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?

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  • Luke

    Will Weinstein be god or satan this year since he’ll be fighting for Fruitvale?

  • John B. Goode

    Warning – The Academy Branch of Directors hardly ever nominated African-American auteurs, as only two have been recognized of a nomination to date. This is similar to women – only three have been nominated, with one winning. It may sound like an act of sexism or racism, but history says so otherwise.

  • What about the directing debut of the Oscar winning Descendants writing duo (Nat Faxon & Jim Rash), The Way, Way Back AND David Lowery’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints ? Both received rave reviews at the Sundance Film Festival, not to mention former was picked up by Fox Searchlight (The Descendants) with a big marketing commitment. I think TWWB might just be the crowdpleaser and ATBS the critical darling of next season AND both could be strong players in Original Screenplay. Thoughts ?

  • The J Viewer

    Thanks for a read, Sasha.

    While I found nothing remarkable about her performances during her thesp period of time with some US studios’ theatrical releases back then, I remember Sasha’s brief comment […] a few days earlier give or take about this lovely Canadian actress-turned-director Sarah Polley’s this year’s effort, and that [A]rgo it got me interested in what she has to offer. All the best, and looking forward to it.

    Meanwhile, I am not sure what to expect from the on-screen couple of Hawke and the lovely Mademoiselle Delpy’s third installment of this, er, smash hit xD franchise insomuch as I did watch the first Before in theatre and found “*the*” gimmick quite interesting, the second Before on TV but basically felt disinterested (disinterested). Given Hawke’s last(?) month’s remarks on how wooonderful xD the Oscars [re awards season and the Oscars] en masse be, the quoted excerpts in part also included in one of AD’s previous articles, I am soooo looking forward to our holier Ethan Hawke’s third-Before contribution. : ) (*Well, to be fair, he was really great in Training Day though.*)

    I am hoping these hopeful candidates and more are just as great as last year’s titles.

  • Sasha Stone

    Warning – The Academy Branch of Directors hardly ever nominated African-American auteurs, as only two have been recognized of a nomination to date. This is similar to women – only three have been nominated, with one winning. It may sound like an act of sexism or racism, but history says so otherwise.

    Yep I know. But history will have to change.

  • 2013:
    Warning – The Academy Directors Branch hardly ever nominated African-American auteurs. It may sound like an act of sexism or racism, but history says so otherwise.

    Warning – America hardly ever elected an African-American president. It may sound like an act of sexism or racism, but history says so otherwise.

  • Pete

    Sarah Polley was beyond robbed of an Oscar nod for Sweet Hereafter and My Life Without Me. As a director she as already taken more artistic chances than Ben Affleck ever will.

  • Jack Traven II

    Since Before Sunset was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, I’m sure Before Midnight would be, too. If it’s as great as its predecessors, then it will be, should be, must be a shoo-in. In case it is great I hope it’ll get a lot of recognition.

  • Alec

    I am looking forward to Fruitvale. Michael B. Jordan has been around for over ten years(he was heartbreaking as Wallace on Season 1 of The Wire and was my favorite part of the movie Chronicle). The late October release date is a good sign.

  • daveinprogress

    I first saw Michael on Parenthood, and thought he was really fine new talent. I too look forward to Fruitvale.

  • CMG

    Academy can be weird on AA directors/auteurs. No love for Spike Lee or Charles Burnett but YES to Lee Daniels and John Singleton. I think McQueen may finally break through to voters because of the subject matter. He did two movies (one I love and one I wished I could love more about) that did not really feel like AMPAS’ wheelhouse with political terrorism in another country and sex. But dealing with something specifically American could finally get him attention.

    I love Sarah Polley. As an actor, person, and director. Take This Waltz was better than I expected (hey, Seth Rogen is a pretty solid actor) and there is something to be said about the ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’ sequence in it eliciting so many emotions from both the characters and the viewers.

    Check out Michael B. Jordan in latter seasons Friday Night Lights with Connie Britton and Kyle Chandler. The kid always had talent as did a lot of the young ensemble.

  • Josh

    I think the good bets as of the moment are:

    Best Original Screenplay, Before Midnight
    Best Cinematography, Stoker

  • Sammy

    McQueen’s Shame was the best movie of 2011 imho and it was a marvellous piece of filmmaking but unfortunately it was a shame the Academy snubbed it for whatever reason.

  • Patrick

    Stories We Tell is so good.

  • Chris Uszler

    I am very much looking forward to Sarah Polley’s “Stories We Tell.” Last year’s “Take This Waltz” made evident that she is a very talented filmmaker with a distinctive voice–so fresh, so smart, so observant. “Waltz” should have had the “Silver Linings Playbook” slot in the Motion Picture Academy’s recent Best Picture line-up. It, not “Playbook,” was 2012’s best movie about looking for love.

  • daveinprogress

    Chris, yes i’m with you – I really liked Polley’s ‘Waltz’. Michelle Williams was the Best Actress for me last year with Marilyn and Take this Waltz. She is such a vulnerable and committed actress on screen. It was great to see Seth Rogen stretch himself (likewise in 50/50) and Sarah Silverman too. The final sequence were indelible images. Polley was a great actor, so it is unsurprising that she is developing as such a fine writer/director too.

  • Joao Mattos

    I love Sarah Polley as an actress and as a director, she is begining to show her talent. Besides that, I have a kinky fethisism for movie directors behind the camera or/and using viewfinder. Picture just added to my colection. Thanks.

  • Dominik

    “The year starts slow, builds to a climax, then the inevitable disappointing conclusion”

    Like having sex!

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