La La Land has been nominated for a record-equalling 14 Oscars, matching All About Eve and Titanic’s record. It has already won a record-breaking seven Golden Globe Awards. Some people are disputing the hype. I believe the reason it was so successful at the Globes is because it’s a musical, and the Globes divides it’s main awards into two categories: Drama and Comedy or Musical; so La La Land and it’s actors did not face competition from the likes of Moonlight and Manchester on Sea.
The same could be said of its numerous Oscar nominations: being a musical it has a good score, original songs, good staging, production and cinematography. But none of that is to take away from what a great film it is.
Can it win all the awards it’s been nominated for? I’ve broken down the categories to find out. Let’s start with the actors…
Best Actor – Probably not
Ryan Gosling has gone from indie darling to fully fledged superstar in recent years and this film has only cemented his status as the top. He is a very versatile actor, having starred in teary romantic dramas like The Notebook in his early days, gritty indie films like Drive where he kicks a man’s head in, comedies like buddy cop film The Nice Guys, opposite Russell Crowe, and now he can add a musical to his roster.
His singing and dancing may not be the best ever seen on screen, but this makes him more endearing. The iconic dance sequence at sunrise overlooking Hollywood sees him not quite elongate his arm enough and his singing is sometimes ever so slightly flat. But what he lacks in technical perfection, he makes up in charm; like a modern day Gene Kelly.
Most impressive is the fact that he learnt jazz piano for the role; so well in fact that they didn’t need the hand doubles that they hired for the close up shots. He modestly claims he had some experience on the keys from his youth playing in a garage band, but jazz piano is a whole other matter. And he nails it.
In terms of emotive acting, those soppy eyes come in use as he lusts after Emma Stone and you can feel his frustration and determination as the struggling jazz artist, just as much as you can feel how much he really loves Mia.
Will he win? Personally I think Casey Affleck has a better chance for his gritty performance in Manchester on Sea, and after his win at the SAG Awards, Denzel Washington could also be a threat. So probably not, sorry Ryan.
Best actress – Probably, yes
Like Gosling, Emma Stone has also become a Hollywood darling. Comedy is her strong suit: she has excellent timing and good improv skills, building her CV with roles in clever teen comedies like Superbad and Easy A. She has been gradually working her way towards more ‘serious’ roles, appearing in The Help, then Birdman – for which she was Oscar nominated as the eponymous character’s troubled daughter.
She still gets some laughs in this film, but also like Gosling, it’s her frustration and determinedness, that soon subsides into hopelessness, as she chases her dream of being an actress attending audition after audition. “It’s just a pipe dream,” she soon concludes. But Gosling’s Seb urges her to keep going.
Stone’s dancing, also like Gosling’s, is not technically perfect but the pair match each other well. She has appeared on Broadway, in the 2015 production of Cabaret, so she’s certainly got the musical chops. I was not blown away by her voice until the Audition song (The Fools Who Dream) where you can feel every word she sings. It brought tears to my eyes; simply beautiful. I’m sure her performance played a large part in the song being nominated for Best Original Song – a bonus nomination following the lead song City of Stars also being nominated for that category.
Stone is currently favourite to win Best Actress. I personally think that Natalie Portman in Jackie was better. And she’s also got competition from Isabelle Huppert for her role in French film Elle after she picked up Best Actress in a Drama at the Golden Globes. I think Stone will win because Hollywood loves her, but I think Portman deserves it more.
Best achievement in directing – Yes
Damien Chazelle should win this award. He’s just picked up the top honour at the Director’s Guild Award, making him the youngest person to ever pick up the award at just 32 years old. When accepting a medallion for his nomination he said, “I’m a movie-maker because I’m a movie lover, first and foremost.”
He went on to say, “Movies are powerful, because they speak to everyone. They speak to all countries, all cultures.” Hear, hear. His 2014 film Whiplash, which helped him to raise funds to make his passion project, La La Land, proved that the man has talent, but this film is his crowning glory. It took him years to get made but was worth the wait. I hope he’ll be rewarded for it.
Mel Gibson won’t win Best Director for Hacksaw Ridge, he’s fallen out of favour with The Academy following his numerous rants, scandals and faux-pas. There is a case for Moonlight director Barry Jenkins, La La Land’s biggest threat overall and the kind of gritty drama that usually garners lots of industry love and awards. And director Garth Davis won the award for First Time Feature film at the DGA, putting him in the running for this award. But basically, Chazelle is a shoe-in for Best Director.
Best original screenplay – Maybe
La La Land is a truly lovely story; a modern love story about modern Hollywood, Chazelle’s love letter to Hollywood. His script is on-point: witty, good dialogue and some poignant quotes, “I’m letting life hit me until it gets tired, then I’ll hit back. It’s a classic rope-a-dope”, “How are you going to be a revolutionary if you’re such a traditionalist?” And the fact that it’s all so effortlessly interwoven with songs and dance routines makes it even better.
Some people, myself included, have disputed the ending (SPOILER ALERT) saying that Mia and Seb should have ended up together to create the saccharine Hollywood ending that so many longed for, but it’s a solid story and has real heart. If it wins, La La Land will be the first musical to win this category since Mel Brooke’s The Producers in 1967.
This year sees three black writers nominated in the screenplay category for the first time, a big improvement since last year’s #OscarsSoWhite controversy. Hell or High Water was a great film: another modern take on a traditional genre, though this time for Westerns. The Lobster was ridiculous, but in a good way, but is certainly an outsider. 20th Century Women may have stood a chance if La La Land weren’t in the category; I think Manchester by the Sea is Chazelle’s biggest threat in this category, but he has a good shot at winning this little gold man.
Best achievement in cinematography – hard to say, but probably
There’s no arguing that La La Land is beautifully shot: it’s full of colour and some shots could easily be taken as individual stills and framed they are so picturesque. Shot in CinemaScope splendour, the film’s visuals continue the whole film’s nod to traditional films: it’s like when colour was first introduced and films were so heavily saturated in colour, just because they could be. And it works: it’s a happy, colourful film so a happy, colourful canvas fits.
Conversely, Moonlight’s dark visuals reflect the film’s dark themes effectively. Lion is one of the more visually beautiful films this year with great sweeping scenes of Calcutta and an effective narrative shooting some of the film from a child’s point of view. It has already won the American Society of Cinematographers Award for Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in Theatrical Releases, so maybe Lion will beat La La Land to the punch.
Best achievement in film editing – No
La La Land could win here, but I would be obliged to say that another film might snag this one. But I don’t know who… Arrival or Hell or High Water both stand a good chance: original screenplays that certainly saw the editors face tough decisions on the cutting room floor to make succinct films: and coming in at just one hour and 42 minutes, Hell or High Water was enjoyably concise while still being powerful.
Then there is Moonlight which spans over several decades, so had a lot do to make a compelling story.
Moonlight also marks the first black woman to earn an Oscar nomination in film editing for Joi McMillion, who edited the film with Nat Sanders. Also in the category is Hacksaw Rigde. Big action and war films often win Best Film Editing, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see the war epic win here – Mad Max Fury Road, 2016; The Hurt Locker, 2010, The Bourne Ultimatum, 2008, Black Hawn Down, 2002; Saving Private Ryan, 1998 etc. I rest my case.
Best achievement in production design – Maybe, but likely not
This category is a big MAYBE. The sets and scenery are beautiful, particularly in the epilogue: that should win an award in itself. But Jackie is the biggest competition for La La Land here thanks to the beautiful and meticulous recreation of the White House. When Jackie presents the televised tour of the White House, you can see the level of detail put into everything: from the Oval office to her bedroom and the Lincoln Room, not a hair is out of place; this is a strong contender.
But let’s not forget Passengers, which could be a dark horse. The film was pannedd by critics in terms of script and plot, but there’s no arguing that the large-scale set of the spaceship is quite spectacular. Passengers could take us for a ride on this one, but I’m betting on Jackie.
Best achievement in costume design – No
While the costumes are nice, they are just that: nice. Good bold, primary colours, like when Mia and her friends swish and flick their way down the road to ‘Someone in the Crowd’ and Mia’s bold yellow sundress against the deep purple backdrop on ‘What a Lovely Night’.
Designer Mary Zophres will probably lose out to Jackie’s Madeline Fontaine who so successfully recreated the former First Lady’s most iconic outfits, including the two piece and pillbox hat that lead to her being called ‘the widow in pink’.
Best achievement in music written for motion picture, Score – Yes
There has been an abundance of great scores in film this year, Jackie was particularly beautiful and poignant, and I enjoyed the music for Arrival (so was surprised not was not nominated). Lion and Moonlight also serve up stirring soundtracks, but La La Land is truly excellent. I’ve got the soundtrack on my personal playlist at the moment and the hashtag LALALANDONLOOP was trending soon after it was released.
I’d like to say that La La Land has got this on, but maybe Passengers will sneak another one in here: space films always have a good score: Gravity, Moon, Alien, and of course 2001: A Space Oddessy of course being the pinnacle.
Best achievement in music written for motion picture, Original song – For sure
La La Land has got the best chance out of any film in this category quite simply for the fact that it has two nominations: for the lead song City of Stars, and for Audition (The Fools Who Dream). I think City of Stars will win; it’s a simple but enjoyable ditty that’s as catchy as it is enjoyable.
Also in this category is the song from Disney’s Moana – How Far I’ll Go, sung by Alessia Cara and written by multi-award winning Lin Manuel Miranda. I’m sure he would like to add another trophy to his cabinet case following the success of Hamilton, and he probably would have if this were any other year. There’s also Justin Timberlake’s feel good pop hit from Trolls, Can’t Stop the Feeling, but this had a better chance in the charts than at the Oscars.
There’s also outsider The Empty Chair from Jim: The James Foley Story. Nope I hadn’t heard the song until I just looked it up now, either.
Best achievement in sound editing – No
This award usually tends to go to more blockbuster, ‘big bang’ style films, so I don’t think La La Land is a shoe-in for this category, as good as the tapping of Mia and Seb’s feet are when they dance.
Hacksaw Ridge will probably win this along with editing due to format of film, although Arrival was good and would like to see it win something! Also nominated is Deepwater Horizon – lots of big bangs there, so maybe! And then there’s Sully, the surging noise of plane going down and the droning crowds from Sully’s point of view make it another likely contender, but I don’t think this one is for La La Land.
Best motion picture – Yes, Yes Yes!!
The big one. Best film. Can it do it? I think it can. As you may have read in my previous post, Hollywood loves films about the movie industry. The Oscars are voted for by The Academy, made up of employees of the film industry, so it is likely that they will lap up the golden age Hollwood nostalgia of La La Land.
Besides that, it genuinely is a lovely film – a modern musical that brings a smile to your face. With such heavy going and emotional films scooping the award in the last four years: Spotlight and especially 12 Years A Slave, it would be nice to have something a bit more upbeat – like The Artist – to scoop the top gong at The Oscars this year.
It has all the components of a great film: good story, good acting, good cinematography; nice to look at, nice to listen to. The fact that it has been nominated in so many other categories proves what a well-rounded film it is. It’s popular with critics and audiences alike and I think it’s likely to go down in history as a new classic: the go-to example of a modern musical.
Good luck La La Land!