Which Sundance 2024 Movies Will Make It to Next Year’s Oscars?

by The Technical Blogs


We’ve only just gotten this year’s Oscar nominations, but is it already time to begin looking ahead to next season?

I can sense you bristling, and I understand. “Kyle, no,” you’ve just muttered, because we’re on a first-name basis now and you’re still mired in dinner-party discourse over whether the snub of Greta Gerwig in the best-director race is an extinction-level event.

I hear your concerns, and I share them. But even as we continue to sift through the wreckage and tea leaves following this season’s Oscar nominations, I’ve just come back from snowy Park City, Utah, where the 40th edition of the Sundance Film Festival debuted a full slate of new movies that could give shape to next year’s awards race. Make no mistake, trophy-related considerations can affect these films’ fortunes even at this early date: I’ve already heard that one terrific Sundance indie has had trouble selling because of concerns that its lead would be unavailable for a full-blown press tour next awards season.

Could any of these films follow best-picture nominee “Past Lives,” which premiered at Sundance last January, or even “CODA” (2021), the first Sundance movie to win the top Oscar?

The likeliest film to factor into next year’s race is A Real Pain,” a dramedy starring Jesse Eisenberg and Kieran Culkin as mismatched cousins who embark on a road trip through Poland to better understand the personal history of their late grandmother, a Holocaust survivor. Eisenberg, who also wrote and directed the film, plays the by-the-book cousin and generously hands the flashy, sure-to-be-nominated role to Culkin: His cousin is a charismatic hot mess, and the Emmy-winning “Succession” actor zigs and zags through every scene like a freewheeling live wire.

Searchlight bought “A Real Pain” for $10 million, and I could see it making a deep run into awards season. Pronounced a “knockout” by our critic Manohla Dargis, it’s the kind of thematically resonant, culturally specific comedy that voters often respond to. Most of all, I think movie folks will be eager to welcome Culkin into their club: They were just as obsessed with “Succession” as their TV brethren, and it’s finally their turn to shower the 41-year-old with awards attention.

“The Outrun,” based on the memoir from Scottish author Amy Liptrot, gives four-time Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan her best contemporary role since “Lady Bird” and a strong shot at another awards-season run. Directed by Nora Fingscheidt, the film casts Ronan as a young hipster who returns to her hometown in Scotland’s remote Orkney Islands after her alcoholism gets out of hand. “The Outrun” is confidently made, and it’s great to see Ronan in top form after recent missteps like “Foe” and “See How They Run”; between this and her forthcoming role in Steve McQueen’s “Blitz,” she’s certain to have a major year ahead.

Ronan is also name-checked throughout “My Old Ass,” an incredibly winning comedy about a teenage girl (Maisy Stella) who manifests an older version of herself (Aubrey Plaza) during a particularly potent mushroom high. Alongside audience award-winner “Didi,” about a Taiwanese American boy navigating his awkward teenage years, it was one of two coming-of-age comedies that made a major impression on Sundance. Though that’s not always a genre that awards voters take to, nearly everyone I spoke to had these films near the top of their personal-best lists.

Received more respectfully were three dramas about family trauma: “Exhibiting Forgiveness,” with a juicy role for the “Moonlight” star André Holland as a painter who struggles with letting his father back into his life; “In the Summers,” another fraught dad drama (this one won Sundance’s grand-jury prize); and “Rob Peace,” about a bright community activist who must navigate — you guessed it — a tricky relationship with his father, played by the film’s director, Chiwetel Ejiofor, in a role that could see some supporting-actor traction.

Adventurous voters for shows like the Film Independent Spirit Awards may gravitate toward some of Sundance’s most one-of-a-kind offerings, like the trippy “I Saw the TV Glow,” about teenagers who find themselves via a cult supernatural series, and “Sasquatch Sunset,” which casts Riley Keough and Jesse Eisenberg as unrecognizable Bigfoots and ought to be in contention for a hair-and-makeup Oscar, if that branch of the academy is keen to make a daring choice.

Many of the movies nominated for the best-documentary Oscar first premiered at Sundance, but as that category has started trending more toward homegrown international films, it’s hard to tell whether the documentaries that connect with festgoers in Park City will still click with the academy’s membership. One I expect to keep hearing about regardless is “Will & Harper,” which sends Will Ferrell on a road trip with his longtime friend Harper Steele, who has come out as trans. This went over like gangbusters at its premiere, even as Utah lawmakers spent that week passing anti-trans legislation.

There’s also “Daughters,” which won Sundance’s audience award in its documentary category as well as the festival-favorite award across all films presented. This one is an emotional whopper, following a group of young girls and their incarcerated fathers as they prepare for a daddy-daughter dance at the prison. At a fest loaded with movies about the complicated relationship between fathers and their children, “Daughters” topped all competition. I saved it for last here because even thinking about the film prompts wrenching sobs, so that’s my cue to cut off all this speculation and return to your regularly scheduled broadcast (which is weeks of wondering whether Christopher Nolan will finally win that Oscar).


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