By Peter Knegt | Indiewire January 27, 2009 at 7:00AM
Lee Daniels' "Push: Based on a novel by Sapphire" and Louise Psihoyos' "The Cove" were selected as the best narrative and documentary films at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival in a poll of film critics and bloggers conducted over the weekend by indieWIRE. Oddly enough, the choices mirror the results of the Sundance Audience Awards, where each won in the U.S. categories. [The official Sundance '09 award winners were announced on Saturday.]
"Push," which also won the U.S Narrative Grand Jury Prize, details the story of Precious, an obese African-American teenager facing remarkable obstacles in 1980s Harlem. The film edged out Lynn Shelton's "Humpday," Nicolas Winding Refn's "Bronson," and Armando Iannucci's "In The Loop" for best narrative film, and also won two of the top slots in the poll's best performance category. Mo'Nique found an overwhelming majority of the votes for her terrifying work as Precious' mother, while her co-star Gabourrey Sidibe also placed among the top six votegetters.
In the documentary category, "The Cove," about a group of activists seeking to expose the evils of a Japanese company that captures dolphins, beat out Anders Ostergaard's "Burma VJ," and Ondi Timoner's Grand Jury Prize winner "We Live In Public" (which one voter commented was "the scariest film [they] have seen ever at Sundance.")
indieWIRE also asked critics and bloggers to name their worst cinematic experience at Sundance was. With only a few votes separating the top picks, Gregor Jordan's Bret Easton Ellis adaptation "The Informers," starring Billy Bob Thornton, Mickey Rourke and Winona Ryder, led the poll, beating out Jeff Lipsky's "Once More With Feeling," John Krasinski's "Brief Interviews with Hideous Men," and Michael Polish's "Manure," which also stars Thornton.
More than 30 writers - ranging from the now infamous John Anderson to B. Ruby Rich to LA Weekly's Scott Foundas, were surveyed, also anonymously offering comments on their selections.
"This year was a brutal one for the festival," one writer said. "Most of the best American independent film, and that was scarce, was relegated to New Frontiers or the Spectrum. It is strange to me that a festival that launched some of the best and most important independent film in American cannot tighten up its programming to be more selective, to find better work and not give in to what seems to be outside pressure to show mediocre work. Death to the Hollywood audition film and viva originality!"
Another directed related anger at a specific film. "'Once More With Feeling' is not merely the worst of the festival," they said. "It is one of the worst films that I have ever seen. If it cost anywhere near five hundred thousand dollars, someone should be beheaded."
Others were much less pessimistic: "How nice to see a Sundance where the quality of the festival was not judged by how many films sold and for how much. Is it a coincidence that the strongest Sundance lineup in years was also the one that did not result in any big ticket acquisitions a la 'Little Miss Sunshine' or, um, 'Happy, Texas'? It probably was, actually. But as I think back on it I'd like to rewrite this festival in my mind as the Sundance that started to fight back -- just a little bit -- at the increasing, ongoing, and ominous convergence of film writing and business reporting."
SUNDANCE '09 SURVEY RESULTS:
BEST NARRATIVE FILM
"Push: Based on a novel by Sapphire," directed by Lee Daniels (64 points)
"Humpday," directed by Lynn Shelton (55)
"Bronson," directed by Nicolas Winding Refn (32)
"In The Loop," directed by Armando Iannucci (32)
"An Education," directed by Lone Scherfig (27)
"Sin Nombre," directed by Cory Joji Fukunaga (26)
"500 Days of Summer," directed by Marc Webb (16)
"You Won't Miss Me," directed by Ry Russo-Young (15)
"Cold Souls," directed by Sophie Barthes (15)
"The Girlfriend Experience," directed by Steven Soderbergh (12)
"The Maid," directed by Sebastian Silva (12)
BEST DOCUMENTARY FILM
"The Cove," directed by Louise Psihoyos (50)
"Burma VJ," directed by Anders Ostergaard (37)
"We Live in Public," directed by Ondi Timoner (37)
"The September Issue," directed by R.J. Cutler (34)
"Big River Man," directed by John Maringouin (27)
"Boy Interrupted," directed by Dana Perry (22)
"Rough Aunties," directed by Kim Longinotto (16)
"Old Partner," directed by Chung-ryoul Lee (14)
"Reporter," directed by Eric Daniel Metzgar (12)
"The Carter," directed by Adam Bhala Lough (12)
Mo'Nique in "Push" (40)
Tom Hardy in "Bronson" (22)
Carey Mulligan in "An Education" (18)
Gabourey Sidibe in "Push" (12.5)
Paul Giamatti in "Cold Souls" (12)
Sam Rockwell in "Moon" (9)
"The Informers," directed by Gregor Jordan (13)
"Once More With Feeling," directed by Jeff Lipsky (12)
"Brief Interviews with Hideous Men," directed by John Krasinski (11)
"Manure," directed by Michael Polish (10)
"The Greatest," directed by Shana Feste (10)
"Paper Heart," directed by Nicholas Jasenovec (10)
CRITERIA: Critics and bloggers were asked to list their top five choices for best narrative film and best documentary, and top three choices for best performance and worst film. First choice selections were given five (for the former two) or three points (for the latter), second choice received four or two, and so on.
Sam Adams (Philadelphia City Paper) | John Anderson (Variety) | Justin Chang (Variety) | David D'Arcy | Peter Debruge (Variety) | Bilge Ebiri | Greg Ellwood (HitFlix) | Stephen Farber | David Fear | Scott Foundas (LA Weekly) | Jim Fouratt | Tim Grierson | Aaron Hillis (GreenCine Daily) | Jake Jacobson (Westwood One Radio) | Peter Knegt (indieWIRE) | Sean Means (Salt Lake City Tribune) | Tom Hall (The Back Row Manifesto | Eugene Hernandez (indieWIRE) | Peter Howell (Toronto Star) | Christopher Kelly (DFW) | Eric Kohn (indieWIRE) | Eric Lavallee (ION Cinema) | Karina Longworth (Spout) | Justin Lowe | Scott Macaulay (Filmmaker Magazine) | Noel Murray | Rob Nelson (Variety) | Mark Olsen | B Ruby Rich | Peter Sciretta (/Film | Michael Tully (Hammer to Nail) | Kim Voynar (Movie City News)
Get the latest coverage of Sundance '09 in indieWIRE's special section.