As made evident last week, the Sundance Film Festival can be a significant launching pad for Oscar nominees. This year's nominations included two films for best picture - "The Kids Are All Right" and "Winter's Bone" - that debuted at last year's festival. Sundance also produced a myriad of other nominations, including three of the five best actress nominees and four of the five best documentary contenders.
While 2011 was definitely a standout year for Sundance films, it probably won't replicate last year's Oscar record. Despite a huge surge in sales, this year's Sundance slate looks like it might be the least Oscar-friendly in some time. Nothing screamed "Oscar" like "Precious," "An Education" and "The Kids Are All Right" have in year's past. It's obviously way too soon to know anything (certainly no one would have initially predicted "Winter's Bone" would do as well as it did), but let's run down some possibilities. Even if it isn't the same level of an Oscar-friendly Sundance as last year, it's likely that the fest had at least a few 2011 Oscar hopefuls in its mix.
Best Picture: Two years running, two of Oscar's top 10 have been Sundance alums; in both years, one of those nominees received the festival's Grand Jury Prize for best U.S. dramatic film ("Precious" in 2009, "Winter's Bone" in 2010). Does that suggest this year's winner, Drake Doremus’s romantic drama “Like Crazy," will continue the streak? Maybe. Given its major sale to Paramount and its mainstream appeal, "Crazy" - which stars Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones - has a lot going for it. But it's unlikely to rally critics in a major way (the film generally received a decent but not overwhelming response from critics at the fest) and may feel a bit too "minor" to end up a best picture contender. However, doing very well at the box office could definitely aid its case. Beyond "Crazy," films to watch out for include "Take Shelter," "Pariah" and "Martha Marcy May Marlene," all of which might be tough sells but should also benefit from strong critical backing.
Most Likely To Succeed: Like Crazy
Dark Horses: Take Shelter, Pariah, Martha Marcy May Marlene
Best Actor: The most likely of all potential major nominees is Michael Shannon for his work in Jeff Nichols' "Take Shelter." Acquired by Sony Classics sight unseen just prior to Sundance, audience members saw a career-defining performance from Shannon as a man on the brink of severe mental illness. The Academy nominated Shannon's less subtle work as a a mentally ill man in "Revolutionary Road" a few year's back, so hopefully they'll also (even more deservedly) warm to his work here. Also look out for Brendan Gleeson in "The Guard" (also a Sony Classics release), Peter Mullan in "Tyrannosaur" (which is still looking for a distributor) and Anton Yelchin in "Like Crazy" (though the film would have to go over really, really well).
Most Likely To Succeed: Michael Shannon, Take Shelter
Dark Horses: Brendan Gleeson, The Guard; Anton Yelchin, Like Crazy; Peter Mullan, Tyrannosaur
Best Actress: This category has been very kind to Sundance lately (or has Sundance just been a very welcoming place for great female performances?), with half of the last 10 best-actress nominees debuting their work at the Sundance Film Festival (Gabourey Sidibe, Carey Mulligan, Michelle Williams, Annette Bening and Jennifer Lawrence). This year, there's definitely a lot to work with. Felicity Jones' likely star-making turn in "Like Crazy" has potential, as does Elizabeth Olsen's work in "Martha Marcy May Marlene" (probably two of the most-discussed performances of the fest). Both have the backing of big distributors (Paramount and Fox Searchlight, respectively), which should help. However, the list definitely doesn't stop there. Olivia Colman, Adepero Odye, Vera Farmiga, Ellen Barkin and Brit Marling all are coming out of the fest with buzz, though how many of them will sustain it for a whole year is a huge question mark.
Most Likely To Succeed: Elizabeth Olsen, Martha Marcy May Marlene and Felicity Jones, Like Crazy
Dark Horses: Olivia Colman, Tyrannosaur; Adepero Odye, Pariah; Vera Farmiga, Higher Ground; Ellen Barkin, Another Happy Day; Brit Marling, Another Earth
Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress: There's not exactly a Mo'Nique or a Jacki Weaver coming out of this year's 2011 Sundance Film Festival; in fact, the closest performance is the antithesis of those women's work: Jessica Chastain in "Take Shelter." As Michael Shannon's supportive and nurturing wife, Chastain is the opposite of the monsters portrayed by Mo'Nique and Weaver, but her performance is strong in a different way. The only thing standing in Chastain's way is Chastain herself. She's in five other 2011 releases, including "The Tree of Life," which might be an even better bet for a nomination. As for supporting actor, it seems that this year's John Hawkes might be John Hawkes himself, as the "Winter's Bone" nominee gave another strong performance as the abusive cult leader in "Martha Marcy May Marlene."
Most Likely To Succeed: Jessica Chastain, Take Shelter
Dark Horses: Eddie Marsan, Tyrannosaur; John Hawkes, Martha Marcy May Marlene; Amy Ryan, Win Win; Ezra Miller, Another Happy Day
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 or four. "Project Nim," "Page One" and "The Interrupters" seem like the ones with the most Oscar appeal, but the Academy can surprise: "Exit Through the Gift Shop," "Gasland" and "Waste Land" were probably not seen as surefire Oscar nominees when folks first laid eyes on them at last year's fest.
Most Likely To Succeed: Project Nim; Page One; The Interrupters
Dark Horses: How To Die In Oregon; Hell and Back Again; Senna; The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975; The Greatest Movie Ever Sold; We Were Here; Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles; Position Among The Stars
Previous editions of this column:
For Your Consideration: Final 2011 Oscar Predictions
For Your Consideration: Predicting The Golden Globes
For Your Consideration: If I Had An Oscar Ballot...
For Your Consideration: 60 Women That Defined "The Year of the Actress"
For Your Consideration: A Mid-December Stab at Oscar Predictions
For Your Consideration: A Guide To The Oscar Precursors
For Your Consideration: The 10 Biggest Surprises of the Spirit Award Nominations
For Your Consideration: The 10 Worst Original Song Oscar Snubs of the Past 10 Years
For Your Consideration: A Mid-November Stab at Oscar Predictions
For Your Consideration: Gauging a Crowded and Female-Friendly Spirit Award Field
For Your Consideration: Could a Documentary Be Nominated For Best Picture?
For Your Consideration: Assessing Those Gotham Award Nominations
For Your Consideration: 10 Underdog Actors
For Your Consideration: 10 Underdog Actresses
For Your Consideration: Save For "Love" Snub, Foreign Language Submissions Uncontroversial
For Your Consideration: Post-Toronto Oscar Predictions
For Your Consideration: Updating Oscar Contenders In The Eye of The Storm
For Your Consideration: 10 Things The Fall Fests Should Say About Awards Season
For Your Consideration: Assessing Oscar In The Calm Before The Storm