By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com January 24, 2012 at 10:45AM
This year's Oscar nominations are something of an anomaly as for the first time in a while, there's no Sundance breakout among them. The expansion of the possible nominees two years back meant that the field had room for films like "Precious," "An Education," "The Kids Are All Right" and "Winter's Bone," movies that would have previously fallen by the wayside. Whereas the new system of a flexible number of nominees means that Sundance fare gets shut out of the big prize from now on (the only film anywhere near close was "Martha Marcy May Marlene," and that wouldn't have made even a field of ten this year) remains to be seen, but one film already seems to have emerged out of Park City as a potential 2013 awards hopeful.
Based-in-fact drama "The Surrogate," from veteran, but unheralded writer-director Ben Lewin, bowed yesterday at Sundance to enormous acclaim, particularly for the central performances, from festival favorite John Hawkes and long-absent Oscar-winner Helen Hunt. The film tells the story of Mark O'Brien (Hawkes), a writer and poet crippled by polio, who sets out at the age of 38 to lose his virginity, with the help of his priest (William H. Macy) and the surrogate of the title (Hunt). O'Brien's tale has already been the subject of the 1997 Oscar-winning doc "Breathing Difficulties," and plenty of people on the Utah slopes have been tipping the film for similar glory (guys, we're a year from the nominations being announced; give it a rest).
And Fox Searchlight have been paying attention. In the biggest deal yet to close at the festival, and after an allegedly fierce bidding war, they've picked up worldwide rights to the film for around the $6 million mark, according to Variety. The company have had awards success with Sundance pick ups like "Little Miss Sunshine," so it's pretty clear what their intentions are with this one. It's their first deal to officially close this year, although they're also close on a pick-up to Benh Zeitlin's wildly acclaimed "Beasts Of The Southern Wild." Now most of the big films have debuted, expect the speed of acquisitions to pick up as buyers are circling hot titles like "Arbitrage," "Celeste and Jesse Forever," "Smashed" and "Safety Not Guaranteed," and news should break on those films, and many others, in the next few days.