Can ‘Fruitvale Station’ Match ‘Beasts’ at Oscar Noms?

Last year's Sundance champ earned four Oscar noms

Last year’s Sundance Film Festival grand jury champion, “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” hit it precociously big in Oscar season, with nominations for picture, lead actress, directing and adapted screenplay. Will “Fruitvale Station,” which won both the audience and grand jury prizes at Sundance this year, do as well?

Probably not, though the film, which opens in theaters Friday, does have realistic possibilities for noms.

Whatever your thoughts about the film (I liked it, Metacritic was at 78 as of Wednesday), its straightforward narrative might work against it in a best picture race filled with dynamic works. “Beasts” was an underdog throughout 2012, but ultimately made the cut thanks in large part to how original and multifaceted it seemed. “Fruitvale” doesn’t have the same attributes.

An 84-minute running time also doesn’t help the cause of “Fruitvale” with an Academy that tends to expect more heft. “Beasts” was the only one of last season’s nine picture nominees not to eclipse two hours, and even it was 10% longer than “Fruitvale.”  That’s not at all to say “Fruitvale” should push to extend its length — there are more important considerations for a film than what it means at awards time. But when it comes to AMPAS, shorter is more dismissible.

Without a picture nomination in the cards, you can probably forget about 26-year-old “Fruitvale” director Ryan Coogler following in the footsteps of 30-year-old “Beasts” helmer Benh Zeitlin to the Oscars. Because the screenplay category is divided into adapted and original, there’s a little more hope there for Coogler.

Popular on Variety

But the best chances for Oscar recognizing “Fruitvale” might be on the acting side. Michael B. Jordan is more and more shaping up to be this generation’s Denzel Washington, and after making memorable appearances on such shows as “The Wire” and “Friday Night Lights,” this feels like his cinematic coming-out party. The lead actor category is notoriously challenging, but at a minimum, Jordan should be (forgive the cliche) in the conversation.

Then there’s Octavia Spencer, who won the supporting actress Oscar for “The Help” in 2011. Spencer is marvelous in “Fruitvale,” and a flashback scene between her and Jordan provide each with a searingly memorable clip. Perhaps Spencer’s performance isn’t quite as big in scope as the one in “Help,” but it’s still a legitimate player in this year’s game.

By the way, Melonie Diaz’s perf in “Fruitvale” is equally if not more worthy, but she won’t have the same name recognition entering the race.

At a minimum, “Fruitvale Station” has Indie Spirit Awards written all over it. It might go farther than that, thanks to Jordan, Spencer (and maybe Diaz), backing from the famously effective Weinstein Co. and the potential to become a real conversation piece. Even if Coogler and his picture ultimately get ignored by the Oscars, they have achieved something here. It reminded me of “United 93” — particularly in the final act — in how tense it made me feel. That’s no small accomplishment.

More Film

  • Taylor Swift Variety Facetime

    Taylor Swift Opens Up About Overcoming Struggle With Eating Disorder (EXCLUSIVE)

    In the new Taylor Swift documentary, “Miss Americana,” which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival Thursday night, there’s a montage of derogatory commentary about the singer that has appeared on cable shows over the years. One of the less nasty remarks: “She’s too skinny. It bothers me.” As it turns out, it eventually bothered Swift, [...]

  • The Painter and the Thief

    'The Painter and the Thief': Film Review

    Incredible. That’s the word that comes to mind with Benjamin Ree’s “The Painter and the Thief,” a stranger-than-fiction friendship story in which vérité techniques produce unbelievable results. I don’t mean to imply that this astonishing documentary isn’t truthful. Rather, I’m in awe of how things played out, and fully aware that there was a certain [...]

  • 'The Cost of Silence': Exclusive First

    'The Cost of Silence': Exclusive First Look at Sundance Doc on Deepwater Horizon Spill

    “The Cost of Silence,” a new documentary about the aftermath of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion, doesn’t just chronicle the worst oil drilling disaster in history. It looks at the devastating impact that the use of chemicals called “dispersants” had on Gulf Coast families. It turns out the so-called cleanup was not the success story [...]

  • Cuties

    'Cuties': Film Review

    Eleven-year-old Senegalese immigrant Amy (Fathia Youssouf) reckons there are two ways to be a woman. Amy could mimic her mom (Maïmouna Gueye), a dutiful drudge with three kids and a husband who’s just announced he’s bringing home a second wife. Or she could copy the “Cuties,” a quartet of brazen girls who wear tube tops [...]

  • Crip Camp

    'Crip Camp': Film Review

    If “Crip Camp” strikes you as a politically incorrect name for a movie about a summer camp where kids on crutches, in wheelchairs, and otherwise living with disabilities found it possible to feel included rather than ostracized, consider this: The irreverent, stereotype-busting documentary was co-directed by Berkeley-based sound designer Jim LeBrecht, a spina bifida survivor [...]

  • Summertime

    'Summertime': Film Review

    “Use your words.” I remember one of my sheroes saying that to a stammering 4-year-old decades ago. Here was a woman who’d dedicated her life to preschool education, whom I assisted for several summers, trying to get through to a tongue-tied little boy. The more he sputtered, the more upset he got, unable to express [...]

  • Mickey Rourke

    Film News Roundup: Mickey Rourke's 'Adverse' Opens Fantasporto Festival

    In today’s film news roundup, a Mickey Rourke crime drama will premiere in Portugal, a film about the Purdue Pharma scandal is in the works and the documentary “After Parkland” will be shown at 100 locations on the second anniversary of the Parkland shootings. FESTIVAL OPENER The world premiere of Mickey Rourke’s crime drama “Adverse” [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content