Honestly, I didn’t see 14 nominations coming for “La La Land” and I was pretty vocal about it. I couldn’t really fathom the sound branch defaulting to a musical in the sound editing category, but they did, and the movie tied the all-time record for Oscar nominations.
Now that the landscape is set, though, it’s hard not to expect Damien Chazelle’s unbridled success story to charge through to another milestone: the 11 win record currently shared by “Ben-Hur,” “Titanic” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.” It could even break it.
We’ll have a little more data to go on after the Producers Guild and Screen Actors Guild Awards this weekend, but at the moment, it’s pretty clear that “La La Land” is the frontrunner for picture and director. And while Isabelle Huppert (“Elle”) and Natalie Portman (“Jackie”) have dominated the critics’ circuit in the lead actress space, the smart bet is on Emma Stone waltzing out of the Oscars with a statue in hand. (I’ll change my tune if she somehow drops the SAG honor to someone else on Sunday.)
Original score is a given, and unless the film’s two nominated songs split the vote and allow for Lin-Manuel Miranda to surprise in that category, you can chalk another one up there. And musicals almost always walk away with the sound mixing prize, particularly when they’re this dominant.
We’re already at six Oscars, the most won by a best picture victor since “The Hurt Locker.”
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Throughout the various crafts categories, it’s hard not to check off almost every single one for “La La Land.” I’m not seeing any of the other nominees putting up much of a fight in cinematography, costume design and production design. Now we’re at nine, zipping past “Slumdog Millionaire” and the most won by a best picture since “The Return of the King.”
Perhaps “Arrival,” given the nature of its structure, could swoop in and grab the film editing prize. But it’s difficult not to expect a popular musical to take that as well. Then again, previous best picture musicals like “An American in Paris,” “My Fair Lady” and “OIiver!” deferred to other films, so it’s not an exact science. A tentative yes puts us at 10 wins, on the doorstep of tying the record.
Which brings us to perhaps the movie’s toughest fight in the major categories. Assuming Casey Affleck is going to cruise on through to a best actor win for “Manchester by the Sea,” and that the Academy will go a different direction for sound editing — perhaps that will go to beloved war film “Hacksaw Ridge,” though we’ve already seen this category surprise us this year — then original screenplay is the battlefield. And Kenneth Lonergan is absolutely a threat with his “Manchester” work, the most awarded screenplay of the year. It’s another place for the Academy to honor a film they clearly loved, and with “Moonlight” likely winning the adapted screenplay prize and probably best supporting actor, too, it allows them to give multiple awards to the three hottest films on the circuit this year.
Many are averse to picking “La La Land” here because musicals, historically, don’t fare well for best screenplay. But I feel like they’re typically thinking of the adapted musicals, like “Chicago” and “My Fair Lady” and “The Sound of Music” (not even nominated), which did indeed lose the prize. But original musicals such as “An American in Paris” and “Interrupted Melody” have won. I frankly thought original screenplay was a solid bet for “La La Land” way back before I expected it to be this year’s best picture winner. But still, it’s a tight race with “Manchester,” and perhaps ultimately, the difference maker.
We’ll see how things shift and slide, if they do at all, over the next month. But the path is pretty clear above. If “La La Land” does claim 11 Oscars, it and “Titanic” will then share the nomination and win records. I know some people might find that boring, but I think it’s kind of exciting. And interestingly enough, I wrote about that very phenomenon back in May after “Hamilton” dominated the Tony Awards.
“These kinds of thunderclaps are extraordinary and rare,” I wrote at the time. “[‘Hamilton’s’] dominance today left me longing for another such display on the big screen. After all, the last film to win at least eight Oscars was ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ seven years ago. That was also the same year as ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’s’ 13-nomination tally. It feels like we’re increasingly due. Then again, if the ‘All About Eve’-to-‘Titanic’ stretch is any indication, we’re not even halfway there yet. That’s what makes this kind of thing so special.”
Little did I know what was lying in wait.