This weekend, Ryan Coogler's "Fruitvale Station" hits US theaters almost exactly six months after it won Sundance's U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Prize. It does so by following in the footsteps of some of the most notable American independent films of contemporary times, with filmmakers like Todd Solondz, the Coen Brothers, Kenneth Lonergan and, last year, Benh Zeitlin all getting major breaks by taking Sundance's top prize.
Indiewire asked our five trusty summer interns to look back at Sundance's previous U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Prize winners, in honor of the release of "Fruitvale" and offer up some of their favorites. Here are 10:
"American Splendor" - written and directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini
This film is based on the autobiographical comic series of the same name by written by Harvey Pekar and drawn by multiple artists. The series chronicled Pekar's strikingly regular day to day life in Cleveland, Ohio. Paul Giamatti plays Pekar with a certain sad sack glory, and Pekar even appears as himself in a voice-over commentary, giving his two cents about how the film is portraying his life. The movie is an inventive meta adaptation, using comic book trimmings like thought bubbles to blur the lines between the art forms. But ultimately this is an antihero movie about the ordinary real life of a balding slob who just happens to be a literary genius. [Madeline Raynor]
"Beasts of the Southern Wild" - directed by Benh Zeitlin, written by Benh Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar.
Part allegory, part fantasy, "Beasts of the Southern Wild" tells the story of a fictionalized Bayou town facing a potentially devastating hurricane. Hushpuppy, the adorably charming Quvenzhané Wallis, lives with her ill, hot-tempered father Wink in the "Bathtub" area of Louisiana. Hushpuppy faces a biblical sized storm, her father's illness, evacuation to an emergency shelter, and thawed out prehistoric Aurochs who may or may not actually exist, depending on how literal one takes the film. The powerhouse performance from Wallis earned the nine year old a Best Actress Oscar nomination, making her the youngest Best Actress nominee in history, alongside nods for best picture, best director and best adapted screenplay [Casey Cipriani]
“The Believer” - directed by Henry Bean; written by Henry Bean and Mark Jacobson
Many may remember “The Believer” simply as the film that made Ryan Gosling a bona fide film actor (if you don’t count his small but charming part as Alan Bosley in “Remember the Titans”). Yet there’s so much more to the 2001 Sundance winner than just Baby Goose. Director Henry Bean’s feature debut tells the true story of an anti-Semitic KKK leader who was exposed as a Jew by a New York Times reporter in the 1960s. If it wasn’t based in reality, it may have been too far-fetched to believe. Dealing with issues of family, development, and loyalty, “The Believer” isn’t an easy movie to stomach. It spews vitriol out as thoughts, as beliefs of a confused, hate-filled man. Bean’s well-paced drama is grounded by Gosling’s riveting performance. His head shaved, his mouth contorted into a near-permanent grimace, the lady killer of today is all but hidden behind a self-imposed mask of misplaced anger. His eyes dart rapidly from one subject to the next as he fires off opinions you’re not sure are even his, despite his vigor. “The Believer” earns its title -- and its Grand Jury prize. [Ben Travers]