As you no doubt remember, Ian and I drafted the movies in the U.S. Dramatic Competition from last year’s Sundance festival.  Hopefully you forgot that Ian wiped the floor with me.  As you might have guessed, we’re bringing the draft back again this year.

But first, I’m excited to announce that Adam and I will be attending this  year’s Sundance festival.  No clue whether we’ll actually be able to see any in competition films, but I’ll be sure to report back.

We are using the same scoring system as last year:

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

And the draft will snake, like all drafts should.  I get first pick this year since I got trounced last year.  For summaries of all films, check out the official Sundance page.  Here’s part one of four of our draft.

With the first pick of the 2014 Fantasy Sundance Draft, Jared takes…

Fishing Without Nets

Jared:  I’m not sure what a clear #1 pick would be in a fantasy Sundance league, but I didn’t see one this year.  The overly simplified summary of this film you’ll probably see floating around is that it is Captain Phillips from the perspective of the pirates.  And I’m banking on this film getting a boost by riding the coattails of the likely Oscar nominee, which at this point in the Oscar race seems to have a healthy base of support.  The film is writer/director Cutter Hodierne’s first feature effort (which isn’t necessarily a point against him; the last two Grand Jury prizes were won by first-time filmmakers: Ryan Coogler for Fruitvale Station and Benh Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild), but he’s directed a documentary of U2, and this film is actually based on a short of the same name, which won a Jury prize at the 2012 Sundance festival.  The film apparently used nonactors, so it is unlikely to compete for acting prizes, but I think the apparent combination of action and moral dilemmas, plus the aforementioned pedigree gives the film a good chance to click.

Ian:  In our long and storied history of the Fantasy Sundance League, there’s never been a year with as little stratification as this one. I also see fewer “locks” than last year, and the bigger name directors were of the mumblecore “it’s an honor to be nominated” variety. This one was a little down my list, if only because Captain Phillips may have sucked up some of the air in the piracy genre. Oh, and also because the movie has been gestating for so long that Somali piracy has been eradicated in the meantime. The fact that this movie was already honored is a point in its favor, but I thought there were better choices on the board with similar Sundance pedigrees.

With the second pick of the 2014 Fantasy Sundance Draft, Ian takes…

Hellion

Ian: This film was also selected to premiere at Sundance as a short film. While it didn’t win any prizes then (and may not have been in competition), I like its odds better now. If I had to explain why in two words, they would read, “Aaron Paul.” Paul has been in indies before, of course, but this is going to be the first movie he takes onto the festival circuit after the triumphant end of Breaking Bad. And if we’re talking about a “commanding performance” from him, I think this is one that juries or audiences have been well primed to honor. The subject matter also seems harrowing, and frankly more interesting than most of the other movies in competition. I’m looking for a combination of quality and timing to lead to some of the big awards.

Jared: I strongly considered this one for my first overall pick.  Recent Sundance winners such as Winter’s Bone and Beasts of the Southern Wild, suggest a certain proclivity for rewarding films set in the U.S. in between the two coasts.  Kat Candler seems a prime candidate to break out, and having Jeff Nichols as an executive producer is surely a good sign.  Aaron Paul is obviously hot off a slew of Breaking Bad recognition.  He’s yet to garner any awards recognition for film roles, for whatever that is worth.  I’m usually wary of adolescent-led films, but on the flip side, if Josh Wiggins impresses, he could be rewarded.

With the third pick of the 2014 Fantasy Sundance Draft, Ian takes…

Cold in July

Ian:  Last year, a brilliant and unconventional director of genre film got its start in competition at Sundance. And while Upstream Color wasn’t a big winner there, it was a successful launch, and one that would probably receive greater awards from the same jury if they revoted today. It’s not a perfect analogue, but Jim Mickle strikes me as this year’s answer to Shane Carruth: a director with more experience and acclaim than the rest of the field who is working in a genre that usually doesn’t rack up awards. The difference to me is that Mickle seems to have come up within the system to a greater degree, which means that Michael C. Hall is attached to the project, along with Sam Shepard and Don Johnson (!). I’m hoping that this movie is inventive enough that the panel feels they have to award it with something, or that it’s populist enough that an audience goes wild.

Jared:  Personally, I had this one a little lower.  Phrases from the official Sundance summary of the film include: “pulpy, southern-fried mystery”, “older breed of action film”, “gore-soaked”, and “Don Johnson”.  Which means I’m super excited for the movie.  But also gives me some pause in terms of how broad an appeal the film will have.  Mickle’s last film, We Are What We Are, scored a 5.7 on imdb, and a 69 on metacritic, (though, to be fair, it garnered an 87% on Rotten Tomatotes).  Michael C. Hall is another actor who has received much love on TV, but yet to break through in a film, and I suppose one has to wonder if the universally-hated Dexter final season will have any impact.

With the fourth pick of the 2014 Fantasy Sundance Draft, Jared takes…

Infinitely Polar Bear

Jared:  It just sounds like a Sundance movie, doesn’t it?  Mark Ruffalo’s career has been absolutely fascinating: he’s an indie darling turned Oscar nominee with crossover appeal thanks to somehow becoming Hulk in The Avengers.  And let’s not forget the three Teen Choice nominations way back in 2004.  He got some Sundance love a few years ago for directing Sympathy for Delicious.  So he always strikes me as a viable contender.  A viable concern is the film being too funny for the major awards (and don’t get me started on that), given that writer/director Maya Forbes has screenwriting credits on The Larry Sanders Show, The Rocker, and Monsters vs. Aliens.  But descriptors such as “bittersweet” and “transcendent” provide some hope, and the concept of the trials and tribulations of a father struggling to raise his two daughters seems prime Sundance material.  That J.J. Abrams is a producer suggests the film might have some mass appeal.

Ian:  I had Infinitely Polar Bear, and then erased it before sending it to you. I certainly agree that the Ruff is awards bait, the premise seems like Sundance madlibs, and the J.J. Abrams imprimatur seems like this could be on the fast track. I just struggled to get past Maya Forbes’ resume on this one. Larry Sanders is probably the show most directly responsible for the current state of comedy in movies, but it seems like ever since then, she’s been doing some work for hire. I understand The Rocker has its charms, and I won’t dismiss any of those movies out of hand, but it’s not a resume that screams “Sundance favorite,” which makes me think that there’s a chance the movie could be slight. Also, not for nothing, but that’s a horrible film title.

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