Gary McCurry on the Sundance movies that have enjoyed success at the Oscars…
Since 1984, the Sundance Film Festival as we know it today has been shining a light on independent movies. Held annually in Park City, Utah, Sundance has become the largest independent film festival in the United States. Many notable directors have came through the ranks, including Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs), Paul Thomas Anderson (Cigarettes & Coffee/Hard Eight), Kevin Smith (Clerks) and Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild).
With that history lesson over, I’m looking to recap upon the movies that have gone through Sundance on the road to the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.
Some housekeeping before we begin. This isn’t a complete list of every movie to have won the sword wielding knight, more a few notes on the film festivals success throughout the years. Talking of years, you’ll find them in order in which they won the Academy Award (earliest to most recent).
You’ll find a theme within this article of documentaries winning the big prize at the Oscars after their appearance in Park City. First up we have The Times of Harvey Milk. This follows the career and assassination of San Francisco’s first elected gay councilor, Harvey Milk. Many years later this would go on to make its Oscar run as a feature film starring Sean Penn.
Woody Allen movies are commonly found at the Academy Awards, even though Woody Allen himself has never personally accepted one. Hannah and her Sisters took home three (Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen) awards in 1987. Sundance said this at the time regarding the feature. “Hannah and Her Sisters is anticipated to be Woody Allen’s most popular film since Annie Hall. Need we say more?”
Shorts are a vital part of many filmmakers Sundance journey. The career of the previously mentioned Paul Thomas Anderson and Whiplash director Damien Chazelle both used this to create a feature based on a short. This year came Black Rider (US title) or Fare Dodger as it was known here in the UK. Schwarzfahrer (Original Title) received the Best Short Film, Live Action Oscar. This follows a young black man who is verbally harassed by an older woman on a streetcar, while the other passengers remain silent. He finally extracts his revenge.
“The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” One of the many infamous lines from the 1996 winner of Best Supporting Actor (Kevin Spacey) and Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen (Christopher McQuarrie), The Usual Suspects. Renowned for its twisting and turning plot, with its ending being parodied on everything from Scary Movie to Cougar Town.
The great Rodger Ebert wrote “One of the best films of the year” when reviewing Boys Don’t Cry. Hilary Swank transforms into Brandon Teena for this powerful drama. When Hilary Swank was preparing for the role and living as a man, her neighbours believed that the young man coming and going from the house was her younger Brother.
Not only did Born Into Brothels win the Best Documentary, Features Oscar, it won another 20 awards whilst during the rounds on the festival circuit. This chronicles the lives of a group of children as they grow up in red light district of Sonagchi, Calcutta. This was a find for me as I was putting together this list and one that has jumped to the top of my watch list.
One of the festival’s most successful years with a total of 5 Academy Awards given out to a documentary feature, a live action short and Little Miss Sunshine. A complete game changer for Sundance as the movie was bought by Fox Searchlight for a record setting deal. More importantly, the movie went onto gross over $100 Million and win Best Supporting Actor (Alan Arkin) and Best Original Screenplay (Michael Arndt) as well as be nominated for another two including Best Motion Picture.
Philippe Petit did the impossible on August 7th, 1974. He constructed and performed a high-wire walk between the World Trade Centre. Given the name as after his walk both Petit and his compatriots were taking into custody. Written on one of the forms used to document the incident was Man on Wire. Directed by James Marsh, we get recreations of this incredible and illegal feat.
Sandwiched in between two documentaries who also had Oscar glory the year previous (Searching For Sugarman) and the year after (Citizenfour) came Twenty Feet From Stardom. We are introduced to the people who have had added their backup vocals to popular music’s greatest hits. Although the tracks are instantly recognizable, the people aren’t.
Many of my friends were sick of me talking about Whiplash by the time it had won its three Oscars. I was unapologetically championing this movie so hard that I probably should have been thanked in the Oscar speech by J.K. Simmons. A gifted young jazz drummer meets a cut throat instructor who pushes him to the edge in order to release his potential. Simple and stunningly effective.