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's crop, however, was a major exception to the rule: No Sundance film got a best picture nomination or any acting nominations. The only narrative film to get a nod was "Before Midnight" for best adapted screenplay, though Sundance indeed proved mighty in the documentary feature category, with four of five (save "Act of Killing") nominees screening in Park City.
So is this year's lineup heading for a Oscar comeback? It's obviously way too soon to know anything for certain, but honestly, this year's Sundance crop seems even less Oscar-friendly than last year.
Here's a category by category take:
Best Picture: Three of the past five 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, and "Beasts" in 2012 -- "Like Crazy" and last year's "Fruitvale Station" did not). Does that suggest this year's incredibly affecting winner, Damien Chazelle's "Whiplash," will continue the streak? Maybe, given its major sale to Sony Pictures Classics and its across-the-board acclaim. But the film -- the story a young jazz drummer (Miles Teller) who attends one of the best music schools in the country under the tutelage of the school’s fearsome maestro of jazz played by J.K. Simmons -- would have to be a breakout hit to make the increasingly mainstream ranks of Oscar's big category. Not impossible, and definitely as far as we're concerned the most likely to succeed. Richard Linklater's epic undertaking "Boyhood" is another possibility, though while it will likely get major critics award approval, it may be a bit too experimental for the Academy's tastes (but hey, "The Tree of Life" wasn't). And then there's Ira Sachs' love story "Love is Strange" and John Michael McDonagh's dark comedy "Calvary." Both highly acclaimed films that got picked up by major companies (Sony Classics and Fox Searchlight, respectively), they are definitely films to watch out for...
Most Likely To Succeed: Whiplash
Dark Horses: Boyhood; Love Is Strange; Calvary
Best Actor: There was an embarrassment of riches in lead male performances this year at Sundance, with the best of them collectively worthy of Oscar's entire best actor lineup in itself. And this where the noted "Love Is Strange" and "Calvary" are most likely to factor. Their leads -- John Lithgow and Alfred Molina in "Love" (though perhaps Molina will go supporting?) and Brendan Gleeson in "Calvary" -- were among the most talked about performances of Sundance and that will likely be talked about at the end of the year too. But they are not alone... Bill Hader is incredible in a dramatic turn in "The Skeleton Twins," as is Mark Ruffalo as a bipolar father in "Infinitely Polar Bear." And there's Miles Teller, who is bound be recognized sooner or later and tops his acclaimed work in "Rabbit Hole" and "The Spectacular Now" in the already discussed "Whiplash." If any category features some Sundance alums, it's this one.
Most Likely To Succeed: John Lithgow, Love Is Strange; Brendan Gleeson, Calvary
Dark Horses: Alfred Molina, Love Is Strange; Mark Ruffalo, Infinitely Polar Bear; Miles Teller, Whiplash; Bill Hader, The Skeleton Twins; Ben Whishaw, Lilting; Paul Eenhoorn, Land Ho!; Earl Lynn Nelson, Land Ho!; Ellar Coltrane, Boyhood.