Top 10 Sundance Grand Jury Prize Winners

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton
Script written by Radina Papukchieva

This annual cinematic event showcases the best in “indie” film. Join as we count down the Top 10 Movies Awarded the Dramatic Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. For this list, only films that actually won Sundance's top prize are eligible.

Special thanks to our user GamesWithRoss for submitting the idea on our interactive suggestion tool at http://www.WatchMojo.comsuggest
Script written by Radina Papukchieva

Top 10 Sundance Dramatic Grand Jury Prize Winners

This annual cinematic event showcases the best in “indie” film. Join as we count down the Top 10 Movies Awarded the Dramatic Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.

For this list, only films that actually won Sundance’s top prize are eligible. Their quality is truly impressive and will hopefully inspire our cinephile viewers to revisit some of these gems.

#10: “Fruitvale Station” (2013)

This feature-length debut by Ryan Coogler explores the last day in the life of Oscar Grant, a young black man killed in a clash with police on New Year’s. Based on an actual event, the film is a moving story of a young man trying to make amends for the mistakes he has committed towards the people he loves and towards himself. Michael B. Jordan gives an astounding performance, and this Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award-winning film became a sensation for its honest depiction of race struggles and police brutality in America.

#9: “Precious” (2009)

Based on the novel “Push” by Sapphire, this intense and powerful Sundance winner is a story about growing up in an abusive family and a judgmental society. The film stars Gabourey Sidibe as Precious – an illiterate and overweight 16 year-old sexually abused by her father, as well as mentally and physically tormented by her mother. Her only escape is into her daydreams, where she creates a world in which she is loved and respected. In addition to its three Sundance award wins, “Precious” was nominated for six Oscars, with the adapted screenplay and Mo’Nique’s incredible supporting performance as a monstrous mother taking home the gold statues.

#8: “Primer” (2004)

Here’s a true example of an independent film: Shane Carruth directed, wrote, produced, edited and scored “Primer,” and starred as the main character, Aaron. Oh, and he made it on a micro-budget of $7,000. Aaron and his friends are engineers, but they work on their own projects at night from his garage. One of those projects turns out to be a time machine, which ends up creating all kinds of existential and scientific dilemmas. Not only did “Primer” take home the Dramatic Grand Jury Prize from Sundance; it also won the Alfred P. SloanPrize, awarded to films that focus on science, technology or those working in the field. Since then, “Primer”’s become a bona fide cult classic.

#7: “American Splendor” (2003)

This comedy-drama and almost-mockumentary depicts the life of cartoonist Harvey Pekar, author of the cult American comic series “American Splendor.” Starring Paul Giamatti as Pekar, the movie quickly became a critics’ favorite, and won the award for Best Adapted Screenplay from the Writers’ Guild of America in addition to its Sundance win. To add in some authenticity and a meta-effect, there are even appearances from the real Pekar and his wife and sometimes writing partner, Joyce Brabner. Quirky and revelatory, the movie is celebrated today as one of the best films about the art of writing.

#6: “Beasts of the Southern Wild” (2012)

This next indie film is a magical fable about a little girl and her hot-tempered ailing father. Living in a Louisiana bayou community named “The Bathtub” with her dad Wink, Hushpuppy prepares for a devastating storm that will soon strike her hometown. Cut off from the rest of the world, residents have the choice to either flee by boat or remain in the Bathtub and fight prehistoric creatures freed from melting ice caps. Heartbreaking and bittersweet, this little story about a brave girl earned the Dramatic Grand Jury Prize and the award for Cinematography at Sundance, and received four Academy Award nominations including Best Picture and Actress for nine-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis.

#5: “You Can Count on Me” (2000)

Starring indie favorites Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo, our next entry is a story about the bond between a brother and sister who have drifted away from each other. When they were children, Samantha and Terry’s parents died in a car accident. Years later, they are reunited, Samantha now a single mother living in the same town and Terry still a wild child trying to stay out of trouble. Roger Ebert praised the film for its portrayal of this prickly relationship between these adult siblings. With the film itself winning the Grand Jury Prize as well as for Best Screenplay, Ruffalo and Linney were applauded for their perceptive, heartbreaking performances.

#4: “Winter’s Bone” (2010)

Before she was Katniss Everdeen, Jennifer Lawrence was Ree Dolly, an Ozark Mountain girl who isn’t afraid to skin a live squirrel if circumstances demand it. Ree is the sole caretaker of her two siblings and her mentally ill mother. To prevent her family from getting evicted from their home, she has to track down her father, who’s out on bail for drug-dealing. Hailed for its originality and emotional intensity, the film put Lawrence on the map and earned her first Oscar nomination, in addition to winning the Grand Jury Prize and Best Screenplay Award at Sundance.

#3: “Whiplash” (2014)

Who would’ve thought that a movie about a drummer trying to become the next Buddy Rich could look and feel so much like a boxing movie? Our next entry stars Miles Teller as Andrew Neiman and J.K. Simmons as his tyrannical teacher, Terence Fletcher. Explosive, intense and loaded with heart, “Whiplash” was only made thanks to the successful screening of a short film version at 2013’s Sundance Film Festival. The next year, it was 2014’s biggest Sundance success, winning both the Dramatic Grand Jury and Audience Awards and becoming an instant classic. Both a critique and an embrace of a hard, intense dedication to career, “Whiplash” is also one of the most memorable teacher-student stories in film.

#2: “Welcome to the Dollhouse” (1995)

This next movie on our list is a coming-of-age story about the insecurities of being a girl. Dawn, played by Heather Matarazzo, is not popular; she’s not pretty, and her only friend is an effeminate boy 2 years her junior. Dawn has two siblings: her brother Mark gets points because he is a good student, and her annoying little sister Missy is constantly doted on. While hilarious, the film is also a bitter portrayal of life as an outcast – for Dawn, things only get worse with time. This unflinching attitude is why the film earned the Dramatic GrandJury Award, and why it remains a timeless classic.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:
- “Ruby in Paradise” (1993)
- “Poison” (1991)
- “The Believer” (2001)
- “Girlfight” (2000)

#1: “Blood Simple” (1984)

Just one year after the Sundance Institute took over the festival and established the award, this film was honored with the Dramatic Grand Jury Prize. Written and directed by the Coen brothers before they were the Coen brothers, “Blood Simple” put the dynamic indie film duo on the map as film auteurs to watch. Featuring Frances McDormand, who quickly became a muse for the directors, the movie tells the story of a jealous husband who hires a private detective to murder his cheating wife and her lover. Viciously violent and surprisingly funny, “Blood Simple” is clearly the product of filmmakers with a unique vision and personal style – and the Sundance Grand Jury agreed.

Do you agree with our list? What is your favorite Sundance Dramatic GrandJury Prize winner? For more top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to