Now that it’s all over, let’s take an Oscar-specific look at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, which could very well work 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,” and “Winter’s Bone” all debuted at festival. Last year’s crop was no exception, with “Beasts of the Southern Wild” turning out to be a remarkable Sundance success story when it came to the big O, nabbing four nominations including best picture and best director a year later.
Other films from the 2012 fest to manage nominations included “The Sessions,” which got a nod for Helen Hunt’s supporting performance (though was notably snubbed in best actor for John Hawkes) , and four of the five best documentary feature nominees — “5 Broken Cameras,” “How To Survive a Plague,” “The Invisible War” and “Searching For Sugar Man.”
It’s obviously way too soon to know anything for certain (no one would have initially predicted “Beasts ” would do as well as it did a year ago), but let’s run down the few possibilities from the 2013 edition:
Best Picture: Three of the past four years has 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” last year — sorry “Like Crazy”). Does that suggest this year’s incredibly affecting winner, Ryan Coogler’s “Fruitvale,” will continue the streak? Maybe, given its major sale to The Weinstein Company and its across-the-board acclaim. It would also become only the second best picture nominee directed by an African-American (after “Precious”). And while that’s definitely a possibility, I’d wager the most likely Sundance 2013 film to make Oscar’s top category is Richard Linklater’s “Before Midnight.” Back in 2004, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke and Richard Linklater got a screenplay nomination for “Midnight”‘s predecessor “Before Sunset” and I can’t see why that wouldn’t repeat for “Midnight.” It’s just as good if not better, and the achievement it pulls off — basically culminating the greatest trilogy ever in independent American film (though I guess there’s not exactly many other examples) — might help it get a best picture nomination as well. Beyond those two, though? “The Spectacular Now” and “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” have outside chances, but they are likely more destined to get a bunch of Spirit Award nominations.
Most Likely To Succeed: Before Midnight
Reasonable Possibilty: Fruitvale
Dark Horses: The Spectacular Now; Ain’t Them Bodies Saints
Best Actor: There was an embarrassment of riches in lead male performances at Sundance, with the best of them collectively worthy of Oscar’s entire best actor lineup in itself. Like best picture, the films with the best shots are probably “Before Midnight” and “Fruitvale.” The former finds Ethan Hawke in probably his best performance ever (though his co-star Delpy has the showier part is the more likely of the two to get a nomination), while 25 year old Michael B. Jordan (known best for his incredible work in TV series “The Wire” and “Friday Night Lights”) is something of a revelation in “Fruitvale,” though this category does not often nominate men his age (only 7 men under 27 have been nominated). That said, one of those men was Ryan Gosling for Sundance alum “Half Nelson,” so perhaps Jordan is this year’s equivalent. Though another potential nominee is 2 weeks younger than Jordan: Miles Teller, who actually topped Indiewire’s poll of Sundance’s best lead performances for his lovely work in “The Spectacular Now.”
Most Likely To Succeed: Ethan Hawke, Before Midnight
Reasonable Possibilities: Michael B. Jordan, Fruitvale; Miles Teller, The Spectacular Now
Dark Horses: Casey Affleck, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints; Isaiah Washington, Blue Caprice; Daniel Radcliffe, Kill Your Darlings
Best Actress: This category is generally very kind to Sundance lately (or maybe Sundance is just been a very welcoming place for great female performances), with six of the last 20 best-actress nominees debuting their work at the Sundance Film Festival (Quvenzhane Wallis, Gabourey Sidibe, Carey Mulligan, Michelle Williams, Annette Bening and Jennifer Lawrence). This year could definitely give us at least one Oscar nominee with Julie Delpy. Delpy’s never been nominated, but seemingly came close for “Before Sunset” 9 years ago. She’s even better in “Midnight” (though I realize that’s hard to believe) and unless it turns out to be a remarkable year, it seems likely to make the cut. Though don’t count out Rooney Mara joining her for her subtle, heartbreaking performance as a woman whose husband is set to prison for a crime she technically committed in David Lowery’s “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints.”
Most Likely To Succeed: Julie Delpy, Before Midnight
Reasonable Possibilities: Rooney Mara, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints
Dark Horses: Robin Weigert, Concussion; Kathryn Hahn, Afternoon Delight; Amy Seitmetz, Upstream Color
Best Supporting Actor: While Rooney Mara is excellent in “Saints” (as are Casey Affleck and Keith Carradine for that matter), the film’s best shot at an acting Oscar nomination certainly has to be Ben Foster, who continues to just get better and better as an actor. He actually gave two great performances at Sundance, the other as William S. Burroughs in John Krokidas’s “Kill Your Darlings.” But its his work as a lonely sheriff in “Saints” is the one more likely to get Foster his first Oscar nomination after a decade of excellent work. He could be joined by Sam Rockwell if the festival’s most expensive pickup — the conventional and generally mediocre “The Way, Way Back” — becomes as big a hit as Fox Searchlight clearly hopes it does. But here’s hoping for two underdogs instead: Dane DeHaan’s seductive, sinister take on Lucien Carr in “Kill Your Darlings,” and Denis O’Hare’s delicately hilarious turn as a born again Christian in “C.O.G.”
Most Likely To Succeed: Ben Foster, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints
Reasonable Possibilities: Sam Rockwell, The Way, Way Back
Dark Horses: Keith Carradine, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints; Dane DeHaan, Kill Your Darlings; Denis O’Hare, C.O.G.
Best Supporting Actress: Shailene Woodley deservedly shared Sundance’s juried acting award with her “Spectacular Now” co-star Miles Teller, and perhaps has an even better shot than him at an Oscar nod for the film. A year after narrowly missing Oscar’s cut for “The Descendants,” Woodley gives a much more assured and mature performance in “Spectacular Now,” and she would be a welcome addition to any best supporting actress race. She could be joined by one or two women from “Fruitvale” — Melonie Diaz and last year’s winner in this category, Octavia Spencer — both of which are excellent in the film. Hell, I’d even give decent shots to comical, scene-stealing turns from Scarlett Johannson and Allison Janney in “Don Jon’s Addiction” and “The Way, Way Back,” respectively. Given that this year’s supporting acting race is one the weakest in years, it’s nice to know next year’s is already off to such a great start.
Most Likely To Succeed: Shailene Woodley, The Spectacular Now
Reasonable Possibilities: Octavia Spencer, Fruitvale; Melonie Diaz, Fruitvale
Dark Horses: Scarlett Johannson, Don Jon’s Addiction; Allison Janney, The Way, Way Back; Gaby Hoffman, Crystal Fairy
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 (this year, as noted, four made it). Though while the idea of a doc from Sundance being nominated is a very good bet, knowing which doc makes it is next to impossible. Last year one would have thought films like “The House I Live In” or “The Queen of Versailles” might have ended up nominees, but that wasn’t the case. This year, there’s basically a 20 film-long laundry list to choose from, though I’d give “After Tiller,” “Cutie and the Boxer” and “Blood Brother” the initial edge.
Most Likely To Succeed: After Tiller; Cutie and the Boxer; Blood Brother
Reasonable Possibilities: Dirty Wars; The Summit; God Loves Uganda; Manhunt; We Steal Secrets; Blackfish; 20 Feet From Stardom; Which Way Is The Front Line From Here;
Dark Horses: The Square; Narco Cultura; Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer; American Promise; Valentine Road; When I Walk; The World According To Dick Cheney
Peter Knegt is Indiewire’s Senior Editor and awards columnist. Follow him on Twitter if you want more of the same.