La La Land is a standout film among the nominees this awards season. Breaking the records for most nominations (7) at the Golden Globes and winning all of them, La La Land is also nominated for a record 14 Academy Awards, tied for the highest nominations with only two other films in history.
But why is that? What makes a musical starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone so special, especially when against strong dramatic films like Moonlight, Fences, and Hidden Figures focusing on American race relations, or heavy family dramas like Manchester by the Sea and Lion?
It might have to do with the timing of its release. In the current state of American and global politics, as divisive and volatile as the issues have become, heavy hitting dramas do not offer the same type of escapism as would a musical or comedy. As the only musical nominated in all 5 big Academy Awards’ categories, it has the edge over all other films in that it immediately stands out among the other dramas.
Again, the question arises: what makes La La Land so special? Sure, there have been musicals in the past who have one Best Picture, from West Side Story and My Fair Lady in the 1960’s to Chicago as recently as 2002. Les Miserables was nominated in 2012 and is based off of one of the most beloved musicals in history, yet didn’t garner as many nominations as La La Land has so far, despite receiving rave reviews from critics and audiences alike.
Being that La La Land is one of the few musical films in recent memory not based off off a pre-existing material or adapted from the stage, it becomes even more of an Oscar anomaly.
Perhaps one of the reasons behind its sweeping of the nominations has to do with the fact that it is purely an original property. Damien Chazelle, director of La La Land, wrote the screenplay for this film as well as for his 2014 film Whiplash, a music-centric film that was also nominated for many awards including Best Picture. Already having being nominated for Academy Awards in the past might have attributed to the recognition of his latest film by the Academy, having already caught their eye before with his past film.
Nostalgia might play a big part in why La La Land has been called a must-see this awards season. The film hearkens back to the musical song-and-dance films of the 40’s and 50’s, where actors like Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire dominated the genre and won over the American public with their jazz dance routines. The film plays with a lot of the cliches from films of this genre and adds a bit of a fresh spin on it, allowing this type of narrative to exist in the modern world. The main characters themselves both seem to believe their souls belong in the past when these films and musicians were all the rage.
My theory behind the success of La La Land during awards season: all of these factors combined. There have been films in the past that have hit one or more of these notes before or that are currently doing so, but none of them have had all of these factors playing a role in their success all at once.
Regardless of what the Academy Awards have in store for La La Land and the talented people who worked behind it, whether it sweeps the awards the way it did at the Golden Globes or walks away nearly empty handed, there is no denying how masterfully crafted and all-around beautiful this film is. To those who haven’t seen it yet: there is a reason this film has been constantly referred to as a must-see.