By Peter Knegt | Indiewire January 28, 2011 at 9:14AM
The Sundance Film Festival is heading into its final hours and there's much talk around Park City about what films could factor into tomorrow night's awards ceremony. The U.S. Dramatic prize in particular has recently given a trio of films - Courtney Hunt's "Frozen River," Lee Daniels' "Precious" and Debra Granik's "Winter's Bone" - a significant launching pad for a very successful theatrical release. All three ended up with major Oscar nominations (including a best actress nod hat trick in Melissa Leo, Gabourey Sidibe and Jennifer Lawrence) and respectable to fantastic box office.
So what's going to win this year? indieWIRE's poll of critics and bloggers have given the highest grade averages (either "B+" or "A-") to Vera Farmiga's "Higher Ground," Drake Doremus's "Like Crazy," Sean Durkin's "Martha Marcy May Marlene," Dee Rees' "Pariah," Jeff Nichols' "Take Shelter," and Azazel Jacobs' "Terri." It's really quite hard to say which among them might speak especially strongly to a jury made up of actress America Ferrara, film critic Todd McCarthy, cinematographer Tim Orr and directors Kimberly Peirce and Jason Reitman. Though each have received a generally strong critical reaction, each did have their fair share of detractors.
indieWIRE asked around about what films folks thought might be having a good night tomorrow.
"I'm guessing that the dramatic jury will favor 'Pariah,' 'Take Shelter' and 'Martha Marcy May Marlene,'" indieWIRE's film critic Eric Kohn said. "It depends on whether they want to go for a commercial crowdpleaser ('Pariah') or something more cinematically challenging (the other two)."
The Salt Lake City Tribune's Sean Means put his money on "Marcy May" for the top prize, and suggested Dee Rees would take home the directing prize for "Pariah."
Another film to factor into the equation is Mike Cahill's "Another Earth," which found a particularly alienating response but some people really love it.
"I have a hunch that 'Another Earth' is going to win something in the dramatic category," The Toronto Star's Peter Howell said. "It's such a strong first feature by Mike Cahill and his star and co-screenwriter Brit Marling is one of the acting finds of the fest."
There's quite a few prizes to go around beyond the top one - the audience award, directing, cinematography, screenwriting, and special jury prizes - so expect the majority of those films to find notice one way or another (check out indieWIRE's coverage of last year's ceremony here).
Beyond U.S. Dramatic, there's also much discussion about what might win the very strong U.S. Documentary section.
"The U.S. doc competition favorite is obviously 'Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times,'" Eric Kohn said, "but it could be edged out by a movie with more emotional content, such as 'We Were Here' or 'How to Die in Oregon."
All three of those films got top marks from indieWIRE's poll of critics and bloggers, as did "Crime After Crime," and "BEING ELMO: A Puppeteer’s Journey." The Salt Lake City Tribune's Sean Means suggested the jury - made up of Jeffrey Blitz ("Rocket Science"), "The Simpsons" creator Matt Groening, director Laura Poitras ("My Country, My Country"), editor Sloane Kevin ("Taxi to the Dark Side") and Jess Search, chief executive of the Channel 4 BRITDOC Foundation - would go with "How To Die in Oregon."
As for the rest of the categories, "Bellflower" and "sound of my voice" are strong possibilities in the NEXT section; "The Blackpower Mixtape 1967-1975," "Senna," "The Bengali Detective," "Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure" and "Project Nim" are good bets in the exceptional World Doc section; and "Tyrannosaur," "Kinyarwanda" and "The Guard" have buzz in the World Dramatic section.
For more on all these films, including interviews, reviews and criticWIRE grades, check out indieWIRE's complete guide to the fest. And don't forget to check back with us tomorrow night for full coverage live from the Sundance awards ceremony.