I had a feeling that this is going to be La La Land’s year, and all doubt was erased on Tuesday night (Jan 24, Singapore time) when the musical starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling grabbed 14 Academy Award nominations, tying with Titanic (1997) and All About Eve (1950) for a film with the most nods.
As expected, La La Land scores in the top Best categories, including Picture, Actress (Emma Stone), Directing (Damien Chazelle) and Screenplay.
But it also scoops up nods in Original Song, as well as in the Costume Design, Cinematography and in the technical categories.
To my dismay, Irish indie production Sing Street, its run-time bursting with hook-filled pop, has failed to land a single tune in the Original Song list. Indeed, the movie does not make a single dent on the list, proving the power of marketing muscle in Hollywood.
Why is La La Land so dominant this year? One reason is that it is not threatened in the technical categories this year by a blockbuster with artistic merit. These are films like last year’s Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian and The Revenant, which had grabbed nominations in Cinematography, Sound Editing and the like, crowding out other works.
The closest thing this year to a movie with action and uplifting drama this year is the war biopic Hacksaw Ridge (6 nominations, including Best Picture) and the western crime thriller Hell Or High Water (4 nominations, including Best Picture), but both are smaller-sized productions, with correspondingly smaller audiences.
Hacksaw Ridge’s images of battlefield gore do not seem to have turned off the Academy’s voters. They have given the Directing nod to Mel Gibson, officially ending his exile from Tinseltown, a freezeout that followed his spouse-abusing and racist meltdown that made headlines.
Hacksaw is a fine film, but it bludgeons the viewer over the head with war violence.
Lion, the adoption drama starring Dev Patel from highly-favoured Australian helmer Garth Davis, is a better film, but it has been knocked out by Gibson’s inclusion.
I like the science-fiction drama Arrival and am happy it gets eight nods, but am surprised to see its star, Amy Adams, not included in the Best Actress list.
A dark horse, in the form of one of Hollywood’s most respected actresses takes her spot.
Meryl Streep, she of the Golden Globes speech that made President Donald Trump shoot an angry tweet, has seized Adams’ place. Maybe her speech had something to do with her last-minute surge?
Perhaps Streep is there because her movie, the comedy biopic Florence Foster Jenkins, which I really liked, is largely left out of the list, managing only two nods (the other is for Costume Design).
Another film I had high hopes for is the bittersweet family drama Captain Fantastic, which, like Florence, came and went early last year, well outside the year-end Oscar campaigning season. I am pleased to see that its lead actor, Viggo Mortensen, is on the Best Actor list.
His inclusion is a surprise, and shuts out men like Joel Edgerton, whose part in the civil-rights biopic Loving saw him list in the Golden Globes Best Actor-Drama category.