Melanie Lynskey, Hello I Must Be Going

 
Christopher Kelly
Fort Worth Star-Telegram

BEST NARRATIVE FEATURE:

1. Compliance
2. Liberal Arts
3. Teddy Bear
4. The Words
5. Keep the Lights On

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
1.  The Imposter
2.  How to Survive a Plague
3.  Big Boys Go Bananas!*

BEST PERFORMANCE
1. Ann Dowd (COMPLIANCE)
2. Dreama Walker (COMPLIANCE)
3. Jeremy Irons (THE WORDS)
4. Thure Lindhardt (KEEP THE LIGHTS ON)
5. Kim Kold (TEDDY BEAR)

 
Peter Knegt
Indiewire
 

BEST NARRATIVE FEATURE
1. Simon Killer
2. Beasts of the Southern Wild
3. The Surrogate
4. Keep The Lights On
5. Bachelorette

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
1. How To Survive a Plague

BEST PERFORMANCE
1. John Hawkes, The Surrogate
2. Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
3. Brady Corbet, Simon Killer
4. Isla Fisher, Bachelorette
5. Parker Posey, Price Check

 
Robert Koehler
Film Critic, Programmer
 

“It was a bad year at Sundance, in which a persistent pattern of conservative and safe programming choices was compounded by some terrible decisions in slotting. To wit, Craig Zobel's near-masterpiece COMPLIANCE, the only film world premiering in Park City which rightfully should go on to competitions at the most important festivals in the world (Locarno, Cannes, for example) is positioned in the still-amorphous sidebar, "Next," instead of where it should have been, in the American competition. So too with Rodney Ascher's ROOM 237, incorrectly slotted in "New Frontier" instead of the American doc competition. I argue this on the basis of the perfectly reasonable standard that a serious film festival positions its best films by younger filmmakers in the prime-time competition section, and not in (albeit interesting and worthy in the case of "New Frontier") sidebars. The excuses I've been hearing from some, including journalists, for this major programming blunder ("They want to draw attention to 'Next' by placing a strong film there" is one) are, frankly, laughable. These usually come from people who don't understand the craft of programming.  

It was also another terrible year for the extremely dubious project known as the Sundance Institute, which supposedly exists to make filmmakers' already gestating projects better, and hopefully cinematic. The opposite is applying to the Institute's movies, with the poster child being Ry Russo-Young's abysmal, abysmally shot NOBODY WALKS, a kind of pure Sundance project which sets back American indie cinema by a few years at least.

It was a bad year by another standard, which is how well Sundance is doing in selecting good American independent cinema. Not well, when one considers that there were only two new American fiction features I saw (out of a few dozen) that will stand the test of time, that will play and do well at major international festivals, that are made by filmmakers who are on the way to mastering their art. These would be COMPLIANCE and So Yong Kim's FOR ELLEN. The rest are junk, or will fade away.

Ignore those who are praising this edition, of which I've been hearing in shocking degrees of actual enthusiasm.”

 

BEST NARRATIVE FEATURE:
Compliance
Wrong
For Ellen
Elena
The Pact
Wuthering Heights

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE:
Bestiaire
Room 237

BEST PERFORMANCES:
The sleeping lion in BESTIARE
Paul Dano--FOR ELLEN
Ann Dowd--COMPLIANCE
Dreama Walker--COMPLIANCE
Pat Healy--COMPLIANCE
Bill Camp--COMPLIANCE
Paul Giamatti--JOHN DIES AT THE END
Glynn Turman--JOHN DIES AT THE END
Thure Lindhardt--KEEP THE LIGHTS ON
Michael Rainey Jr.--LUV
Aris Servetalis--L
Jack Plotnick--WRONG
Allison Janney--LIBERAL ARTS
Nadezhda Markina--ELENA
Mohamed Fellag--MONSIEUR LAZHAR
Iko Uwais--THE RAID

 
Eric Kohn
Indiewire
 
BEST NARRATIVE FEATURE
1. Simon Killer
2. The Comedy
3. V/H/S
4. For Ellen
5. Keep the Lights On
 
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
1. Room 237
2. 1/2 Revolution
3. Ai Weiwei
4. Shut Up and Play the Hits
5. How to Survive a Plague
 
BEST PERFORMANCE
1. Brady Corbett, Simon Killer
2. Tim Heidecker, The Comedy
3. Paul Dano, For Ellen
4. Aubrey Plaza, Safety Not Guaranteed
5. Kim Kold, Teddy Bear
 
Robert Levin
The Atlantic, amNewYork, Film School Rejects
 
BEST NARRATIVE FEATURE
1. Wuthering Heights
2. Your Sister's Sister
3. Mosquito y Mari
4. Beasts of the Southern Wild
5. Valley of the Saints
 
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
1. Under African Skies
2. Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present
3. Love Free or Die
 
BEST PERFORMANCE
1. Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
2. Dwight Henry, Beasts of the Southern Wild
3. Paul Dano, For Ellen
4. Frank Langella, Robot and Frank
5. Andrea Riseborough, Shadow Dancer
 
John Lichman
Freelance
 

BEST NARRATIVE FEATURE
1. Beasts of the Southern Wild
2. The End of Love
3. Under The Pink Sky
4. Shadow Dancer
5. John Dies At The End

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
1. [blank]
2. [blank]
3. The Ambassador
4. [blank]
5. [blank]

BEST PERFORMANCE
1/2: James Howson/Solomon Glave, Wuthering Heights
3. Quvenzhané Wallis, BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD
4. Mark Webber, The End of Love
5. Sophia Takal, V/H/S

 
Patrick McGavin
Light Sensitive
 

BEST NARRATIVE FEATURE
1. Beasts of the Southern Wild
2. Keep the Lights On
3. Simon Killer
4. For Ellen
5. Nobody Walks

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
1. Detropia
2. Searching for Sugar Man
3. Under African Skies

BEST PERFORMANCE
1. Brady Corbet, Simnon Killer
2. Quvenzhan

é Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
3. Paul Dano, For Ellen
4. Thure Lindhardt, Keep the Lights On
5. Emayatzy Corinealdi, Middle of Nowhere
 
Michael Nordine
Hammer to Nail
 

BEST NARRATIVE FEATURE
1. Beasts of the Southern Wild - nothing else comes close. So joyously melancholy and wonderful in every way.
2. For Ellen - understated and quiet without being slight.
3. The Surrogate - often touching, sometimes saccharine, but always sincere and well-acted.
4. Smashed
5. Black Rock

BEST PERFORMANCE
1. Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Smashed
2. Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
3. John Hawkes, The Surrogate
4. Richard Gere, Arbitrage
5. Sigourney Weaver, Red Lights

 
Jordan Raup
The Film Stage
 

BEST NARRATIVE FEATURE
1. Simon Killer
2. Compliance
3. Beasts of the Southern Wild
4. Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie
5. WRONG

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
1. Room 237
2. Shut Up and Play the Hits

BEST PERFORMANCE
1. Mary Elizabeth Winstead - Smashed
2. Brady Corbet - Simon Killer
3. John Hawkes - The Surrogate
4. Quvenzhané Wallis - Beasts of the Southern Wild
5. Jack Plotnick - WRONG

 
Katey Rich
Cinema Blend
 

BEST NARRATIVE FEATURE
1. Beasts of the Southern Wild
2. Sleepwalk With Me
3. For A Good Time Call...
4. Compliance
5. Simon Killer

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
1. The House I Live In
2. Room 237
3. Under African Skies
4. We're Not Broke

BEST PERFORMANCE
1. Quzenvhan

é Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
2. John Hawkes, The Surrogate
3. Melanie Lynskey, Hello I Must Be Going
4. Ann Dowd, Compliance
5. Kirsten Dunst, Bachelorette
 
Nigel Smith
Indiewire
 

BEST NARRATIVE FEATURE
1. Simon Killer
2. LUV
3. V/H/S
4. Beasts of the Southern Wild
5. The Surrogate

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
1. How to Survive a Plague
2. Me at the Zoo
3. Searching for Sugar Man

BEST PERFORMANCE
1. Paul Dano, Like Ellen
2. Quvenzhan

é Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
3. Melanie Lynskey, Hello I Must Be Going
4. Helen Hunt, The Surrogate
5. Brady Corbet, Simon Killer
 
Herb Stratford
Arts & Culture Guy
 

BEST NARRATIVE FEATURE
1. Wrong
2. The Raid
3. Save The Date
4. The Pact
5. Bachelorette

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
1. West Of Memphis
2. Queen of Versailles
3. Detropia

 
Anne Thompson
Thompson on Hollywood
 

BEST NARRATIVE FEATURE
1. Beasts of the Southern Wild
2. The Surrogate
3. Your Sister's Sister
4. Safety Not Guaranteed
5. Declaration of War

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
1. West of Memphis
2. The Invisible War
3. The Queen of Versailles

BEST PERFORMANCE
1. Helen Hunt The Surrogate
2. John Hawkes The Surrogate
3. Quvenzhan

é Wallis Beasts of the Southern Wild
4. Mark Duplass Safety Not Guaranteed, Your Sister's Sister
5. Lizzy Caplan Bachelorette
 
Kim Voynar
Movie City News
 

BEST NARRATIVE FEATURE
1. Safety Not Guaranteed
2. Beasts of the Southern Wild
3. Compliance
4. The First Time
5. Father's Chair

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
1. The House I Live In
2. Detropia
3. Ethel
4. Chasing Ice
5. The Queen of Versailles

BEST PERFORMANCE
1. Mark Duplass, Safety Not Guaranteed
2. Aubrey Plaza, Safety Not Guaranteed
3. Ann Dowd, Compliance
4. Marin Ireland, 28 Hotel Rooms
5. Dwight Henry, Beasts of the Southern Wild

 
Jen Yamato
Movieline
 

BEST NARRATIVE FEATURE
1. The Surrogate
2. Simon Killer

BEST PERFORMANCE
1. John Hawkes, The Surrogate
2. Clarke Peters, Red Hook Summer
3. Brady Corbet, Simon Killer

 
Editor's note: The following lists were submitted past deadline and not included in the tabulation.
 
Alex Billington
First Showing


BEST NARRATIVE FEATURE
1. Beasts of the Southern Wild
2. Smashed
3. Arbitrage
4. I Am Not a Hipster
5. Robot and Frank

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
1. West of Memphis
2. The Imposter
3. Room 237

BEST PERFORMANCE
1. Mary Elizabeth Winstead in Smashed
2. Quvenzhané Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild
3. John Hawkes in The Surrogate
4. Mark Webber & Son in The End of Love
5. Frank Langella in Robot and Frank

"It was an outstanding year at Sundance, I found more than a few films that I was surprised by and ended up falling in love with (Beasts, Hipster). I'm coming out of this festival this year with a lot of new favorites that will be hard to top."

 
Simon Abrams
Freelance
 
BEST NARRATIVE FEATURE
1. Keep the Lights On
2. Beasts of the Southern Wild
3. Red Hook Summer
4. The Surrogate
5. Wrong

BEST PERFORMANCE
1. Clarke Peters, "Red Hook Summer"
2. Quvenzhane Wallis, "Beasts of the Southern Wild"

3. John Hawkes, "The Surrogate"
4. Frank Langella, "Robot and Frank"

5. Mary Elizabeth Winstead, "Smashed"

 
Grades:
Shut Up and Play the Hits: C.
V/H/S: C+.
Keep the Lights On: A.
Beasts of the Southern Wild: A-.
Wrong: B-.
Red Lights: C.

Room 237: A-.

 

This article is related to: Sundance Film Festival, Lists, Sundance 2012 Reviews