Is ‘Fruitvale Station’ a major Oscar contender?

Since the Oscars expanded the Best Picture race in 2009, at least one indie darling has contended ever year: “Precious” (2009), “Winter’s Bone” (2010), “The Tree of Life” (2011) and “Beasts of the Southern Wild” (2012).

This year, “Fruitvale Station” from the Weinstein Company could fill that slot over films as diverse as “Before Midnight,” “Mud,” “The Place Beyond the Pines,” and “The Way Way Back.”

At age 26, writer-director Ryan Coogler makes an impressive debut with this feature based on the true story of Oscar Grant who was shot by a transit police officer at a BART station on New Year’s Day 2009.

The film, which has already been lauded at Cannes and Sundance, has that perfect combination of emotional resonance and timely subject matter — no doubt the highly divisive George Zimmerman verdict will help build buzz — to put it over the top. It scored 88 among top critics at Rotten Tomatoes and 82 at Metacritic. And it debuted last weekend to boffo business, taking in almost $400,000 on seven screens. 

Coogler could well become the third African American filmmaker — after John Singleton (“Boyz N the Hood,” 1991) and Lee Daniels (“Precious,” 2009) — to be nominated for Best Director. Just last year, newcomer Benh Zeitlin (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”) reaped a helming bid. While Coogler could do the same if he can maintain that momentum throughout the season, more likely is recognition for his Original Screenplay, a field that often rewards fresh talent.

Michael B. Jordan, who as Grant is in virtually every scene, is a possibilty for Best Actor. However, this newcomer has the misfortune of contending in what is always the most competitive race so securing a nomination will be an uphill battle.

As Grant’s mother, Octavia Spencer could reap her second Supporting Actress nod, following her win two years ago for “The Help.” While she has only a handful of scenes in the film, they’re powerful enough that they could push her through.

So there you have it: five possible nominations, all in major categories. Will “Fruitvale Station” deliver the goods or will academy members get their indie-fix elsewhere?

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