“La La Land,” a musical tribute to Los Angeles, dominated the Oscar nominations on Tuesday, picking up 14 nods to tie the record set by “Titanic” and “All About Eve.” The honey-coated celebration of all things Hollywood was nominated for best picture and best director for 32-year old wunderkind Damien Chazelle. Both of its lead actors, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, were recognized for their work as big city dreamers in love.
“La La Land’s” main competition in the major categories came from “Arrival,” an alien invasion thriller, and “Moonlight,” a low-boil drama looking at a gay man during the crack epidemic in Florida. Both films landed a total of eight Oscar nominations.
Three films were tied for third with six nods apiece: “Hacksaw Ridge,” a bloody World War II drama, “Lion,” a true story about a man who uses Google to find his long-lost family in India, and “Manchester by the Sea,” a shattering tragedy that marks a return to the A-list for Kenneth Lonergan after a few years out of the limelight. Lonergan’s career was derailed after his previous film, 2011’s “Margaret,” became entangled in a protracted legal fight. He was nominated for best original screenplay and for his direction. “Manchester by the Sea” was backed by Amazon Studios and marks the first time that a streaming service has earned a best picture nod.
The Academy has been rocked by protests over the lack of diversity of its nominees and of its membership, inspiring the popular hashtag #OscarsSoWhite. However, after two straight years of shutting out performers of color, this year’s nominees were notably more reflective of a multicultural America. Seven out of the 20 performance nominations went to actors of color, and a number of best picture and documentary contenders, such as “Hidden Figures,” “Fences,” “13th,” and “O.J.: Made in America” grappled with the issue of racial inequality. In response to the blowback over the lack of inclusion, the Academy has set a goal for itself of doubling the diversity within its voting body by 2020.
“La La Land” a spirited, rousing tribute to the musicals of Vincent Minnelli and Jacques Demy, is also the rare uplifting best picture nominee. That escapist vibe could resonate with Oscar voters at a time when Donald Trump’s presidential victory exemplifies a rightward swing in the country that is out of step with left-leaning Hollywood. Other best picture nominees examine such weighty topics as race relations, sexual identity, war, and economic disaffection.
If, as expected, “La La Land” captures the top prize, it will continue a tradition of entertainment-industry focused victors. Stone stars in the picture as an aspiring actress and there are several winking nods to life on the studio lot. Oscar voters tend to reward films that unfold in their professional backyard — recent winners set in the world of theater and film include “Birdman” and “The Artist.”
Casey Affleck, who stars in “Manchester by the Sea” as a grieving janitor, has dominated the early awards, picking up a Golden Globe and most of the critics honors. His competition comes from Denzel Washington as bitter garbage man (“Fences”), Andrew Garfield as a conscientious objector (“Hacksaw Ridge”), Viggo Mortensen as a hippie father (“Captain Fantastic”), and Gosling.
“La La Land” wasn’t the only record-breaker. The Academy continued its love affair with Meryl Streep, handing her a precedent-fracturing 20th Oscar nomination, the most ever for a performer. Streep was recognized for her work as a tone-deaf opera singer in “Florence Foster Jenkins.” She will face off against Isabelle Huppert as a rape victim (“Elle”), Natalie Portman as a resilient first lady (“Jackie”), Ruth Negga as a civil rights warrior (“Loving”), and Stone.
After a decade in the professional wilderness, Hollywood signaled that it had at least partially forgiven Mel Gibson. A previous Oscar-winner for “Braveheart,” Gibson was shunned by many industry power brokers when he was caught on tape making anti-Semitic remarks to a police officer after being pulled over for a DUI in 2006. On Tuesday, Gibson was nominated for his directing work on “Hacksaw Ridge,” a gritty war drama that also scored a best picture nod.
From a box office perspective, this year’s list of nominees was dominated by smaller, indie-spirited features and adult dramas. There were no “Inceptions” or “Avatars,” and the lack of a certifiable blockbuster could dim ratings for the awards broadcast.
There were a number of notable snubs and surprises. Hugh Grant (“Florence Foster Jenkins”), Tom Hanks (“Sully”), and Amy Adams (“Arrival”) had been expected to pick up nods, but failed to get the call, while Michael Shannon, recognized for his work as an ailing lawman in “Nocturnal Animals,” and Negga managed to shoulder into the final five after missing out on other important critics group honors.
Jimmy Kimmel hosts this year’s ceremony. It marks his first time as emcee, but also represents a long-desired stab at synergy. ABC, which broadcasts the Oscars, also backs Kimmel’s late night program. The network has been pushing for the comic to host the show for years.
This year’s Oscar nominations were announced in a novel way. Instead of having Academy brass and the odd celebrity read out the lists of honorees to assembled journalists, ABC offered up short interstitial videos with previous nominees and winners such as Marcia Gay Harden, Glenn Close, Brie Larson, and Ken Watanabe sharing their memories of their big mornings. Most of their reflections boiled down to a simple, obvious takeaway — getting nominated is exciting.