The Sundance Film Festival provides the first snapshot of what Hollywood has in store in any given year. Almost without fail, at least a few gems leave Park City, Utah, to become mainstream smashes. Last year’s slate gave us “Call Me by Your Name,” “Get Out,” “The Big Sick,” “Mudbound” and “Icarus,” all of which are now Oscar nominees.
But 2018′s crop lacked the same sense of discovery. The buzz of Sundance didn’t coalesce around any one or two movies the way it usually does, nor has it yielded a massive distribution deal destined to produce the year’s indie success story.
That isn’t to say there weren’t still gems to be found in the mountains. But will any of them appear on the 2019 Oscar ballot? It’s questionable. Gone, mostly, were the breathless eight-figure acquisitions built on rousing premieres and emphatic tweets.
It seems distributors took notes after Fox Searchlight ponied up a record-breaking $17.5 million for “Birth of a Nation” in 2016, only to watch that movie smolder with controversy by the time it opened in theaters. The largest deal, so far, is that of “Assassination Nation,” an aggressive thriller about misogyny and social-media antics. It went for an impressive $10 million, while others sold for quieter sums.