Our friends over at Indiewire conducted their first ever poll of critics and journalists at Sundance, and found that the group of 50 critics they interviewed (which, we must point out, did not include anyone from Cinematical - should we be offended?) voted overwhelmingly for Ryan Fleck's Half Nelson as their fave dramatic film. Indiewire's story doesn't specify the scientific validity of their polling method, or how it was conducted. Was it a poll conducted by impartial, official pollsters? Or was it more the type of poll where you ask everyone you meet over many drinks at a Sundance party which film they liked the best, and then trust your half-fogged memory to keep accurate track of the results?
At any rate, according to their results, the runner-up, Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland's Quinceañera, which won both the Sundance jury and audience prizes, and the other runner up, Michel Gondry's The Science of Sleep, each received less than half the votes Indiewire tallied for Half Nelson. The results Indiewire posted don't give us hard numbers, but if we remember our grade school math correctly, we can estimate that Half Nelson probably received somewhere around 25 votes, with Quinceañera and The Science of Sleep splitting the rest.
Now, I don't know exactly how many press passes were issued by Sundance this year, but I know there were at least 50 people in the press hospitality suite glomming on the free nosh everytime I was over there, and there were certainly several hundred swarming the Yarrow Lobby before and after every screening. So one has to somewhat question the scientific accuracy of a poll that includes only 50 of the press masses, without specifiying which 50 (were they all Indiewire staff and people they know? Randomly chosen press from David Poland to Roger Ebert to the guy writing copy for the Park City News?) and how the poll was conducted. Were those polled asked to just name their fave film from amongst all the films in the Dramatic Competition? Had all 50 even seen Quinceañera?
The point is, without this kind of information, this poll means exactly nothing. How is it relevant that 50 critics voted for Half Nelson over Quinceañera, which was selected by both jury and audience members, if we don't know whether said critics all saw both films, or the circumstances of the poll? It's about as valid as asking 50 random people on a Park City street corner which film should win. Audiences vote on Sundance films on ballots at the end of the screening, which, presumably, at least ensures they've seen the film before they rate it. The jury, I would assume, is required to view all the films in competition before rendering their vote.
Cinematical had a team of four people reviewing films at Sundance (that's 8 percent of the total number Indiewire polled, if you're keeping track at home); none of us managed to see Half Nelson and only one saw Quinceañera. Asking any of us to vote for our favorite might tell you which we liked best of the films we each actually saw, but it wouldn't tell you anything objective about whether Half-Nelson or Quinceañera is the better film.
Which film is the favorite is subjective under the best of circumstances, but presenting "poll results" like this tells us absolutely nothing other than that perhaps 25 or so critics liked Half Nelson. You might as well dig out your Rock-em-Sock-em Robots, label one Half Nelson and one Quinceañera, duke it out, label the result a poll and declare one the winner. It would have about as much validity.