No Sundance premiere has won the top Oscar — will that change this year?
I thought it would happen with “Boyhood.” And, who knows, maybe it still will this year with “Manchester by the Sea.”
But no movie that has premiered at the Sundance Film Festival has ever gone on to win the Oscar for best picture.
Sure, the Park City, Utah, festival, which begins Thursday, has boasted its share of Oscar winners over the decades — Cher (“Moonstruck,” not a premiere, but it did play shortly after opening), Kevin Spacey (“The Usual Suspects”) and Mo’Nique (“Precious”) are among the actors who have parlayed Sundance success into film academy acclaim.
The best picture prize remains elusive, though. Possibly, it’s too challenging to maintain interest and buzz between a January debut and a ceremony that hands out its awards 13 months later. Campaigns for Sundance movies like “Manchester” tend to go dark for several months after the festival before springing to life again. Remember that movie you couldn’t avoid hearing about in January? It’s back, ready for its closeup all over again!
But mostly it’s this: Even in an expanded best picture field, the kinds of offbeat, personal indie movies that make it big at Sundance aren’t really designed to win blanket approval with a mainstream body of voters like the film academy. A nomination? Sure. But winning? Never say never, but it’s probably not going to happen this year — or next, either, judging from the unconventional 2017 Sundance lineup.
Then again, it’s the left-field surprises that make Sundance so essential. So Dee Rees’ “Mudbound,” an adaption of Hillary Jordan’s celebrated novel dealing with prejudice in the Mississippi Delta post-World War II, could be a major find, as might “The Hero,” which stars Sam Elliott as a Hollywood icon looking to make a comeback reprising his most famous role.
As for the past, here’s a quick look at the Sundance premieres that have been nominated for the best picture Academy Award but have come up short.
“Hannah and Her Sisters” (1986)
Arriving shortly before its theatrical premiere, this top-tier Woody Allen family drama went on to win Oscars for cast members Michael Caine and Dianne Wiest. Allen’s screenplay won too, his second of three writing Oscars.
“Four Weddings and a Funeral” (1994)
Lost to “Forrest Gump.” I’d watch another 100 weddings and 25 funerals before revisiting “Gump.”
Best-known for introducing the world to the talented Geoffrey Rush, who won the lead actor Oscar for his sensitive, shattering turn as institutionalized pianist David Helfgott.
“Little Miss Sunshine” (2006)
More than a few pundits thought this indie comedy about an imperfect family might win the Oscar on the strength of its outstanding ensemble and sharp skewering of contemporary American culture. But, ultimately, the spotlight finally belonged to Martin Scorsese for “The Departed.”
Lee Daniels’ gut-punching drama took Oscars for screenplay and Mo’Nique’s fully realized operatic monster. “Precious” is also how I prefer to remember Mariah Carey these days.
“An Education” (2009)
Ladies and gentlemen, Carey Mulligan.
“The Kids Are All Right” and “Winter’s Bone” (2010)
A beautiful, observant comedy and a haunting, humane backwoods drama. Not the kinds of movies that go on to win the Oscar, but more inviting of repeat viewings than the film that did (“The King’s Speech”).
“Beasts of the Southern Wild” (2012)
The magical movie made by the Benh (Zeitlin) who spells his name weird, as opposed to the Ben (Affleck) whose film (“Argo”) took the Oscar.
The Los Angeles and New York film critics groups, the Golden Globes and the British Film Academy all made the correct call here, giving their best picture prizes to Richard Linklater’s unshakeable contemplation of the fleeting, flowing passage of time. The Oscar instead went to the vacuous, dazzling “Birdman.”
Won Oscars for sound, editing and supporting actor J.K. Simmons. Writer-director Damien Chazelle — name rings a bell — picked up a screenplay nod. He might have his turn at the podium this year for “La La Land.”
Probably why your mother-in-law watched the Oscars last year. Lovely film.
From the Oscars to the Emmys.
Get the Envelope newsletter for exclusive awards season coverage, behind-the-scenes stories from the Envelope podcast and columnist Glenn Whipp’s must-read analysis.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.