Oscars go gaga for 'La La Land' with record-tying 14 nods

Michael Phillips
Chicago Tribune (TNS)

Not that the backlash needed more fuel for the fire. But the record-tying 14 Academy Award nominations garnered by "La La Land" Tuesday surely will generate a fresh round of interest and, yes, skepticism regarding writer-director Damien Chazelle's rapturous ode to the movie musical genre and to a city long mythologized as dream-crusher as well as land of artistic fulfillment.
Even before Tuesday's pre-recorded and deeply aggravating two-part nominations announcement, "La La Land" had positioned itself as this year's best picture front-runner. It previously won the top prize (in musical/comedy) at the Golden Globes, as well as top prize from the New York and London film critics' circles.
Tuesday's Oscars nominations also glad-handed "La La Land" for best actress (Emma Stone, fully deserved), best actor (Ryan Gosling, less so), original screenplay and direction (Chazelle, and Chazelle) and, in the most predictable and deserved of all this year's nominations, best original score (Justin Hurwitz).

Only "All About Eve" (1950) and "Titantic" (1997) scored as many nominations, 14, in the academy's 89-year history. And if "La La Land" goes the distance and wins the best picture Oscar Feb. 26, it'll be the first original musical (not based on a Broadway show) to do so since director Vincente Minnelli's 1958 "Gigi."
One of Chazelle's key inspirations for his bittersweet musical romance "La La Land," "An American in Paris," was cited by the academy as best picture of 1951.
If Chazelle himself wins, he'll be taking one for the team — the team comprising such beloved Oscar-ignored musicals across the decades as "Singin' in the Rain," "The Band Wagon" and, from France's Jacques Demy, "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" and "The Young Girls of Rochefort." Ideas, visual and otherwise, from these and other films float through "La La Land."
"Arrival," director Denis Villeneuve's elegant alien visitation drama starring a conspicuously un-nominated Amy Adams, tied with writer-director Barry Jenkins' coming-of-age reverie "Moonlight" with eight nominations apiece, including best picture nods. "Hacksaw Ridge," "Lion" and "Manchester by the Sea" tied with six apiece.
Last year's #OscarsSoWhite controversy, a viral phenomenon stoked by the latest, largely monochromatic nominee slate, has given way to a more diverse group. Though Casey Affleck remains the man to beat in the best actor category (for "Manchester by the Sea"), Denzel Washington was nominated for "Fences," which he also directed. Viola Davis is the other "Fences" acting nominee, in the supporting actress category; her fellow nominees are Naomie Harris ("Moonlight"), Nicole Kidman ("Lion"), Octavia Spencer ("Hidden Figures") and Davis' most likely competition, Michelle Williams ("Manchester by the Sea").
In addition to Affleck, Washington and Gosling, the best actor slots were filled by Andrew Garfield ("Hacksaw Ridge") and Viggo Mortensen ("Captain Fantastic"). Many were disappointed Tuesday morning with the exclusion of Adams in the actress roster, just as many were disappointed Annette Bening was shut out of the same category, for her role in "20th Century Women."
Those who did get nominated, alongside Stone for "La La Land": Isabelle Huppert, in her first-ever nomination, for the twisted rape revenge saga "Elle"; Ruth Negga (for "Loving"); Natalie Portman ("Jackie"); and in her 20th nomination, the "overrated" Meryl Streep (according to Donald J. Trump, U.S. president), for the comedy "Florence Foster Jenkins."
Streep's nomination was no shocker. But this year, neither was the general recognition of the quality of smaller, intimate dramas, chiefly the gorgeous "Moonlight" (my favorite film last year) and "Manchester by the Sea" (my No. 3). "La La Land" was my No. 2 on the Top 10 list, so no complaints from me about its massive 14-nomination pile. Chazelle himself might feel somewhat conflicted about it, given the giants he adores who came before it and who didn't get much, if any, academy recognition.
Let the arguments, backlashes and backlashes to the backlashes begin.

Ryan Gosling as Sebastian and Emma Stone as Mia in a scene from the movie "La La Land," which was nominated for a record-tying 14 Oscars. (Dale Robinette/Lionsgate/TNS)