Surely coming as a surprise to precious few, "Gravity" director Alfonso Cuarón has just won the Directors Guild of America (DGA) prize for theatrical motion pictures. He beat out fellow Oscar nominees Steve McQueen ("12 Years a Slave"), Martin Scorsese ("The Wolf of Wall Street") and David O. Russell ("American Hustle"), as well as "Captain Phillips" helmer Paul Greengrass to land his first such honor from the guild.
The competition juries and audiences have spoken from Park City. "Whiplash" earned two key awards Saturday night, the U.S. dramatic grand jury prize and the U.S. dramatic audience award. These were impressive wins for director Damien Chazelle and distributor Sony Pictures Classics, who acquired the drama during the festival. Featuring impressive performances by Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons, the film focuses on a young music student (Teller) who is willing to go above and beyond to make it into a competitive jazz band at one of New York City's most prestigious music schools. It's the rare opening night film to take home the festival's top prize.
PARK CITY - It certainly won't go down as one of the greatest editions of the Sundance Film Festival, but reports of it being a bad or weak festival are completely off base. There were few highs, few terrible lows (although some). Instead, there were many good, very good, but not great films. The festival experimented with mixing up the genres in the dramatic competition and for some longtime media it might have been off putting. Well, if they attended the public screenings they would have found audiences more engaged than usual. It was an experiment for the programmers and gave high profile debuts for movies such as "Life as Beth," "Dear White People" and "Cold in July." Those are flicks that could have been relegated to the Midnight or NEXT sections in the past. That's a win in our book.
PARK CITY - Some small movies are bigger than others, and few contemporary filmmakers' careers are better suited to that sliding scale than Joe Swanberg, the self-sufficient indie all-rounder who has quietly reeled off 16 feature films since 2005. Until recently, they've been uniformly scrappy in scope and construction, with some more considered than others: the personal, plainly self-reflexive relationship studies (2008's Greta Gerwig-starring "Nights and Weekends" was a standout) rather than the quick-sketch genre exercises.
PARK CITY - John Michael McDonagh's "Calvary" was one of my most anticipated titles heading into Sundance, and with the festival at a close, it's among the films my mind returns to most often. The Irish writer-director's follow-up to the raucous cop comedy "The Guard" -- also a Park City premiere a few years back -- has a sharper, more complex comic flavor, taking on matters of faith, morality and mortality in the story of a Catholic priest (Brendan Gleeson) threatened with murder by one of his own troubled parishioners.
Welcome to Oscar Talk.
In case you're new to the site and/or the podcast, Oscar Talk is your one-stop awards chat shop between yours truly and Anne Thompson of Thompson on Hollywood. The podcast is broadcast in special installments throughout the season, charting the ups and downs of contenders along the way. Plenty of things change en route to Oscar's stage and we're here to address it all as it unfolds.
On the docket today…
Last year the Academy finally made a move to open the short film races up to the entire voting membership. By providing screeners of all the nominees (for shorts as well as documentary features), the ballot is now free of all crevices of exclusivity, where formerly only members who showed up at sanctioned screenings of the nominees were allowed to vote in those specific categories.
Well, this is a positive turn of events for "Grace of Monaco." Olivier Dahan's biopic of Hollywood-turned-European princess Grace Kelly was initially slated to open until November last year, until The Weinstein Company booted it from their prestige release schedule and announced it'd be a spring 2014 release instead. With iffy word brewing about the Nicole Kidman starrer, and Dahan voicing his reservations about the Weinsteins' handling, it looked like the film might be quietly swept under the rug.
"Love" was all around at Sundance this week, as Radius-TWC gave some love to the Sundance entry "The One I Love," while Sony Pictures Classics fell for "Love is Strange."
We're about a week late in wising up to the Denver Film Critics Society's list of winners this year but, well, better late than never. "Gravity" was the big winner, taking prizes for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Score and Best Sci-Fi/Horror Film. The acting categories all went to the frontrunners save Best Supporting Actress, which went to "American Hustle's" Jennifer Lawrence rather than "12 Years a Slave's" Lupita Nyong'o. Steve McQueen's slavery drama, which was nominated for seven awards, received no trophies. Check out the nominations here, the winners below and keep track of the season at The Circuit.