Sundance Film Fest 2016: Potential Oscar Contenders–Best Picture

Sundance Film Fest, which takes place in January, has proved that it can serve an effective launching pad for awards season contenders.

Richard Linklater’s Boyhoood premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Fest in January, and Brooklyn unveiled as a premiere at the 2015 Sundance Film Fest.

This year, Sundance Fest may have unveiled two best picture nominees: Manchester By the Sea and The Birth of a Nation.

Nate Parker’s retelling of the 1831 slave revolt led by Nate Turner is the creation of a one-man show. It stars Parker, directed by Parker, produced by Parker and written by the actor best known until now as the star of Beyond the Lights.

An historical epic, The Birth of a Nation received the most prolonged standing ovation at this year’s Sundance.

It also landed the biggest deal in festival history, selling for $17.5 million to Fox Searchlight, which distributed 12 Years A Slave, which won the Best Picture Oscar two years ago.

Parker may be in the running for best director, best actor, best script nominations, and the Academy could single out two of his actors as nominees as well, Aja Naomi King (for best supporting actress for her portrait of Turner’s wife Cherry) and Armie Hammer (for best supporting actor as a conflicted plantation owner).

The Birth of a Nation is a guarantee that Oscars 2017 won’t continue the trend of only nominating white people in the acting categories.

The picture swept the grand jury prize and the audience award for dramatic feature at Sundance, the first of many prizes the film is likely to receive.

Manchester by the Sea

Kenny Lonergan’s Manchester By the Sea was the first feature at this year’s festival to spark a frenzied bidding war.  It sold to Amazon for $10 million, and was instantly crowned as the streaming studio’s first serious shot at the Oscars.

The movie will debut theatrically before it moves over to Amazon’s online offerings. It’s hard to imagine another screenplay this year surpassing Lonergan’s tautly executed tragedy. Matt Damon, a producer on the film, said it was one of the best scripts he had ever read.

Casey Affleck delivered the most nuanced performance at Sundance as lonely janitor who returns home after a family crisis. He deserves to be a contender in the best actor category, which would be his second Oscar nod after 2007’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

Strong Performances

There are also Oscar prospects for supporting actors for newcomer Lucas Hedges, only 19, who auditioned five times for his breakout role as Lee’s nephew (and perfected a Gloucester accent), and Michelle Williams, whose heartbreaking turn as Lee’s ex-wife should earn her another Academy nomination.

There were other stellar performances at Sundance:

Molly Shannon in the cancer dramedy “Other People”;

Craig Robinson as the dad in “Morris From America”;

Rebecca Hall in the journalism thriller “Christine”;

Greg Kinnear in Ira Sachs’ real-estate drama “Little Men”;

Viggo Mortensen as the father of a large group of children in “Captain Fantastic.”

According to Variety, the small scale of these films makes them likelier contenders for the Independent Spirit Awards nominations than for Oscars.

John Carney’s “Sing Street,” a musical rock valentine set in 1980s Ireland, made a strong impression.  Carney’s “Once” won this category in 2008 for “Falling Slowly,” and the soundtrack to “Sing Street” is just as melodic.