Sundance Journal: The Awards

[Editor’s Note: Our reviews of movies from the Sundance Film Festival will continue to roll out across the rest of the week. In the meantime, here’s Aaron’s coverage of the films that actually won the festival’s prizes. -JZ]

The Sundance Film Festival is over and the awards have been announced. I’ve seen some of the winners. Others I didn’t get to see. I’ll comment on the ones I saw.

Grand Jury Prize for Dramatic Competition:

Winner: ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’

Synopsis: Hushpuppy, an intrepid six-year-old girl, lives with her father, Wink, in “the Bathtub,” a southern Delta community at the edge of the world.

Personal Thoughts: This is the big award for the festival, like the Palme d’Or at Cannes. Having seen ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’, I can tell you that it’s very deserving of the biggest prize. It’s a marvelous dramatic film that needs to be seen in order to understand what it’s all about. I can’t really explain the story, but it’s definitely worth looking out for when it gets released by Fox Searchlight later in the year.

Grand Jury Prize for Documentary Competition:

Winner: ‘The House I Live In’

Synopsis: The film is about America’s criminal justice system, and why so many Americans are in jail.

U.S. Directing Award for Documentary Film:

Winner: Lauren Greenfield, director of ‘The Queen of Versailles’

Synopsis: With the epic dimensions of a Shakespearean tragedy, ‘The Queen of Versailles’ follows billionaires Jackie and David’s rags-to-riches story to uncover the innate virtues and flaws of the American dream.

Personal Thoughts: This movie made me so frustrated. Not because it’s a bad movie, though. On the contrary, this was one of my favorites at the festival. The reason why it’s so frustrating is that the film does such a good job conveying how out of touch the ultra-rich are with the rest of the world. When Jackie asks the guy at the Hertz counter whom her driver will to be, I just about lost it.

U.S. Directing Award for Dramatic Film:

Winner: ‘Middle of Nowhere’, director Ava DuVernay

Synopsis: When her husband, Derek, is sentenced to eight years in a California prison, Ruby drops out of medical school to maintain her marriage and focus on ensuring Derek’s survival in his violent new environment.

U.S. Documentary Audience Award:

Winner: ‘The Invisible War’

Synopsis: An estimated 30 percent of servicewomen and at least 1 percent of servicemen are sexually assaulted during their enlistment. And not by the enemy, but at the hands of fellow soldiers. This documentary takes a look at the startling news.

U.S. Dramatic Competition Audience Award:

Winner: ‘The Surrogate’

Synopsis: The quest for love appears insurmountable when a man confined to an iron lung determines, at age 38, to lose his virginity.

Personal Thoughts: ‘The Surrogate’ is so beautifully acted that it’s almost impossible to picture John Hawkes doing anything else. He’s phenomenal in this. It’s a tender, sweet story about the realities of sexual intercourse and the real meaning behind it.

The festival has quite a lot of other awards that delve into categories such as editing and so on, but these are the big ones. They’re also further proof that you really need to look out for movies like ‘The Surrogate’ and ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ when they’re released in 2012.


  1. JM

    Ben Lewin, writer-director of ‘The Surrogate,’ a 65-year-old TV director who hasn’t written anything in 18 years, conquered Sundance with a sex dramedy?

    Based on a true story.
    With a naked Helen Hunt.
    With William H. Macy as a priest.
    With a great performance from Moon Bloodgood.


    Is this a real movie?

    Or, more likely, a vast internet prank of subversive genius.

    Nice try.

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