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Fruitvale, Before Midnight, Stories We Tell first Oscar contenders of 2013


The year starts slow, builds to a climax, then the inevitable disappointing conclusion.  But now’s the time when hope springs eternal and we might as well start the year with two auteurs.

Fruitvale launches the career of writer/director Ryan Coogler, whose Fruitvale won big at Sundance already, the audience award and the Grand Jury prize.  The plot, as written by HR’s Todd McCarthy:

The sort of material that you might more readily expect to be covered in a documentary — the true story of a senseless police shooting that takes the life of yet another young urban black man — instead has been made into a powerful dramatic feature film in Fruitvale. First-time writer-directorRyan Coogler, who, at 26, is the same age his subject would have been today, puts the life of Oscar Grant onscreen with conviction that makes it clear why Grant’s killing became a cause celebre and the springboard for massive protests against police brutality in Oakland. The project’s topicality, qualities and the presence of such connected Hollywood figures as producers Forest Whitaker and Octavia Spencer, the latter of whom plays Grant’s mother, ensure that attention will be paid, and, though commercial prospects are limited, the film certainly will serve as an effective springboard for Coogler, lead actor Michael B. Jordan and others involved.

Fruitvale has a ways to go but a word up by McCarthy is surely a very good start.

Meanwhile, another young filmmaker, Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell is set to make impact — it’s a tricky

sell, being that it’s sort of a documentary, sort of not. Anyone who says too much about it will ruin the surprise element so hopefully no one will.  But it is the work of a powerful filmmaker and confident storyteller. For this movie, though, I feel like the less said the better until it gets its official rollout, May 10, but last year it was all the rage at Telluride.

Before Midnight appears to also be contender for screenplay, at the very least. But I wonder if it won’t go into adapted instead of original being that the characters are based on other characters. Either way, it’s the raved about third installment of the Celine and Jess trilogy – the evolution of a couple.

All three of these films will be headed to the Spirit Awards in the major categories, one suspects, which is why it’s a good thing these films are getting noticed early in the year, before the major Oscar contenders obliterate the smaller films.  This year, it was practically a miracle that Beasts of the Southern Wild made it all the way from Sundance on through the flurry of the season and landing with a Picture/Director nomination.

What seemed to drive Beasts through the year was its strong emotional impact. It didn’t matter how much buzz and attention it got, the movie lived up to it. It was a one-of-a-kind film, from the way they funded it (borrowing from the Obama ’08 campaign) to the way they cast it, wrote it and directed it.  When I think back on 2013, one positive characteristic about the year was the success of that film and I still believe the Academy did the right thing in nominated Benh Zeitlin for Best Director.

Here we have, at the least, contenders for original and adapted screenplay. I am holding out hope that you might also director nominations for one of them.  You just never know, right?