Sundance Film Festival: Past Winners You’ve Never Heard Of

 @EllenKilloran
on January 17 2012 6:16 PM

Who’s
Who’s that guy? Oh, that’s Tom Noonan, the triple threat behind the 1994 Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner.

Sometimes, a Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival can yield big box office dollars (“Precious”), launch the careers of unknown artists (Jennifer Lawrence), and lead to Academy Award nominations (“You Can Count on Me”) . But other times -- perhaps more often than we might guess -- a winning film will disappear into obscurity shortly after taking the coveted award.

We’ve found a handful of films (and their trailers) that won the Grand Jury Prize* at the Sundance Film Festival, but didn’t do a whole lot after that.

*The Grand Jury Prize is selected by a panel of five professionals in the arts, and is considered the highest honor at Sundance. The Grand Jury Prize has occasionally been awarded to films that also won the Audience Award, but this is relatively rare.

“In the Soup” (1992)

After beating Reservoir Dogs at both Sundance and Cannes, In the Soup was quickly forgotten, despite a winning performance by Steve Buscemi as a failing screenwriter with big dreams and an unrequited crush on his neighbor (Jennifer Beals). “In the Soup” grossed just over $250,000, while “Reservoir Dogs” (which also starred Buscemi) took in almost $3 million the same year.

“Personal Velocity” (2002)

Rebecca Miller – daughter of Arthur, wife of Daniel Day-Lewis – adapted her own short fiction into a three-part feature highlighted by a magnificent performance from Parker Posey. While “Personal Velocity” did not go on to achieve mainstream success or too much in the way of critical accolades, it wasn’t a complete flop at the box office –grossing over $800,000 on less than 50 screens.

Forty Shades of Blue (2005)

Riveting performances from RipTorn and Russia’s Dina Corzon – who was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award – propelled “Forty Shades of Blue” to Sundance success, though some feel the award should have gone to “Junebug,” the film that put Amy Adams on the map. “Forty Shades of Blue” received mixed critical reviews after its theatrical release and was a box office disaster, taking in only $75,000 domestically against a $1.5 million budget.

“Smooth Talk” (1985)

A young, pre-breakthrough Laura Dern plays a misguided teenage golden girl in an adaptation of the chilling Joyce Carol Oates story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” Despite impressive performances by Dern and Mary Kay Place (“Big Love,” “Bored to Death”) the film grossed less than $20,000 at the box office.

What Happened Was... (1994)

Tom Noonan wrote, directed, and starred in the dialogue-heavy portrait of coworkers awkwardly navigating a first date. “What Happened Was…” also received a Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at Sundance, and earned two Independent Spirit Award nominations. Despite high expectations, the film made just over $325,000 at the box office.

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