Movie News & Reviews

Ooh-la-la: ‘La La Land’ ties an Oscar record, and nominations are wonderfully diverse

'La La Land' (Official trailer)

A jazz pianist falls for an aspiring actress in Los Angeles. Starring Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt, Finn Wittrock, Callie Hernandez, Sonoya Mizuno, Jessica Rothe, Tom Everett Scott and Josh Pence.
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A jazz pianist falls for an aspiring actress in Los Angeles. Starring Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt, Finn Wittrock, Callie Hernandez, Sonoya Mizuno, Jessica Rothe, Tom Everett Scott and Josh Pence.

Prepare yourself for another month of analyses, conversations and debates about whether “La La Land” is a great musical or just a poseur wannabe.

At least you won’t have to hear any Oscar-so-white complaints this year.

The nominations for the 89th Academy Awards, announced Tuesday, were both predictable and, occasionally, eye-opening. For the most part, Oscar got it right.

Damien Chazelle’s musical love story “La La Land” — which won a record seven Golden Globes earlier this month — leads the pack with 14 nominations. This valentine to Hollywood is now tied for the all-time nomination record with “All About Eve” (1950) and “Titanic” (1997).

The first time I saw “La La Land,” I thought it was OK. The second time I saw it, I was blown away. It deserves those 14 nominations and, probably, a best picture win.

And there are plenty of faces of color among the honored, thanks to the coming-of-age saga “Moonlight,” the space race crowd-pleaser “Hidden Figures” and the 1950s race drama “Fences,” all three of which are among the nine films nominated for best picture.

(For that matter, two of the nominated documentary features — “I Am Not Your Negro” and “13th” — are about race in America.)

Need more proof that this is a minority year? A record seven out of the 20 acting nominations went to minorities: Ruth Negga in “Loving” (actress); Denzel Washington in “Fences” (actor); Viola Davis in “Fences,” Naomie Harris in “Moonlight” and previous winner Octavia Spencer in “Hidden Figures” (all three for supporting actress); Mahershala Ali in “Moonlight” (supporting actor); and Dev Patel (a Brit whose parents were Indians born in Kenya) in “Lion” (supporting actor).

No doubt there will be much ruminating over whether this is a result of the academy’s recent tinkering with membership rules (taking voting rights away from nonworking academy members, bringing in more minority members) or simply because it was a year of great minority performances. (I’ll throw my weight behind the second explanation.)

As has so often been the case, not one of the best picture nominees is a mega-box office smash.

Many in Hollywood had hoped that the hugely clever but R-rated superhero movie “Deadpool” (U.S. box office to date: $363 million) would grab a slot. At least there would be one nominated movie that Average Joe could root for.

Nope. Average Joe will have to settle for the brainy sci-fi effort “Arrival” ($96 million and eight nominations), Mel Gibson’s inspirational war story “Hacksaw Ridge” ($65 million and six noms) and the just-released “Hidden Figures” ($84 million and three nominations), which is showing signs of settling in for a long and lucrative run.

Most of the best picture nominees are on the artsy side, which is as it should be. Those include “Manchester by the Sea,” about a troubled loner; “Lion,” about a man searching for his birth family; “Moonlight” and “Fences.” I’m particularly pleased that the good-ol’-boy Texas crime drama “Hell or High Water” got a slot.

My biggest gripe: My favorite film of the year, “Loving,” the true story of an interracial couple, was overlooked.

Surprises? I didn’t see Viggo Mortensen landing a best actor slot for the family drama “Captain Fantastic” (it was a case of a good performance in a problematic movie).

One feels safe predicting that Casey Affleck will take home the best actor statuette for “Manchester by the Sea” (he has won every other available award), but the supporting actor category is wide open.

Lucas Hedges, 19, got a supporting actor nom for “Manchester by the Sea.” He’s competing against the ever-excellent (and usually weird) Michael Shannon for the thriller “Nocturnal Animals.” And I’m starting to wonder if Mahershala Ali (nominated for “Moonlight”) isn’t one of our greatest actors.

Can’t imagine a better lineup for the actress category. Isabelle Huppert gave a performance for the ages and won a Golden Globe in the French release “Elle”; Ruth Negga exuded quiet dignity in “Loving”; Natalie Portman seemed to be channeling the former first lady in “Jackie” and Emma Stone stole hearts in “La La Land.”

And unlike some of my colleagues, I believe Meryl Streep was terrific in “Florence Foster Jenkins,” blending broad comedy and personal tragedy to portray a real woman who had the worst voice in opera.

The directing nominations were utterly predictable with one exception. Mel Gibson’s nomination for “Hacksaw Ridge” is certainly deserved. The question was whether Hollywood had forgiven him for his anti-Semitic outburst a few years back.

We now have our answer. But he probably won’t win.

Read more of Robert W. Butler’s movie coverage at butlerscinemascene.com.

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