Sundance '11 alumni score Academy Award nominations

The Oscar nominations are in and, frankly, it was not Sundance’s best year at the Academy Awards. Though independent films made a very strong showing across the board, capturing some 60 total nominations, by and large Sundance alumni got lost in the shuffle. Films from the 2011 festival scored just four nominations. Et tu, Academy?


Let’s start with the biggest. MARGIN CALL, a star-studded drama about 24 hours in the life and death of a crumbling investment bank, earned a Best Original Screenplay nomination for its writer/director, J.C. Chandor. MARGIN CALL is quickly looking like one of the biggest success stories of last year’s Sundance — it’s not only the sole fictional Oscar nominee, but it also did well at the box office and on day-and-date VOD. Its nomination will give the film a boost on home video and should boost the credibility of the VOD market as a viable distribution platform for art, not just schlock.

Sundance ’11′s other two nominations came in the Best Documentary category. HELL AND BACK AGAIN, from director Danfung Dennis, was a devastating portrait of an American soldier during and after the War in Afghanistan. And IF A TREE FALLS: A STORY OF THE EARTH LIBERATION FRONT by Marshall Curry was a documentary about the Earth Liberation Front and eco-terrorism. They both face some tough competition, including PARADISE LOST 3: PURGATORY from Sundance alum Joe Berlinger, who’s up at the festival right now with his new documentary, UNDER AFRICAN SKIES. Meanwhile, over in the Best Documentary, Short Subject category, THE BARBER OF BIRMINGHAM: FOOT SOLDIER OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT from Sundance ’11 is up against THE TSUNAMI AND THE CHERRY BLOSSOM from Sundance ’12. Which year of Sundance will reign supreme?!?

That’s basically it. Which means a slew of outstanding movies from Sundance ’11 got snubbed, including MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE, LIKE CRAZY, BELLFLOWER, and my personal favorite, TAKE SHELTER, which, according to one top Oscar prognosticator (me), deserved nominations for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actress (Jessica Chastain), and Best Actor (Michael Shannon). The indie films that will be at the Kodak Theatre in February include BEGINNERS (Best Supporting Actor, Christopher Plummer), MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Art Direction), A SEPARATION (Best Foreign Language Film, Original Screenplay), and of course the French silent film THE ARTIST, which grabbed ten nominations, including one for Best Picture that it is widely considered the frontrunner to win.

So it was a good year for independent film at the Oscars, but not the best year for Sundance selections. 2012 is already shaping up differently, though. Earlier today, Sundance ’12 scored its first three Oscar nominees twelve months ahead of schedule. In addition to THE TSUNAMI AND THE CHERRY BLOSSOM’s nomination for Best Documentary, Short Subject, MONSIEUR LAZHAR, which is playing this week in Sundance’s Spotlight section, received a nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, and A MORNING STROLL by Grant Orchard scored a nomination for Best Animated Short. Plus if the insanely positive buzz surrounding the just-premiered THE SURROGATE is any indication, Park City crowds may have seen the first frontrunner for the Best Picture Oscar in 2013.