It’s no secret around here that our favorite Editor-in-Chief Clayton Davis doesn’t exactly favor Damien Chazelle’s musical juggernaut, “La La Land.” Were you to ask him, he’d say it’s a fine movie, but just that: it’s fine.
In the interest of full disclosure, I could not disagree more. Hence why Clayton asked me to write this piece. To me, “La La Land” is a masterpiece in every way. It showcases the very best of cinema in all of its various parts. The production design, cinematography, sound, music, acting, costumes, editing, screenplay and directing flow together in a way rarely seen on screen. As a former wannabe actress and forever dreamer, it spoke to me in a way my words fail to accurately describe. It’s far from the only movie I loved this year, but it’s far and above my favorite. I sincerely hope that every cinema lover feels the same way about a film that I do about “La La Land.”
This brings me to the lenses with which to understand the rest of this piece: my two-ish rules for being a film and awards season analyst:
- Cinema, like every art form, is completely subjective – and that’s okay. (See above lovefest for “La La”)
- Everything means nothing until it means something.
- Rules were made to be broken.
Keeping that in mind, how high can “La La Land” soar this awards season? The film dominated both the Critics’ Choice and Golden Globe Awards, with a much publicized historical sweep at the latter. But will the Academy agree? It’s important to remember that both the Critics’ Choice and Golden Globes are voted on by journalists, and have virtually no overlap with Academy voters.
The BAFTAs, on the other hand, are a different story. The group is roughly about the same size as AMPAS – around 7,000 members strong – and about 500 BAFTA voters are also AMPAS voters. So the fact that “La La Land” scored a field-leading 11 nominations from the group is nothing to scoff at. However, keeping No. 2 above in mind, in the last 20 years, the BAFTA Best Film winner repeated at the Oscars only 11 times. With the group’s penchant for liking British films – they are the British equivalent to the Oscars after all – it’s a good idea not to hedge your bets based on BAFTA alone, whether the film wins or loses.
What other groups have weighed in? This week sees several guilds and groups (Producers, Cinematographers, Visual Effects, Costumes, Directors, Sound, Makeup) announcing their picks before Oscar nomination voting closes Jan. 13, which should cement the film’s status in several below-the-line categories. Unless, of course, it misses, in which case things would get more interesting. Don’t bet on that, though.
The Writers Guild and Producers Guild cited the film, and the Directors Guild of America is expected to do the same when nominees are announced on Thursday. Chazelle has taken the prize from more critics groups than any other director (with “Moonlight” director Barry Jenkins hot on his heels), and he nabbed the Critics’ Choice and Golden Globe. As of now, the Oscar is his to lose.
This brings us to the Screen Actors Guild. While both Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling received nominations for their work in the film, the group overall skipped the film in Best Ensemble, a typical harbinger of Best Picture success. Not since the first year of the Best Ensemble award has the eventual winner of Best Picture (in that case, “Braveheart”) also not been nominated for Best Ensemble at SAG. The second news broke that “La La Land” didn’t receive the love in that category, critics were quick to point this out as a chink in the film’s armor. But I beg to differ (see rule No. 2). No film since “Ordinary People” took Best Picture without a corresponding editing nod… until “Birdman” did it two years ago. No film since “The Greatest Show on Earth” won Best Picture without two or more wins, until “Spotlight” did it last year. The Best Ensemble thing may be a rule, but rules were made to be broken. This is not to say that it doesn’t mean anything, but, it really doesn’t mean anything until it does.
Furthermore, of the three main guilds that are typically looked to as the most indicative precursors, SAG is by far the least predictive. The PGA is incredibly accurate, with 19 of its 27 years correctly predicting Oscar. The DGA when it comes to predicting the Best Directing winner is insanely accurate – only missing seven times since 1950. However, when looking at the same 27-year period of the PGAs, the DGA has also correctly given its prize to the director from the eventual Best Picture Oscar winner 20 times, missing only seven years. SAG’s Ensemble prize, by contrast, is accurate just over 50 percent of the time – getting 11 winners correct since 1995.
Does this mean “La La Land” is the uncontested Best Picture winner this year? Maybe, maybe not. Again, it all could mean nothing until it means something, and conversely, it all means something until it means nothing. We’ll have a better idea when the PGA and DGA announce their winners, but for now, this is how I expect Oscar nominations to go for “La La Land”:
- Best Picture
- Best Director
- Best Actor
- Best Actress
- Best Original Screenplay
- Best Cinematography
- Best Editing
- Best Costume Design
- Best Production Design
- Best Sound Mixing *
- Best Original Score
- Best Original Song 1 – “City of Stars”
- Best Original Song 2- “Audition (Fools Who Dream)”
(*: Some are predicting the film to be nominated for Best Sound Editing as well. This has never happened with a live-action musical before, but again, anything is possible.)
Without knowing the results of the likes of BAFTA, PGA, DGA etc. it’s incredibly difficult (and almost fruitless) to say with any degree of certainty what the film will win. That being said, it wouldn’t be insane to start predicting a nine or 10 win night, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress and a slew of the technical awards.
Much like the movie itself, some of this may be bold. It’s all subject to change and only time will ultimately tell which precursors have meaning and which do not. Until then, here’s to the ones who dream, foolish as they may seem.