What happened to "Fruitvale Station?"
It had all the right buzz. All the right cred. Even as recently as late fall, East Bay director Ryan Coogler's insightful feature-length debut about the life of Oscar Grant III, who was killed by a BART police officer in 2009, was seen as a strong Academy Awards contender in many categories -- for the moving performances of Michael B. Jordan, Octavia Spencer and Melonie Diaz, as well as best picture and director.
Yet as the Oscar nominations emerged Thursday, there was not so much as a nod.
Social media was not happy about this. "How in the world did Ryan Coogler not get a nomination as Best Director of #FruitvaleStation, Octavia Spencer either? Ridiculous," one Twitter user wrote.
Even the critics were dismayed.
"Having nominated nine films for best picture, surely the academy could have come up with a 10th in such a strong year. What a perfect way to honor 'Fruitvale Station,'" noted Washington Post critic Ann Hornaday.
When it opened in July, "Fruitvale" -- which was released last week on DVD -- had been a big part of the Oscar conversation with great reviews and the backing of Hollywood heavy-hitters such as Forest Whitaker and Harvey Weinstein. However, its absence from the BAFTA, Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globe nominations "demonstrated its weakness in the awards race," wrote critic Francisco Salazar of Latinos Post.
If nothing else, the journey of "Fruitvale" from standout Sundance Film Festival star and rise to motion picture to its complete fall from Oscar view serves as an object lesson in the capricious nature of Hollywood awards -- and the academy's short-term memory.
Historically, Oscar snubs are not unusual for midyear releases. "Fruitvale" opened in theaters five months before the traditional year-end push; for the academy, entire mountain ranges have formed in between. Of course, there are always exceptions; in 2012, "Beasts of the Southern Wild," which had been released in late June, bucked the trend and wound up in the Best Picture category and landed surprise nominations for its young actress and first-time director.
Despite the strong showing of "12 Years a Slave" in this year's nominations, the Oscars shunned other strong contenders with African-American themes and performances. "Lee Daniels' The Butler" opened Aug. 16 and was immediately praised, especially for performances by Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey. Whitaker, Winfrey and the ensemble cast all picked up nominations for this year's SAG Awards, which will be held this weekend. But it got no recognition at the Golden Globes, which foreshadowed an inevitable fall from the Oscar radar.
Coogler could not be reached for comment Thursday, but he previously had said that he wasn't in it for awards. His motive was to tell the story of Grant as a flawed, family-loving, complex human being, and he succeeded at that with the deft handling of the incendiary case. On Jan. 1, Coogler joined Grant's family at the Fruitvale BART station to mark the fifth anniversary of Grant's death.