Sundance 2013: Which films might find Oscar traction next season?

Is there a 'Beasts'-level success in the mix?

<p>&quot;Before Midnight&quot; is, for my money, the most likely awards player out of this year's Sundance.</p>

"Before Midnight" is, for my money, the most likely awards player out of this year's Sundance.

Credit: Sundance Film Festival

PARK CITY - There are still five days left in this year's Sundance fest, but I'm out of here tomorrow, so it's time to start winding coverage down. And one thing worth considering is the potential awards season impact of this year's 35th annual.

By now the story of "Beasts of the Southern Wild" is a bit legendary, dropping at Sundance 2012 and riding a big wave throughout the year to major Oscar acclaim. All eyes are turned toward potential players at this year's fest, and distributors are digging deep on buys throughout. So what could come of it?

Perhaps the most significant potential players are Roadside Attractions' "Mud" and the currently distributor-less "Before Midnight." The former features a major performance from Matthew McConaughey that could certainly stir Best Actor buzz later in the year (or perhaps add fuel to the fire of his other two upcoming performances in 2013). Youngster Tye Sheridan will likely get the usual child-lead-turned-supporting push (though we'll see if that actually happens -- you could easily pitch McConaughey for supporting in this one), while the crafts throughout are quality. Jeff Nichols' original screenplay deserves to be on the radar, for sure. I hope I'm not just full of wishful thinking here, though. I am, you know, a fan.

"Before Midnight," meanwhile, features a better, more potent script than the Oscar-nominated "Before Sunset" and is a film met with appreciation across the board here. No one has bit yet, though Lionsgate was circling. And if indeed they pick it up, maybe they do so for Roadside and it becomes a handsome stable-mate for "Mud." Either way, the screenplay and, most assuredly, Julie Delpy's lead performance, will be in the mix this time next year. I feel confident of that.

There are some performances that have sparked, from Michael B. Jordan and Octavia Spencer in "Fruitvale" (picked up by The Weinstein Company) to Isaiah Washington in "Blue Caprice" (still looking), Amanda Seyfried in "Lovelace" (Weinstein) to Sam Rockwell in "The Way Way Back" (bought by Fox Searchlight for a hefty price). I guess you could throw Keri Russell in the Sony Classics-acquired "Asutenland" in there, too. They could land in the season eventually, or not.

Oh, and speaking of Searchlight, they came here with "The East" and "Stoker" in tow. But I don't expect much out of either for awards. But who knows?

The craft scope of "Ain't Them Bodies Saints" means it ought to be considered a possible player (if it grabs distribution) in the cinematography, film editing and score fields, but performances from Ben Foster, Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara could also find traction with the right massaged campaign.

Elsewhere, A24 is putting together its 2013 slate and added to it with James Pondsolt's "The Spectacular Now." Performances from Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller could pop up but it seems screenplay consideration is most likely. And Sony Classics just acquired "Kill Your Darlings," also featuring a buzzed Ben Foster performance, along with another from Daniel Radcliffe.

Docs are always worth watching for, and a year after "Zero Dark Thirty," "Manhunt" might show up nostalgically. Alex Gibney's "We Steal Secrets" will absolutely be in the mix (and make for an interesting companion to Bill Condon's November release "The Fifth Estate"). "Twenty Feet from Stardom" was a big hit, too. "Running from Crazy" didn't make much of a splash but it's good enough to be considered.

The truth is, though, I don't think there is any "Beasts"-level breakout at this year's festival. "Fruitvale" is certainly affecting and in the running for the Grand Jury Prize, and "Ain't Them Bodies Saints" definitely has passionate champions. The most talked about film will likely be "The Way Way Back," but nothing has that residue of an instant story, I don't think.

We'll see how these films find their way from here. They all certainly got off to the right foot here in the Utah mountains, though. That's all you can ask for at this early stage.

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Kristopher Tapley
Editor-at-Large
Kristopher Tapley has covered the film awards landscape for over a decade. He founded In Contention in 2005. His work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Times of London and Variety. He begs you not to take any of this too seriously.
2013-2014 OSCAR NOMINATIONS
UPDATED: MARCH 2, 2014