thoughts//THE CASE FOR 'LA LA LAND'

AWARDS COVERAGE


It's no secret that La La Land's meteoric rise throughout the awards season is nothing short of impressive. Shortly after the first screening of the film, rave reviews led to a powerhouse showing at most critics awards, followed swiftly by multiple nominations and wins within most of the guilds.

It won a record-setting 7 Golden Globe Awards and is nominated for a record-tying 14 Academy Awards, matching the nomination counts of All About Eve and Titanic.

A film so critically massive is sure to fall to some backlash, as it has in recent weeks since the Oscar nominations were announced. At the end of an incredible year for cinema, does La La Land's presence as a frontrunner match up with previous Oscar darlings? Or, is it the subject of overhype?

Charming as it seems, with its infectious opening number and delightful dream ballet finale, La La Land is a film for the film industry; a love letter, perhaps, to Los Angeles and the classics before it.

Hollywood's track record of late is to reward films about itself, with films like The Artist and Argo taking the top award in recent years. If La La Land were to win, it would inevitably become the signature example of this trend.

It's enchanting presence on the screen is hard to ignore. With 14 Oscar nominations, it's bound to be the night's biggest winner. Will it finish the season off with a Best Picture prize? Let's analyze its chances.

Tune in to the 89th Academy Awards on Sunday, February 26, 2017, to see how well it does.

BEST PICTURE

Should It Win:
In short: yes. Director Damien Chazelle has crafted quite the complete picture of ambition and love. Despite its subject matter and its reverence to film, the meat of the movie lies in its picture perfect cinematography, charming performances by its leads, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, and its hard-to-beat opening and closing numbers. The middle is the film's weakest spot, but even still its electric.

In the sense of big, beautiful, and well-created films, there's no arguing that La La Land checks every box. There is something to say for its toughest competitor, Moonlight. That film is a lot smaller, isn't as flashy, but is equally affecting.

Both films stick with you long after you leave the theater, which is the most prominent barometer for successfully crafted films. If measuring on pure scope and delivery, the award should go to La La Land.

Will It Win:
Most likely. The film has won almost every important precursor to date, including the Producers Guild, Directors Guild, BAFTA, Golden Globes, and is listed among the National Board of Reviews' Top Ten films.

Plus, it's picked up almost every guild award available. La La Land is a juggernaut, which is surprising considering many of its creative team are young and fairly new to the business.

The one factor that could play into if the film wins Best Picture is the Academy's preferential ballot. In short, depending how it's ranked, even if it gets majority number one votes, Moonlight could still be the upset winner. And, frankly, that's really the only other option at this point.

If you're filling out a ballot, though, marking La La Land here is a no-brainer.

BEST DIRECTOR

Should Damien Chazelle Win:
Chazelle has somewhat paid his dues, turning in two films, back to back, that have resonated with the directing guild and the Academy. His last film, Whiplash, almost served as his initiation into the awards circuit.

With La La Land, he outdid himself; piecing together a tight picture full of energy and bold storytelling. At the same time, some of his choices, while rewarding, could be seen as safe. Moonlight's Barry Jenkins, however, definitely risked the most in making his film, turning harrowing circumstances into inspiring beauty.

Chazelle winning would not be unexpected or disappointing, but this should be Jenkins' award to lose.

Will Damien Chazelle Win:
It's somewhat rare for the directors guild recipient to not mirror here, though there are enough exceptions to that to say Jenkins is still in the race.

BEST ACTOR

Should Ryan Gosling Win:
Of all of the pieces in La La Land that work, Gosling's performance is the least inspiring. He's charming, without a doubt, and definitely pulls off the Leading Man tropes needed to sell each and every moments, but there isn't much here we haven't seen before.

Will Ryan Gosling Win:
If you were hoping for a La La Land sweep, this will be the one definite category where that doesn't happen. Casey Affleck has been the king of the awards season for his performance in Manchester by the Sea, a performance very deserving of the Oscar. Denzel Washington has also crept into the race, marking an important win from the Screen Actors Guild for his performance in Fences.

The award come Oscar Sunday will be a battle between Affleck and Washington, with Gosling watching from the sidelines.

BEST ACTRESS

Should Emma Stone Win:
There were plenty of risks taken this year by the Best Actress nominees (and including those who didn't make the cut...Amy Adams). But, the one that was the most surprising and definitely most delightful is Emma Stone's curious and lovely portrayal.

While she's still barely in the ingenue territory among her peers, Stone's previous Oscar nomination for Birdman gives her some clout on which to stand this time around. La La Land is basically a twofer, with Gosling and Stone heading the film like the romances of yesteryear. But, instead of Gosling taking charge, it's Stone's performance that is the most spellbinding.

Will Emma Stone Win:
Like many of the categories in which La La Land appears, Stone's awards season chances have been pretty well received, with Golden Globe, SAG, and BAFTA wins under her belt. There's a small conversation surrounding fellow nominee Isabelle Huppert's chances of an upset, but that's highly unlikely.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Should It Win:
Like Gosling's proposed chances, the Original Screenplay category should belong to fellow nominee Manchester by the Sea. But, for some reason, La La Land has even had a quite impressive precursor result.

There are definitely stronger scripts among the bunch, most prominently Kenneth Lonergan's Manchester script. Plus, Mike Mills's 20th Century Women screenplay is so enjoyable and touching. Either of those would be better choices here.

Will It Win:
With its competitor, Moonlight, competing in the Adapted Screenplay category, this could become La La Land's award to win. But, Lonergan's powerful Manchester by the Sea script stands out as the one complete package that should reign supreme. It also helps that Lonergan has before been nominated in this category.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Should It Win:
The opening traffic scene alone is enough to sell a win in cinematography for La La Land. Add to it the dream ballet at the end and the fun party scene. The film is full of incredible visuals that hearken to the classic MGM days, while also showing LA in a new, modern light.

It's fellow competitors are just as deserving, though. Martin Scorsese's Silence was all-but shut out in most categories, but sneaked in here with a nod. Lion has some stunning, quiet visuals. Arrival's win here would be impressive as it would be the first by an African American cinematographer. And, Moonlight's beautiful tones are gorgeously captured.

Will It Win:
There's a small consensus saying this could be Silence's sole win. And, many are beating the drum for Moonlight (which totally makes sense). But, this is another award that will definitely go to La La Land.

BEST FILM EDITING

Should It Win:
Cutting a film together is one of the top pieces of an affecting film. La La Land's seamless transitions and incredible sequences definitely set it above most of the 2016's film offerings. The seemingly single-shot opening traffic number is remarkable after learning it took two full days of work to completely film the scene.

Will It Win:
This is another category that will probably go to La La Land. For the final session of voting, all Academy members vote for every category. So, if they are unsure of the specifics around the technical side of things (hello Sound Mixing and Sound Editing), they may select a box for a film that seems familiar.

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

Should It Win:
There are some clever choices in La La Land, especially the bound-to-be-iconic yellow dress. The pops of color work well to mesh the MGM throwbacks with a modern day flair. But, in terms of the film's fellow nominees, movies like Jackie really take hold to crafting and creating very specific looks, in that case those of a notable fashion icon: Jackie Kennedy.

Will It Win:
La La Land did well in the guild rounds, but the Academy tends to give this award to period pieces. Jackie should count this as its only win of the night.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

Should It Win:
Simply, yes. The suite of music created to envelope this musical is memorable and charming enough to set it apart. Plus, it's a musical! Hard to balance yourself as an important music-set film without proper tunes.

Will It Win:
Yes. This category is one of the sure bets, with composer Justin Hurwitz picking up awards all season long. There's no denying the music simply works.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

Should One of the Songs Nominated Win:
With La La Land's record-tying 14 nominations comes two for Original Song: "Audition (The Fools Who Dream)" and "City of Stars". The latter has picked up many precursor awards, though the former is the song that really stands out as a craftily written piece.

Both are beautiful and "City of Stars" has become the strumming, melodic piece that most people associate with the film. Either winning would be welcome.

Will Either of the Songs Nominated Win:
"City of Stars" is almost a sure bet. Though, Lin-Manuel Miranda's win for Moana would make him the youngest ever person to reach EGOT status. And, the Academy loves to make history. La La Land is the safe bet, but don't count Miranda out.

BEST SOUND MIXING

Should It Win:
Sound mixing is the art of combining sounds after filming (think molding music and dialogue and tap dancing sounds into one seamless piece). La La Land does this well, especially knowing that all of the film's vocals were shot on set, not in studio.

Will It Win:
Musicals have traditionally done well at the Oscars in this category, with films like Les Miserables taking the gold. With that in mind, La La Land definitely gets a boost here.

BEST SOUND EDITING

Should It Win:
Sound editing is the art of creating sounds after filming (think foley sounds, like walking on gravel, or wartime sounds, like bullets whizzing by). It's hard to completely figure out where sound editing comes in to play in La La Land, which could hurt its chances.

The choice that makes more sense here is Hacksaw Ridge and the incredible (and graphic) sounds of bones crunching and bullets flying in the crucial war scenes. Also, to note, is Arrival. The clicks and interesting sounds created for the aliens is impressive.

Will It Win:
Many were surprised by La La Land's nomination here, as musicals never make the cut in the Sound Editing category. Its presence may mean there's so much love for this film that even the Sound Editors can't pass it up. Or, this could be a thankful nomination to get it to that record-tying 14 nominations, but no win. The safer bet here will be Hacksaw Ridge.

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

Should It Win:
La La Land is most notably a film that acts as a love letter to Hollywood, and in such takes place at some pretty familiar locales. Getting a nod for its Production Design can directly be attributed to scenes like the Griffith Park Observatory, which was completely recreated on a sound stage. And, the finale's dream ballet is pretty remarkable, in all its MGM-glory-days splendor.

But, none of that matches the beautiful work done in Hail, Caesar!, a film that deserved better representation among the nominees.

Will It Win:
La La Land picked up an important Production Design Guild award, which shows it has support. It's closest competitor is probably Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and Hail, Caesar! isn't far behind. 

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