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Sundance 2013: 'Fruitvale' director Ryan Coogler on the life and death of Oscar Grant

“Call me. I’m a money player. Seriously.”

That’s what the ruddy-faced middle-aged white gentleman said to Ryan Coogler, the 26-year-old first-time writer-director of Fruitvale, as he shoved a business card into the young African-American man’s hand by way of introduction.

Seven days ago, Coogler was a complete unknown, a former college football player turned USC film student who’d captured the attention of Forest Whitaker’s production company with a trio of short films. But when Fruitvale premiered last Saturday at the Sundance Film Festival, dramatizing the real-life tragedy of Oscar Grant, the young black man shot in the back by Oakland transportation police in the wee hours of New Year’s Day 2009, Coogler’s life changed. There was the standing ovation at the MARC Theater in Park City. There were the hugs and tears from Grant’s family members who attended the premiere. And then there was the avalanche of business cards from industry titans and wannabes who see Coogler as Sundance’s latest wunderkind, this year’s Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild).

Coogler was the same age as Grant and living in the Bay Area when the 22-year-old was shot in the Fruitvale Bay Area Rapid Transit station in Oakland, and he remembers the community outrage, especially since shocked New Year’s Eve revelers recorded the shooting with their cellphones and quickly uploaded it to the Internet. When Whitaker took an interest in Coogler’s fledgling film career and asked for ideas, the young auteur quickly pitched Grant’s story. The Oscar winner signed-off on the spot, and before long, Coogler was presiding over a hometown production starring Friday Night Lights’ Michael B. Jordon as Oscar and Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer as his worried mother.

On Thursday night, Coogler took the stage again after a packed screening at Eccles Theater, Sundance’s biggest showcase. Another standing ovation. More handshakes and business cards. More “money players” circling — though the movie had already sold to The Weinstein Company.

Coogler sat down with EW to discuss the effusive reception to Fruitvale and his whirlwind week at Sundance.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When Oscar Grant was shot in 2009, where were you?
RYAN COOGLER: I was home for Christmas break from USC. I was working security at a rave called Sea of Dreams in San Francisco. I was just working the door for extra money. I got a call: somebody had been shot at the BART station in front of like a 10-car train full of people. He had no gun on him and the cops shot him. I was like, “That’s crazy.” And by the time I got home, maybe like 10 a.m., he had already passed away. It was already all over the internet. READ FULL STORY

Oscars and casting: Hollywood insiders discuss diversity

Diversity is an emotion-packed word more nuanced than one article or one year. But it should always be an ongoing topic of conversation in Hollywood until it stops being an issue, which it hasn’t.

EW recently talked to a range of insiders — from Beasts of the Southern Wild producer Michael Gottwald and Oscar winner Mo’Nique, who won the best supporting actress trophy in 2010 for urban drama Precious, to Precious casting director Billy Hopkins, and casting director Avy Kaufman, who headed casting for Ang Lee’s Life of Pi and Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln – about Oscars, diversity, and casting in Tinseltown.

READ FULL STORY

Casting Net: Kristen Stewart aiming to 'Lie Down in Darkness.' Plus: Diane Kruger boards Terrence Malick's Lincoln biopic

• Abraham Lincoln is totally blowing up, you guys. Diane Kruger (Inglourious Basterds) has signed up for The Green Blade Rises, playing the 16th U.S. president’s influential stepmother Sarah, who married Lincoln’s father in 1819 after his biological mother Nancy died from an illness. The film, produced by auteur Terrence Malick and penned by first-time director A.J. Edwards (credited as an editor on Malick’s upcoming To the Wonder), spans three years in Lincoln’s childhood in rural southern Indiana. So the black-and-white film, which begins shooting this fall, won’t overlap with Steven Spielberg’s impending biopic Lincoln, which covers the man’s final four months; but it will overlap with a few of the events in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, which had a much different suggestion for what killed Ma Lincoln. (Hint: It’s in the title.) (No, not hunters.) [Deadline]

Check out projects for MATTHEW McCONAUGHEYWILL FERRELL, CHRIS PRATT, KYLE CHANDLER, MARY ELIZABETH WINSTEADBOB ODENKIRK, YASIIN BEY (A.K.A. MOS DEF), and OCTAVIA SPENCER below:  READ FULL STORY

Casting Net: 'Rockford Files' film in development for Vince Vaughn. Plus: Octavia Spencer, Michael Douglas, James Van Der Beek

• Talk about timing is everything. In the wake of media saturation coverage of the Trayvon Martin shooting, Octavia Spencer and Michael B. Jordan (Chronicle) are negotiating to star in Fruitvale, an indie drama about another real-life, racially charged shooting death. Jordan would play Oscar Grant, the 22-year-old man who was accidentally shot and killed on New Year’s Day in 2009 by a Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer. Spencer would play his mother. First-time feature director Ryan Coogler will direct from his script; Oscar-winner Forest Whitaker is producing. [THR]

• Call it Grumpy Old HangoverMichael Douglas is in talks to star in Last Vegas, about a man who indulges in a bachelor party in Sin City before marrying a woman half his age. Jon Turtletaub (National Treasure) is directing. [Variety]

• Director Jason Reitman is beginning to fill out the cast of his newest project, Labor Day. Gattlin Griffith (Changling) is in talks to play the child at the center of the film, about a divorced woman (Kate Winslet) who encounters an escaped convict (Josh Brolin) with her son over Labor Day weekend. James Van Der Beek is also in talks to play a police officer. [THR]

John Cho (Star Trek) and Clark Duke (Hot Tub Time Machine) have signed up for The Identity Thief, a comedy starring Melissa McCarthy as a woman who takes the identity of an average family man (Jason Bateman). Seth Gordon (Horrible Bosses) is directing. [THR]

• The Good Wife‘s Josh Charles has signed on for Bird People, a French- and English-language drama from Lady Chatterley director Pascale Ferran about an American starting his life over in Paris. French actress Anaïs Demoustier will costar. [Deadline]

Read more:
Casting Net: Emily Blunt teaming up with Tom Cruise. Plus: Mark Ruffalo, T.R. Knight, Jared Harris
Casting Net: Justin Timberlake and Ben Affleck to make a gamble
Casting Net: Brad Pitt, Javier Bardem circling Ridley Scott’s ‘The Counselor’

Oscars 2012 Behind the Scenes: Casting 'The Help' nominees Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, and Jessica Chastain

Each year, the Oscars recognize A-list talent we regularly see on screen, on the red carpet, and in tabloids. But the Academy Awards also reward those who work behind the scenes: the writers, editors, costume designers, and others who help create trophy-worthy movie magic. This Oscars season, we’ll be toasting those off-screen artists by delving into the hidden secrets that helped create the on-screen magic that we — and the Academy — fell in love with. For more access backstage during this Oscars season, click here for EW.com’s Oscars Behind the Scenes coverage.

Only one film has three acting Oscar nominations this year: Tate Taylor’s The Help. We asked the movie’s casting directors, Kerry Barden and Paul Schnee, to tell us how Best Actress nominee Viola Davis and Supporting Actress nominees Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain each landed their roles. READ FULL STORY

All 20 Oscar acting nominees pose for official Oscar 'school' portraits. Which is your favorite?

For this year’s Oscars, the 20 acting nominees have posed for photographer Douglas Kirkland in what the Academy calls “Out of Character: Portraits of This Year’s Acting Nominees.” Clicking through them, two things quickly become clear: One, with rare exception, the men weren’t too keen on being creative with their poses. And two, with rare exception, the women were keen on doing anything but a straight-forward pose.

Basically, they’re like the fanciest school portraits ever. Here are my four favorites from the acting categories, starting with Best Supporting Actor (all credits to Douglas Kirkland and AMPAS):  READ FULL STORY

Pitt, Clooney, Davis, Mara and more talk performances, inspiration at annual Oscar luncheon

George Clooney came for the “free booze.” Octavia Spencer was stoked to just be in the “room with all those luminaries,” while Kenneth Branagh claimed it was “the camaraderie” that brought him to the annual Academy Awards Nominees Luncheon at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. But no matter what their reason for attending, most of the folks in the acting categories first stopped by the press room to talk shop, give praise and, in the case of Nick Nolte, threaten to tell a joke (which never materialized).

Here is taste of what the actors had to say about their performances, awards season, and their fellow nominees: READ FULL STORY

Oscars 2012: Watch videos for the major nominees

While you should see all the nominated films by Oscar night, Feb. 26, of course, here’s a good place to start, with clips from all the Best Picture, acting, and director nominees.

First up, the trailers for the nine films nominated for Best Picture:  READ FULL STORY

Octavia Spencer on her first Sundance film, and her Oscar nomination slumber party -- VIDEO

If you’re looking for Octavia Spencer tonight — the night before the Academy Award nominations are announced in the wee hours of the morning tomorrow — you’ll probably find her hanging in her PJs with The Help director Tate Taylor. That’s what the best supporting actress front-runner told EW’s Dave Karger yesterday at the Sundance Film Festival, while discussing Spencer’s role as an alcohol addiction counselor in the dramedy Smashed. Karger also talked with Spencer about why Michael Fassbender is stalking her, and what her favorite thing has been about riding the wave of The Help‘s wild success. Check out their interview below:  READ FULL STORY

'My Week With Marilyn', 'Tinker Tailor' lead BAFTA longlists

With 16 inclusions each, My Week With Marilyn and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy are leading the pack in the longlists for the 2012 British Academy Film Awards, which were announced today. In addition to making the cut for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay, both films have their stars in contention. (Marilyn‘s Michelle Williams, Kenneth Branagh, Eddie Redmayne, Judi Dench, and Zoe Wanamaker, as well as Tinker Tailor‘s Gary Oldman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Colin Firth, John Hurt, and Kathy Burke, are all on the acting longlists.)

Following Marilyn and Tinker Tailor for the most entries on the BAFTA longlists were The Iron Lady (14), The Artist, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Midnight in Paris, War Horse (13 each),  The Help, Hugo, Drive (12 each), and The Ides of March and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2 (11 each.) Notable exclusions from the BAFTA longlist include Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Melancholia, and Martha Marcy May Marlene, while major Oscar contender The Tree of Life earned just one mention in the cinematography category.

The longlist kicks off the first round of voting for the BAFTAs, which includes 15 entries in most categories. The five nominees will be chosen from these longlists in the second round. However, there are only five for animation and documentary in the first round of voting.  Nominations in all categories, including the shortlist for the Rising Star Award, will be announced on Jan. 17. Check out the entire BAFTAs 2012 longlist, including Original Screenplay, Adapted Screenplay, Documentary, Foreign Language Film, and Outstanding British Film here.  (Note: * marks  the five chapter picks.) READ FULL STORY

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