Sundance 2010: Winners and Losers

Last night the Sundance Jury handed out its prizes and audience awards. The big winners were the hill people noir Winter’s Bone and Obselidia, a romance which was only lacking a stamp reading “Sundance-approved.” More eyes will turn to the backrooms, where lucrative deals were being cut. Focus Features picked up Lisa Cholodeniko’s The Kids Are All Right, with Julianne Moore and Annette Bening as a lesbian couple. Lionsgate agreed to distribute Buried, where Ryan Reynolds struggles to escape a coffin armed only with his cellphone (and some great reception). Harvey Weinstein worked his silver-tongued magic and went home with the rights to The Tillman Story (formerly I’m Pat _________ Tillman) and Blue Valentine, which created Oscar talk for its leads Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams. Other buzz films included the Interwebs documentary Catfish and Banksy’s debut Exit Through the Gift Shop. Anyway, we’ve got some envelopes to open …

Grand Jury Prize for U.S. Dramatic Film

Winter’s Bone. A clear favorite among critics, Debra Granik’s adaptation of a novel by Daniel Woodrell is a chilling thriller set in the Ozarks. A teenager (Jennifer Lawrence) goes in search for her father, who skips jail after a bust for running a meth lab. Big trouble awaits. “My advice? Discover this one now.” said Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir. It’s been picked up for distribution by Roadside Attractions.

Grand Jury Prize for U.S. Documentary

Restrepo. The documentary follows humpy journalist Sebastian Junger (The Perfect Storm) as he spends a year with the 173rd Airborne’s Second Platoon. The unit has been assigned to the deadliest valley in Afghanistan. “I’ve never seen combat footage like Junger and [co-director Tim] Hetherington get in Restrepo,” wrote Noel Murray in The Onion. “It’s raw, relentless, and made all the more unsettling by the fact that the soldiers can’t see who’s shooting at them.” National Geographic have the broadcast rights.

Best Director Prize for U.S. Dramatic Film

Eric Mendelsohn for 3 Backyards. Mendelsohn revisits the territory of his excellent 1999 feature Judy Berlin in the company of star Edie Falco. The film tells the story of three disconnected suburbanites whose daily grind turns extraordinary. The cast is rounded out by Elias Koteas and Embeth Davidtz.

Documentary Directing Award

Leon Gast for Smash His Camera. Gast is well-known to documentary fans for When We Were Kings, a film about the Ali-Foreman Rumble in the Jungle. His portrait documentary reflects his interest in the mechanics of celebrity, putting controversial American paparazzo Ron Galella in the spotlight.

The Dramatic Grand Jury Prize in World Cinema

Animal Kingdom. This Australian drama has clear connections with Winter’s Bone. David Michod’s film looks at a Melbourne criminal family from the perspective of a teenager. Critics were unimpressed with Michod’s Tarantino-isms–such as an attempt to rehabilitate Air Supply–but the jury thought otherwise.

Best Cinematography Award for Documentary

Kirsten Johnson for The Oath. Johnson is a doc vet, having acted as DP on films like Derrida, This Film is Not Yet Rated and Deadline. Director Laura Poitras’ compelling film traces the divergent paths of two brothers who became involved in al Qaeda and ended up working for Osama bin Laden.

Best Cinematography Award for Drama

Zak Mulligan for Obselidia. Proving that the Sundance spirit is not dead, this quirky romance throws together the usual random pairing of a repressed librarian and a cinema projectionist. (Where are the films about the libertine librarians, eh?) The Onion‘s Nathan Rabin summed up Diane Bell’s romance as “unbearable.” The award is a boon to DP Mulligan, who is working on his first feature, I’m Not Me.

The U.S. Documentary Editing Award

Penelope Falk for Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work. All anybody working on a doc about Rivers need do is stand back and let the lady spritz. Falk’s other films include Stagedoor and Bombay Eunuch.

The Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award

Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini for Winter’s Bone. The team adapted Daniel Woodrell’s novel, which has been described by Publisher’s Weekly as “a luminescent portrait.” Granik’s last film as writer-director was Down to the Bone with Vera Farmiga, on which Rosellini worked as a producer.

The Audience Award for U.S. Documentary

Waiting for Superman. Oscar-winning director Davis Guggenheim switches from the guitar heroics of It Might Get Loud for a serious look at the state of the U.S. education system. Guess what? It’s in lousy shape. The film overturns convention by suggesting the blame lies with unions that protect bad teachers.

The Audience Award for U.S. Dramatic Film

happythankyoumoreplease. It’s tempting to say that this was Sundance’s urban rich folk drama, but it faced stiff competition from favorite Nicole Holofcener’s Give Please. Critics adored the latter more than the former, where writer/director/star Josh Radnor (How I Met Your Mother) plays a scribe who puts his promiscuous ways aside to look after a foster child. Still waiting on a domestic distrib deal.

Special Jury Prize for Documentary

Gasland. Lest we forget, the Sundance jury is made up of people who desperately care about our planet. Josh Fox looks at a new process which allows companies to extract natural gas and effectively drink our milkshake right from the backyard. As usual, there’s a heavy environmental price to be paid. Fucked again.

Special Jury Prize

Sympathy for Delicious. Mark Ruffalo must have been looking pretty hangdog hanging around Park City. His directorial debut was greeted with howls of derision. “Ruffalo misfires wildly,” said Time Out. “Even worse than a muddled religious allegory about a wheelchair-bound faith-healing rock and roll DJ has any right to be,” said Rabin. Ouch. The jury took pity on him.

Alfred P. Sloan Prize

Obselidia. The Sloan prize is awarded to “an outstanding feature film focusing on science or technology as a theme, or depicting a scientist, engineer or mathematician as a major character.” So if your script needs that extra something, think about throwing an astrophysicist in as comic relief.

2010 Sundance / NHK International Filmmakers Awards

This award is designed to support international filmmakers and offers as a prize $10,000 and an airing on Japanese TV. It was given to the following four films:

Heli. A search for a missing father exposes the crooked underbelly of a Mexican town. From director Amat Escalante.

Elena. An old Russian woman sacrifices everything to save her alcoholic son and his destitute family. From director Andrey Zvyagintsev.

Beasts of the Southern Wild. A ten-year-old and her ailing father ride out the storm down Louisiana way. From director Benh Zeitlin.

The Wonderful Lives at Asahigaoka. A suicide attempt ripples through the townsfolk of Asahigaoka in Daisuke Yamaoka‘s film.

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