Screen analyses the awards chances of Sundance 2011 hits including Like Crazy, Martha Marcy May Marlene and Tyrannosaur.

Sundance may seem like a long, long time ago (well, it was), but its influence on the awards season shouldn’t be overlooked. As the annual pace-setter for the US indie scene – certainly for more modestly budgeted fare, which has been its focus since John Cooper took over the reins from Geoff Gilmore several years ago – it now routinely launches a handful of pictures that can give the big boys and girls a run for their money in the great annual gong race.

So let’s cut to the chase: which of the Sundance 2011 crop will be this year’s Winter’s Bone? Paramount and Steve Rales’ Indian Paintbrush snapped up Drake Doremus’ patchy romance Like Crazy starring Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin on the first Sunday of the festival. Paramount’s publicity machine wasted little time telling audiences and critics this was the movie they needed to discover. There’s a whiff of artifice to all this because audiences had already had an opportunity to discover it by Sunday morning and it wasn’t the most widely discussed film that weekend from what I heard on the ground, nor did it set tongues wagging in Toronto last month, so let’s see what non-festival audiences and voters make of it when it opens in the US on Oct 28.

Brit Marling was one of two genuine breakouts at Sundance (more of the other in a bit) and she stood out in Mike Cahill’s artful sci-fi drama Another Earth. Fox Searchlight acquired the movie for English-speaking territories and will push it, but Another Earth barely grossed $1.3m in the summer and while Marling and Cahill are surely too talented not to succeed in Hollywood, this might not quite be their time.

Plenty of buzz has coalesced around the porcelain allure of Elizabeth Olsen, the other discovery of the festival. Her beguiling performance as a refugee from a cult in Sean Durkin’s Martha Marcy May Marlene inspired Searchlight to buy worldwide rights in Utah and they’ll push this one, too. Positive receptions in Cannes and Toronto have kept it in the conversation, but the question is, will Olsen be able to elbow her way into a likely best actress pool of Meryl Streep, Michelle Williams, Tilda Swinton, Viola Davis, Glenn Close and possibly Charlize Theron? It doesn’t appear to be the strongest year for lead actress, so maybe she has a chance.

JC Chandor’s captivating feature directorial debut Margin Call opens later this month in the US and if Roadside Attractions orchestrates a smart supporting actor campaign for Kevin Spacey and the financial crisis screenplay, it could well be a contender come Oscar night. It was hard to take my eyes off Dominic Cooper’s maniacal, rabbit-toothed portrayal of Uday Hussein and his body double in The Devil’s Double, so it will be interesting to see if Lionsgate pitch him against more institutional lead actor frontrunners like George Clooney and Leo DiCaprio, not to mention Gary Oldman, Jean Dujardin and possibly Woody Harrelson. And what price a nomination for Michael Shannon, mesmerising as ever in SPC’s outstandingly moody Take Shelter by the gifted Jeff Nichols?

People liked Tyrannosaur, Paddy Considine’s gripping, gritty anti-date movie, as well as Pariah, The Guard and Vera Farmiga’s directorial debut Higher Ground. However this quartet seems more likely to elicit support from the odd critics group, Film Independent and, in the case of Tyrannosaur, Bafta. Jose Padilha’s Elite Squad 2 is a thunderous critique of police and government corruption in Rio and fittingly will represent its country in the foreign language Academy Awards race. It’s a memorable film – and Brazil’s all-time box office champ – and deserves a nomination.

Talk to US documentarians and many will tell you they regard Sundance as the most vital documentary showcase in North America. This year’s edition would not disavow them of that opinion. Cindy Meehl’s horse whisperer picture Buck, James Marsh’s dark chimp story Project Nim, Andrew Rossi’s Page One: A Year Inside The New York Times, Marshall Curry’s activism saga If A Tree Falls: A Story Of The Earth Liberation Front, Steve James’ gang intervention epic The Interrupters, Asif Kapadia’s popular Formula 1 biopic Senna and David Weissman’s We Were Here, about the start of the AIDS epidemic and its impact on the gay community in San Francisco, all premiered in the snow. I’d be surprised if the bulk of Academy Award nominations don’t come from this crop.

For all previous Open Season awards blog posts, click here.