Movie News & Reviews

Filmmakers, actors with local ties figure in movie awards race

Sometimes connecting Sacramento to the movie awards season can be a stretch.

It requires mentioning, for the umpteenth time, that Tom Hanks studied at Sacramento State, or claiming Jessica Chastain’s Sacramento past even when she doesn’t.

Not this year. Sure, there’s Hanks (umpteenth mention plus 1, because he still speaks fondly of Sacramento and is an American treasure). He’s been nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award, a Golden Globe and is likely to draw a best-actor Oscar nomination for his performance as the captain of a hijacked merchant ship in “Captain Phillips.”

But three young talents with Sacramento ties – Ryan Coogler, Greta Gerwig and Brie Larson – still are in the awards hunt as well.

Coogler, 27, starred as a wide receiver at Sacramento State, where he earned a degree in finance and took film courses before moving on to USC’s film school. His first feature, “Fruitvale Station,” (DVD Jan. 14) is based on the true story of Oscar Grant, the unarmed young man fatally shot by a BART police officer in 2009.

“Fruitvale” started 2013 by winning the Grand Jury and Audience prizes at the Sundance Film Festival. The film was released in July to widespread critical acclaim.

Oscar chances for “Fruitvale” faded with the releases of the heavy-hitter awards-bait movies of fall and winter. It drew no SAG nor Globe nominations often good indicators of a film’s Academy Awards outlook.

But Coogler was acknowledged as the year’s breakthrough director by New York’s independent-minded Gotham Awards. The film will vie for three Independent Spirit Awards for best first feature, best male lead (Michael B. Jordan) and best supporting actress (Melonie Diaz).

“Fruitvale” remains on many awards prognosticators’ list as a possibility for the 10-film Academy Awards best-picture field. Oscar nominations are scheduled for Jan. 16 and the ceremony for March 2.

If pure critical praise were a bigger factor in nominations, then Larson, 24, would make the five-person Oscar best-actress category. Larson, who spent her early years in Elk Grove, has been lauded for her sensitive work as a youth-home worker with her own sad past in “Short Term 12” (DVD Jan. 14).

The Gotham Awards named her best actress, and she’s also up for a lead-actress Independent Spirit Award. But Larson was not nominated for a SAG Award or a Globe, and she and the low-low budget “Short Term 12,” released by a small distributor, faces stiff competition from actresses in films with bigger marketing budgets.

Gerwig, 30, won hearts this year as an apprentice dancer growing too mature for her youthful follies in the delightful “Frances Ha” (DVD and streaming), which was co-written by Gerwig and shot partly in Sacramento. But she wasn’t among the names mentioned as Oscar possibilities until she received a Golden Globe nomination as best actress in a musical or comedy.

So who knows? Here’s what's certain: Even if Coogler, Gerwig and Larson are shut out by Oscar, we still can catch glimpses of them on TV awards shows. The Globes are set to air Jan. 12 on NBC, and the Independent Spirit Awards March 1 on IFC.

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