In a bounty year for breathtaking films made by brilliant artists, it's perhaps a little trollish to talk about "snubs." Snubs imply that someone was both undeserving and definitively worse than someone else among this year's Oscar contenders, and frankly, I'm not seeing it.
That said, if there's one man who was unfairly lost among all the bombast and big names in the Best Actor category this year, it was Michael B. Jordan, GQ's Breakout of the Year and star of Fruitvale Station, whose heartrending portrayal of Oscar Grant III, a 22-year-old man shot by police on a BART platform in 2009, flattened the hearts of everyone who laid eyes on it. A "snub," over the likes of Chiwetel Ejiofor and Matthew McConaughey? Perhaps not. But a damn shame, for sure.
The July release date almost certainly had something to do with it. The interior logic of movie studios is beyond me, but pushing out a movie of such small scope and marquee wattage in the middle of summer seems unadvisable, awards-wise. The Wolf of Wall Street could've come out then, stuffed its pockets Jordan Belfort-style, and at the end of the year we would still remind ourselves of what Marty and Leo did this year. Not so much Fruitvale, with a first-time feature director and a promising young actor at its core. (And the film's biggest name, Octavia Spencer, could've won Best Supporting with about two minutes' worth of her performance here.)
Or is it because his performance isn't, you know, actor-y enough? That's a frequent accusation of Oscar's bias, and it's fair to say here. In the five nominations' performances, the hyperbole is already evident on-screen, anguish and anger felt by the actor before it is by the audience. There's nothing wrong with that: It's worked since the days of Laurence Olivier, and it can still tug at the heartstrings today. But the Academy can sometimes prefer it over subtlety, to the point of exclusion. As someone who still stings at the memory of Sean Penn (Mystic River) winning over Bill Murray (Lost in Translation), I might be overly quick to jump to that conclusion.
Jordan, however, is content to let the tragedy play its course. He plays a young man with grown-man problems, whose demise and notoriety are set in motion by events of unknown and unintended consequence. His past transgressions happened offscreen in another life—all we see is a genial working man, a mama's boy, the father of a young girl. And so, we spend two hours warming up to what we know to be a doomed man's life.
A whole mess of butterfly flutter and fly throughout the last day of Oscar's life—a jailhouse grudge here, a meet-cute with a young woman there—until it all comes to pass on a BART train platform on New Year's Day. A young black man is wrongfully killed by white police officers, a story that's all the more incredible for being painfully unremarkable. There will be many more days, and many more Oscar Grants. Jordan's likeability, warmth, and wit, his ability to play every moment like it's a day in the life, right up until it isn't, created a whole sunlit latticework for that brutal sledgehammer of an ending to smash right through. When Oscar's shocked and scared and yet somehow still warm and pleading, almost friendly yells of "You just shot me, bruh!" gasped out in that train station, I was a goner. I cried. My girlfriend sobbed uncontrollably. If there's any objective mark of an Oscar winner, this film and this performance incontrovertibly met it.
It's a shame that Fruitvale Station didn't find a lousier year to get released in. In Hollywood, buzz is a tangible thing that transcends merit. "Academy Award-nominated" is a label that changes careers. Michael B. Jordan will almost certainly get his one day—but in any other year, that day would've been today.GQONTD, what did you think of Fruitvale Station?