OSCARS: How High Can ‘La La Land’ Soar?

La La Land

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:

  1. Cinema, like every art form, is completely subjective – and that’s okay. (See above lovefest for “La La”)
  2. Everything means nothing until it means something.
    1. 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.

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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.

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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”:

  1. Best Picture
  2. Best Director
  3. Best Actor
  4. Best Actress
  5. Best Original Screenplay
  6. Best Cinematography
  7. Best Editing
  8. Best Costume Design
  9. Best Production Design
  10. Best Sound Mixing *
  11. Best Original Score
  12. Best Original Song 1 – “City of Stars”
  13. 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.

Tell us: What do you think of “La La Land’s” awards chances? Have the SAG, PGA, Globes or BAFTAs changed your mind at all? Which stats are the most interesting to you? Let us know in the comments below!

About Lauren Huff

Lauren Huff is a film and awards geek. When she's not writing about film and the industry, she's drinking coffee, reading mystery novels or hanging out with her husband and stinking-cute puppy. She's reported from the red carpets of Austin Film Festival, SXSW and various film premieres. Her work has appeared in several outlets, including Deadline, The Hollywood Reporter, Us Weekly and more.
  • Knox Van Horn

    Fully agree with everything. I’ve seen the film 4 times already and I don’t hesitate to say it’s my second favorite movie of all time (right after Shawshank, shout out to Joey). Assuming it does manage the 13 noms you’re predicting, how many wins would you say come out of it?

    • Ack you’re beating me – I’ve seen it three times. 🙂 Nice to meet a fellow La La lover, although to each their own of course. Love Shawshank, too. I am currently unofficially predicting almost a clean sweep. I think 9, 10 is a good number. But I always wait to see how PGA/DGA (to a lesser extent SAG, even more so this year) play out before finalizing any predictions. For what it’s worth, in the six years I’ve made official predictions, I’ve never been wrong about Best Picture. I get these gut feelings I go with. This year, so far, that gut feeling is for LLL, but I realize it’s hardly scientific and I’m bound to be wrong eventually. 🙂

    • If you pardon my butting in, I think it could win 10, missing actor and actress and one of the two nominated songs. Which is a shame, because it’s one win shy of tying a record.

      • Knox Van Horn

        See I could see it getting 10 (with this specific nomination count), but that would be winning actress and then losing costumes

    • Lauren

      Ack you’re beating me – I’ve seen it three times. ? Nice to meet a fellow La La lover, although to each their own of course. Love Shawshank, too. I am currently unofficially predicting almost a clean sweep. I think 9, 10 is a good number. But I always wait to see how PGA/DGA (to a lesser extent SAG, even more so this year) play out before finalizing any predictions. For what it’s worth, in the six years I’ve made official predictions, I’ve never been wrong about Best Picture. I get these gut feelings I go with. This year, so far, that gut feeling is for LLL, but I realize it’s hardly scientific and I’m bound to be wrong eventually. ?

      • Lakeshow

        I hope you’re both right. Loved it so much and need to see it again. @Lauren anyway I can see your predictions from past years? (Not that I don’t believe you’ve been right about best picture 6 years in a row just curious)

        • Lauren

          Unfortunately no! The site I used to work for closed 🙁 I think I have a paper copy of the last few years around my house somewhere, but that doesn’t really help. I think last year’s (my first year with Awards Circuit) is on this site somewhere, but coincidentally it was my worst year yet! I think I got like 16 or 17 right? I usually get about 20 or so. But, you could take a look at that and see that I did choose Spotlight. 🙂

          • Lakeshow

            That’s too bad. I’ll be sure to check for last year.

    • Loed

      I’ve seen it two times and I agree with you. The movie is a masterpiece on every level. Master work by Chazelle and everyone involved. I couldn’t believe my eyes the first time I saw it and I still have to process it. Instant classic and I predict it will equal the record of 14 Oscar nominations.

  • Pokermask

    I think the chances for “La La Land” are pretty strong this awards season. It should be exciting to see how it does on the BAFTAs and Oscars.

    And just a crazy thought when I looked at my own predictions for the Oscars. I noticed that I’ve (unknowingly) predicted the film to win 11 out of 14 oscars… even for me, I refuse to believe that is anywhere near accurate.

    • And what is the extra nomination you’re counting?

      • Pokermask

        I’ve predicted the film to get all the nominations mentioned in this article + Best Sound Editing

  • Joey Magidson

    I’ve actually gone down the rabbit hole and predicted it across the board, including Sound Editing.

    • Phill Milner

      When you say “across the board” are you including actor and screenplay? I can see it winning in the others, but those two would be unforgivable.

      • Joey Magidson

        Only talking about nominations. I have it losing in Actor and Screenplay, and obviously only one of the two Song nominees winning.

  • Cinefilucho

    I think a Sound Editing nomination and a third Original Song nod for ‘Start a Fire’ are highly possible. That would make 15 nominations AND it would brake the record… you never know.

    • Adam Lawrence

      Oscars no longer permit more than 2 song nominations for a single film. Changed the rule a few years ago after Enchanted got 3 the year after Dreamgirls did

  • Adam Lawrence

    This all seems pretty likely. I’m not 100% sure Gosling gets in (and if he does it won’t be on merit, IMO). I think the others seem pretty safe bets – it *might* be closer on the bubble for cinematography and production design, but with the momentum it has, those seems like sure things, too.

    I am a big supporter of keeping 2 different sound categories, but I’ll be honest, if/when La La Land wins an Oscar for sound mixing, it’s the day I change my mind. It was inconsistent at best, and downright bad at worst. I haven’t heard from anyone who could actually understand what anyone was singing in the first couple of big numbers.

    • Phill Milner

      Opening song had a good beat, but I couldn’t make out the words to save my life.

      I’d argue that cinematography is not only a safe bet, but it’s probably the front runner to win IMO.

    • Knox Van Horn

      Gosling is basically a lock at this point IMO, and I would say it’s the frontrunner in both cinematography and PD

  • michaeldal65

    Screenplay? What screenplay? They are the two most thinly written characters of the year. She wants to be an actress, he wants to open a jazz club. They fall in love and dance around the city to a weak score (fair’s fair, Stone’s final song at the audition is beautifully performed) while Chazelle copies from the greats, left, right & centre.

    It has its moments I grant you and Stone is sensational (he’s an absolute bore and as I’ve typed here before, if ever a movie was screaming for Bradley Cooper’s charm this is that movie) but I’m with your editor.

    And umm, a nod for costume design? God help us..

    • Phill Milner

      Agreed on most. It’s gonna get some tech categories because of its popularity. Good lord the hype around this movie is thoughtless. Best screenplay? Like wtf is that? That’s an insult to screenwriters everywhere.

    • Teriek Williams

      From a screenwriting point of view, the film is structurally unusual for a musical and quite imaginative in set-up. The opening scene shows that. The film is somewhat light on substance, especially in comparison to many of its competitors. However, its size, scope, scale, structure and weaving will endear to screenwriters impressed by the almost world-building nature of it. After all, Christopher Nolan’s character depth and dialogue are not nearly as great as his ability to re-fashion structures and build imaginative worlds. His only non-producing nominations to date are for screenplay.

  • David Caballero

    I think La La Land has everything to become an all time nominee and eventual winner.
    It has build up incredible hype, has two very respected and talented actors at it’s center, who have also played the award season game incredibly well, and an incredibly talented and young director as it’s helmer.
    Also, in a political way, I think it’s the perfect way for the Academy to seem progressive without being too progressive by rewarding a hopeful, colorful love letter to old cinema in a time when hope seems to be in shortage.
    I’m predicting 14 nominations and 7 wins (yes, I still believe Emma Stone will win the Oscar).

  • MikeyJ7

    THANK YOU for this! I’ve been getting so tired of checking this site only to see Clayton playing Trump-sized linguist gymnastics, grasping at straws to call this movie every word other than ‘frontrunner’ for Best Picture. Yay, Lauren! La La Land FTW!

    • redcliffs46

      If there’s one thing Clayton knows, it’s hilariously grasping at straws.

  • Paul

    Well, “Aladdin” was indeed nominated for Best Sound Editing. But yeah, if you mean live-action musicals I think it would be the first one.

    • Lauren

      Oh that’s a good call! I was referring to live action only (and could be wrong there, but from what I’ve seen it would be the first) 🙂

      • Paul

        By the way, I’m dying to see La La Land (it opens on the 26th here), and reading all this just makes me want to watch it even more. I hope to like it that much.

        • Lauren

          I hope you do too! And if not, I hope there’s a film out there you do feel this way about, because to me that’s what it’s all about.

  • Atif Mir Hussain

    Good shout.
    13 nominations sounds about right.
    As for wins? Anything between 5 and 9.

  • Atif Mir Hussain

    I have a feeling Silence will go the Empire of the Sun way, 6 below the line nominations only.
    Controversial I know but Scorsese to miss out.

  • 22cinema11

    Great article, Lauren! I love “La La Land” as well, and I truly hope it wins big at the Oscars. (It’s such a wonderful movie with great acting and camerawork and brilliant music!) At the moment, I’m not quite sure about a Best Picture win (as I pointed out in the comments to another article) because I don’t know how favorable preferential balloting will be to a musical. Maybe “Moonlight” or “Manchester by the Sea” could be a consensus choice and a potential spoiler. (So it’ll be very important for “La La Land” to take PGA where they use a preferential ballot as well.) The SAG ensemble snub on its own is not that predictive I think because it’s a vote for an ensemble cast, and the acting in “La La Land” mainly depends on Emma and Ryan’s great performances. SAG tends to reward huge star-studded ensembles (although there are some
    counterexamples – take “Beasts of No Nation”, “Dallas Buyers Club” or
    “Million Dollar Baby”), and normally, movies with small ensembles don’t
    fare that well in SAG ensemble (even a movie like “The Master” that
    received enormous praise for its acting didn’t get nominated). And in recent years, some films with great acting ensembles got an SAG ensemble nod that didn’t have any chance at the Oscars (apart from maybe one or two nominations), e. g. “Hairspray” in 2007, “Nine” in 2009, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” in 2013, “The Butler” in 2014 or “Trumbo” last year. At the moment, I think “La La Land” could get 12 to 14 nominations and could win maybe 6 or 7 Oscars (and even more if the Academy loves it as we do). And I’ll definitely keep my fingers crossed for Best Picture as well!

    • Lauren

      Thank you so much! Here’s to hoping you’re wrong on that one 😉 and I agree with your commentary on SAG (obviously)!

    • Loed

      This case with SAG is very different from the films you mentioned and I think it’s very obvious why it’s not nominated for ensemble. I think LLL is unstoppable. Deservingly so.

  • Loed

    I’m going NGNG and say that La La Land will equal the record of 14 Oscar nominations. It will probably win between 7 and up to 10. SAG stat means nothing at this point, the race is already over.

  • Sethcohen26

    I really hope that Ryan gosling and Emma stone take best actor and actress — they are such an important element in the success of this film. It should not go unnoticed and I hope that it sweeps the top 5 awards just like Silence of the Lambs did