It is a well-established fact that just about any endeavor is made better by turning it into a draft.  If you thought drafts were just for fantasy sports, you’ve missed some golden opportunities in life, my friend.  So when friend of blog Ian suggested doing a fantasy Sundance draft for the 16 movies in the U.S. Dramatic Competition in Sundance (which has kicked off this weekend), I sure as heck wasn’t going to say no.  After some discussion, we (or, really, Ian) came up with the following scoring system:

Grand Jury Prize: 3 points
Audience Award: 2 points
Special Jury Prizes: 2 points each
US Directing Award: 1 point
Screenwriting Award: 1 point
Cinematography Award: 1 point
Alfred P. Sloan Award: Tiebreak

Like any good draft, ours snakes (for the uninitiated, that means whoever ends the first round will start the second round.  So, since there are two of us, Ian will take the first pick, then I’ll take second and third picks, Ian will take fourth and fifth, and so on).  I think I originally told him I wasn’t going to post this, but then we decided to write about our picks and critique the other’s, so it seemed a shame to waste all this writing.  Plus, I think Ian has now written more for the blog than any of my fellow Grouches in the past year.

With the first pick of the 2013 Fantasy Sundance Draft, Ian takes…

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints: I can’t say this was an easy top choice, as I think other directors and screenwriters were more pedigreed than David Lowery, who as far as The Internet tells me, is a graduate of the Sundance Institute and first-time feature filmmaker (apologies if I get any facts wrong, I think half-assed opinions are fundamental to a Fantasy Sundance League). That’s not a dealbreaker, though, and the presence of so many indie darlings augurs well for it. With my top pick, I was trying to shoot for a film that could compete in as many categories as possible, and I think this has to be a contender for every award. I could imagine a film with this premise and cast being a strong Grand Jury Prize contender, but also potentially placing for director, or editor. The premise also feels cinematic to me, or at minimum reminds me of one of my favorite movies, Paris, Texas. Even if it strikes out everywhere, would Sundance be able to resist dropping a special jury award on It-Girl Rooney Mara? Or an Ensemble award for the cast? From the outside, this film appears to be a contender in every category, if not a favorite.

Jared’s Reaction: I think the movie is a fine 1/1.  Like you say, it is hard betting against any movie starring Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck, and Ben Foster.  My concern, as with most of these, is that the two sentence premise suggests a number of different ways the film could break.  It actually almost reads like it has too much action to be successful at a film festival that often rewards character studies, I guess.

With the second pick of the 2013 Fantasy Sundance Draft, Jared takes…

Upstream Color:  My overall strategy was to aim for movies that I thought could hit the top prize, and in a year with a number of seemingly accessible comedies in competition, I was looking for something that would stand out.  Shane Carruth’s last (and first) movie, Primer, may have come out almost a decade ago, but it won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, along with four Spirit Award nominations, a pedigree I couldn’t resist.  After reading the film’s description and watching the couple of clips made available, I still have absolutely no idea what the movie is about, which I think only helped the film’s case, in my eyes.

Ian’s ReactionThis was high on my list as well, and I’d have taken it next had it come back to me. If nothing else, it’s a shoo-in for our tiebreaker, the Alfred P. Sloan Award celebrating science in film. And yes, it’s hard to advocate against a former Grand Jury Prize winning director, but my only hesitation was whether it could truly compete in categories such as Audience Award or Screenplay, or whether a mostly unknown cast would be worthy of a Special Jury Prize.

With the third pick in the 2013 Fantasy Sundance Draft, Jared takes…

Kill Your Darlings:  I could pretty much copy and paste what you wrote above for Ain’t Them Bodies Saints.  Except that director and co-writer John Krokidas went to Yale undergrad and then NYU film school.  And he’s had some award luck with a couple of shorts he directed.  But Ben Foster is also in this one and Elizabeth Olsen is a pretty good comp for Rooney Mara, I’d say.  Biopics and real life characters actually don’t appear to have had much luck in recent years, but again, that’s something that seems like it could make this one stand out.  Plus, a story about the genesis of the Beat generation seems like something that could play to this crowd.

Ian’s ReactionI agree, this is the other film with a clear indie darling cast, even for Sundance. Jack Huston and Dane DeHaan are also scene-stealers, and I could easily imagine Sundance judges rewarding Daniel Radcliffe. But isn’t there a decent chance that this is just a bad movie? I mean, I haven’t seen it or read anything about it, as is my wont, so my opinion is less than worthless, but it’ll take a lot to convince me that this well-trod ground is worth exploring again.

With the fourth pick in the Fantasy Sundance Draft, Ian takes…

The Spectacular Now: I was fairly certain you were going to nab this one from me, as it was my overall #2 pick. As with Kill Your Darlings and Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, this is a cast packed full with young indie darlings who are filled with dewy award-recognition promise (Although I grant you, no one has as yet broken out at the Rooney Mara/Elizabeth Olson level). Unlike those movies, though, the director James Ponsoldt has a Sundance pedigree with Smashed, a movie that broke out to some extent after the festival. Maybe the judges will consider this a make-up call? Also, when in doubt, you’ll want to bring in the TV ringers from Friday Night Lights, The Wire, Justified, and Breaking Bad (yes, and The Secret Life of the American Teenager). I see this as a Grand Jury and Audience Award contender that could also potentially compete in all categories except for cinematography.

Jared’s Reaction: It was a tough call, and to be honest, the fact that I’m so looking forward to it was probably the deciding factor against me picking it.  And no, me not wanting to jinx how good a movie is by not taking it in a fantasy Sundance draft is not a sign that I have a problem.  I don’t really have anything negative to say about it.  Though I expect I’ll have more to say once I see Smashed.  And I suppose it is a little surprising that Smashed never really found the awards traction it seemed like it could.  (500) Days of Summer either, for that matter.  Apologies if I’ve brought this up, but I’m constantly amused that Brie Larson was a teenage pop star.  And am still waiting for the movie version of the She Said video.

With the fifth pick in the 2013 Fantasy Sundance Draft, Ian takes…

Fruitvale: I might be out on a limb here. Not all of the Grand Jury or Audience Award winners are sad slice-of-life dramas, but maybe this is Winter’s Bone or Precious? By that I mean it’s possible that this is a film of uplift in a non-Hollywood setting that relies upon a star turn by its lead actor. If so, I’m comfortable betting on Michael B. Jordan to deliver that level of performance, with Octavia Spencer serving as an ace in the hole. The premise also sounds something that could alternately be heavily cinematic or script-driven, and either way, that could be worthy of recognition. It would probably have helped my cause if I tried to find out how heartbreaking the “true story” of Oscar really is.

Jared’s Reaction: I’m going to go ahead and assume that “limb” line was a pun.  If you want to be spoiled, here is the backstory to the movie.  Also sounds vaguely like a Good Wife plot.  Anyway, I think you may have made a good choice.  Michael B. Jordan is obviously all kinds of awesome, and clearly could be comfortable in a movie that pulls at heartstrings.  The (presumably) ending and/or beginning of the movie seems like a slam dunk, but I have absolutely no idea what the rest of the movie is going to be like, and I think that’s the big question mark, if they can come up with enough to hold up the middle.

With the sixth pick in the 2013 Fantasy Sundance Draft, Jared takes…

C.O.G.: Wait.  This isn’t a movie about pogs?  I’m not the biggest David Sedaris fan, but his name does carry a certain cachet, and as the first of his essays to be made into a movie, I think the film already has some people rooting for it.  Plus, director Kyle Patrick Alvarez won the “Someone to Watch” Spirit Award a few years back.  I expect to see something about Jonathan Groff and Casey Wilson in your reactions, but Dale Dickey and Corey Stoll already have Spirit noms, Denis O’Hare has an Emmy nom and Dean Stockwell has (and I swear this is true) an Oscar nom.  So it doesn’t seem unreasonable they could generate some awards buzz through playing crazy Sedaris characters.

Ian’s Reaction: Gotta admit, this one felt like a slight reach to me, mostly because I share your trepidation about David Sedaris, and I wonder how his intensely personal and slight work transfers to film (I haven’t read Naked, so I could be off-base here). I certainly agree that the cast is well-chosen, and Jonathan Groff, in particular, seems like a strong Broadway-to-Hollywood candidate, but I’m not sure this movie will be strong enough to be in the running for the big awards, or cinematic enough for the more technical options. It probably stands some chance at screenwriting, though, and I think there are definitely movies in the running that are less likely to win.

With the seventh pick in the 2013 Fantasy Sundance Draft, Jared takes…

Touchy Feely: Another one of those where I feel more comfortable drafting movies I’m probably not going to like.  Writer/director Lynn Shelton garnered a Special Jury Prize for Humpday, and Your Sister’s Sister pulled down a Spirit Award nomination for Rosemarie DeWitt.  It kinda feels like mumblecore is slowly moving toward mainstream.  Or mainstream is moving toward mumblecore.  Regardless, Shelton seems like she keeps progressing, and maybe that means she’s due for a critical misfire, or maybe she’s hitting her groove.  And the cast may the secret weapon, with DeWitt, Ron Livingston, Alison Janney (2 Spirit noms and countless others), Ellen Page and Scoot McNairy (who has a Spirit nom and who may well be the next indie breakout star).

Ian’s Reaction: It’s funny, I think your strategy was to pick movies that you weren’t excited by, and my strategy was to pick movies that I was excited by. I feel a strong affinity with mumblecore, but I’ve actually never seen anything that Lynn Shelton has directed outside of her TV work. You’re probably right that she’s on an upward climb with every movie, and my sense is that her work is probably more likely to crossover than something more Duplass-y, but I have to wonder if this style is one that will ever be audacious enough to actually take an award. I say that as someone who strongly prefers realistic-sounding improvisational dialogue in my movies, by the by. This may well be my personal favorite cast in any of the selections.

With the eighth pick in the Fantasy Sundance Draft, Ian takes…

May in the Summer: Amreeka is not a movie that I’ve seen, but it is a movie that I know from hearing about it in the ether. Now writer/director Cherien Dabis comes back to Sundance with a movie that I chose on premise alone. I’m expecting a tightly written family drama, set in a world that the audience and judges may be somewhat unfamiliar with, and that definitely sounds like awards-bait to me. Moreover, it stands a strong chance of actually being good. As the lead actor, writer, and director of the movie, and as a Sundance favorite, I’m hoping for the jury to award Dabis with something, assuming that this movie is not up for the whole enchilada. I’d imagine that there’s an outside shot at the more technical awards, too, if only because the setting isn’t an upper middle class Los Angeles suburb.

Jared’s Reaction: I mostly stayed away because the foreign (or foreignish) films are a crapshoot.  I could see Hiam Abbass being due for some recognition.  And Alexander Siddig was quite good in Cairo Time.  It has been a little bit now since our draft, but I’m wondering if I accidentally downgraded it because I was looking at the film from a Spirit perspective.

With the ninth pick in the Fantasy Sundance Draft, Ian takes…

In a World…: Yes, maybe this is a reach, and I don’t believe there’s any chance of a Grand Jury Prize here, but this isn’t just a vanity pick. My thinking for this movie is that if Sundance judges and Sundance audiences are anything like I think they are, they’d probably love nothing more than to see a movie about themselves. And hey, In A World is set to deliver. Plus, this may be a secondary concern, but there’s a chance that this movie is actually really good and pretty freaking funny. I’m pulling for an Audience Award here, or at least a Special Jury prize for best use of the Children’s Hospital cast. Fred Melamed is inspired casting as Lake Bell’s father, for what it’s worth.

Jared’s Reaction: Hey, a chip and a chair, right?  Audience Award seems like a good fit, like I may have mentioned earlier, I was trying to target films that seemed more likely to have a wider chance at awards.  I want this film to be great, so maybe, like you said, I was staying away from films I’m looking forward to.  The synopsis doesn’t give us a lot to go on, it just seemed a little too…I dunno, light? broad? to make a huge impact.

With the tenth pick in the Fantasy Sundance Draft, Jared takes…

Mother of George: This one was maybe a little bit more of a gut feeling.  Director Andrew Dosunmu’s prior film, Restless City, played Sundance a couple of years ago.  Star Danai Gurira is apparently some sort of badass zombie killing machine on Walking Dead, and Yaya Alafia has received acclaim for roles in Take the Lead, Honeydripper, and The Kids are All Right.  Otherwise, I view this as a boom/bust pick.  This recap may well be the last time I ever think about the film.

Ian’s Reaction: I’m not sure if it’s more that there’s actually not a lot to go on, or if that’s my ignorance talking, but I agree that this film seems like a crapshoot as an outsider. This is kind of a silly statement, but I think the one screenshot I did see of the movie looks pretty rich and colorful, and I wonder if this may not be a Beasts of the Southern Wild-style surprise.

With the eleventh pick in the Fantasy Sundance Draft, Jared takes…

Concussion: Writer/director Stacie Passon’s first imdb credit, so not a whole lot to go on there.  I know I just said that I was staying away from one category films, but this one seems like it could have some actress potential for star Robin Weigert, who has been in roughly every TV drama ever and picked up an Emmy nom for her role in Deadwood.  But I guess the comparison I’d make is to Smashed, a movie I still have yet to see, but which apparently rode Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s killer performance to pick up additional acclaim.  And who knows, maybe Passon turns out to be a Sundance darling.

Ian’s Reaction: Another film that needs to refine its elevator pitch; from the description, it could be about literally anything. The tagline makes me a little gunshy, however. It’s tough to pull for acting awards, simply because Sundance doesn’t necessarily even have to give out any of them, but Robin Weigert and Maggie Siff make for a decent one-two punch.

With the twelfth pick in the Fantasy Sundance Draft, Ian takes…

Afternoon Delight: I don’t know if this is going to be an award-favorite, but I know that I stand a pretty good chance of enjoying the heck out of this, which makes it a fine pick here in the 6th round. I think Jill Soloway is a strong TV writer, and I found her memoir, Tiny Ladies in Shiny Pants, crisp and engaging. If that’s not enough, she then stacks the deck by adding Kathryn Hahn, who’s long overdue in my book for carrying some sort of project. Juno Temple should add some indie cred, and Josh Radnor can add…whatever it is that he brings to projects. If it lands well, it could be an outside contender for Screenplay or even the Audience Award.

Jared’s Reaction: Jill Soloway has credits on The Steve Harvey Show, Dirty Sexy Money, and the Nikki Cox vehicle “Nikki”, so she’s A-OK in my book.  A movie with a TV pedigree that looks really funny doesn’t exactly strike me as the description of an award-winning Sundance movie, but hey, it got into competition.  And if this year’s theme is funny movies, maybe it does have a shot.  Also, the poster looks delicious.

With the thirteenth pick in the Fantasy Sundance Draft, Ian takes…

Toy’s House: Speaking of Smashed, Jordan Vogt-Roberts last directed Successful Alcoholics, a short that I know we both loved. I know he’s been a comedy director in the UCB/Funny-or-Die universe for a while, but that short also proved him capable of pulling nuanced performance out of comic actors–a talent that should serve him well here. The cast is loaded with comedy ringers, from actors with a comic sensibility such as Alison Brie, Mary Lynn Rajskub, and the Offerman/Mullally Team, to crack stand-ups Hannibal Burress and Kumail Nanjiani, to improv stalwarts including Angela Trimbur, Eugene Cordero, Craig Cackowski, and Fake Radio’s own Sparks Nevada, Marc Evan Jackson. My sense is that they’ll be providing much of the color, and the story will rise and fall on the three young leads. I’m willing to see if this is Stand By Me, and if it is, it may have some chance at the Audience Award. Even if not, I’m personally still all in.

Jared’s Reaction: This one seemed to have wide error bars.  The tagline isn’t terribly descriptive and I think I’d rather watch this movie without the three young boys plot.  I don’t think that came out pervy?  I check my spam folder, like, hourly to see if there is any news I’m missing about the Thrilling Adventure Hour poster that should hopefully be mailing to me soon, so I’m not going to argue with you too much here.

With the fourteenth pick in the Fantasy Sundance Draft, Jared takes…

Emanuel and the Truth about Fishes: Doesn’t that just sound like a Sundance movie?  Francesca Gregorini wrote and directed Tanner Hall, which I’m still not certain if I actually saw or just came across the trailer so manner times that it feels like I watched it.  Imdb says that Kaya Scodelario was twice nominated for something called a Golden Nymph award, which….good lord, Monte Carlo.  Show some respect for yourself.  The tagline sounds like it comes from a horror movie, but I wonder if maybe the rest of the field is so light, this film’s darkness could play.  Taking a movie starring Jessica Biel is certainly a gamble, but seems like maybe she’s due for a turn where she can show off her acting chops.  Plus, Alfred Molina seems like a guy who is always 3/1 to pick up a supporting actor nomination, at this point in his career.

Ian’s Reaction: Just like you, when I read the title, I assumed it would be one of my top picks, and then it just…never happened. I thought Kaya Scodelario was a fascinating spectral presence on the first series of Skins, and then she started speaking. I’m also pretty sure that Jessica Biel does not have hidden depths to plumb as an actress, but I guess I could always be proven wrong. On the upside, this will be a contender for cinematography, direction, and more, but I think it’s more likely that this becomes a laughable mess.

With the fifteenth pick in the Fantasy Sundance Draft, Jared takes…

Austenland: From the wife of the husband-and-wife Hess team comes a movie about a women who goes to a Jane Austen theme park.  I guess it is kind of obvious this was my last pick, huh?  I don’t really have any idea how I’m going to spin this one.  It was based off a novel, so maybe there’s a built-in audience?  Like an audience award play?  I got nothing.  I think I was more just trying to not jinx Ian’s pick.

Ian’s Reaction: Yeah, I thought this one was coming back to me. You mentioned the Hesses, but Stephenie Meyer is also a producer here, and…how is this not an out-of-competition film again? I suppose there is always the chance that this breaks out as an audience hit the way Napoleon Dynamite had before the shame spiral set in, but I’m not optimistic about your choice here.

With the sixteenth and final pick in the Fantasy Sundance Draft, Ian takes…

The Lifeguard: Of course, I’m not optimistic about my last choice here either. For the benefit of readers/random Googlers, I think it’s safe to say that Veronica Mars is one of the earliest cultural touchstones in our friendship. So for a Kristen Bell-led feature to slip to 16th place out of 16 choices is not a promising sign. It’s not that it sounds like a bad movie, necessarily. It seems to have some personal significance/specificity, and I’m intrigued as to whether former Cold Case (and Wonderfalls!) writer Liz Garcia falls closer to Meredith Stiehm or to Veena Sud in terms of her ability to write for characters. It’s more that the concept seems so pedestrian for Sundance that I’d have a hard time imagining this movie earning any traction whatsoever unless it’s flat out terrific. But who knows! That’s why we’re gambling with our ill-considered opinions in the first place.

Jared’s Reaction: It is also entirely within the realm of possibility that on a recent baseball trip in California, Ian and I took two different detours to check out Veronica Mars filming locations.  As someone who has seen Reefer Madness: The Movie MusicalFifty PillsFanboysSerious MoonlightCouples RetreatWhen in Rome, and You Again, believe me, I’m rooting for this movie.  If only so I can start watching some Kristen Bell movies that are good.  Actually, I just checked, and I sent Ian an excited email back in July when I came across some details about the movie.  So if the film tips the scales for him I guess I only have myself to blame.