Last year many people had a difficult time predicting which film would win the Best Picture Oscar. Some chose “The Revenant”, the recipient of the Best Drama Golden Globe and Best Film BAFTA. It also swept the Best Actor (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Best Director (Alejandro G. Inarritu) categories throughout the entire awards season. Others sided with “The Big Short”, which earned the PGA (Producers Guild of America) top honor – usually a strong indicator of the Academy’s selection.
But I predicted “Spotlight” – not only because it won the Best Picture Critics Choice Award and SAG Award for Best Ensemble, but because it had the feel of a Best Picture Oscar winner. “The Revenant” was too raw and gritty and “The Big Short” was too talky and topic specific for a general audience. “Spotlight”, on the other hand, had an underdog, feel-good story (surrounding a tragic subject matter) with mass appeal and an uplifting, powerful conclusion.
That’s not to say “Spotlight” is a great film – it is not. However, it has both a purpose and a substance that made it Oscar-worthy. Years from now, when movie fans reflect back on 2015, will “Spotlight” be the first film that comes to mind? Probably not (that honor will likely go to “Mad Max: Fury Road). But, for me, picking it to win Best Picture wasn’t a struggle. Of all the contenders, “Spotlight” felt most like an Oscar winner.
As fans, critics and voters are looking back at 2016 while analyzing the current Best Picture race, once again there’s one film that stands-out from all the contenders as the obvious and ONLY worthy choice. That film, of course, is “La La Land”. Yes, more than was the case last year, there are several other quality nominees that also have that Best Picture “feel”: “Lion” is a triumph – and in other years might’ve been the clear choice. “Hidden Figures”, which has been gaining steam in recent weeks, definitely provides the power and triumph the Academy likes, as does “Fences” (though criticism of it feeling more like a stage play than a movie has hurt it a bit). “Hacksaw Ridge” is a comeback for director Mel Gibson (Hollywood LOVES comeback stories) and inspiring and triumphant.
As for the remaining contenders: many believe “Moonlight” and “Manchester by the Sea” and defining, hallmark films. “Hell or High Water” is simplistic (a little overly simplistic in my opinion), but its old-fashioned feel and unusual underdog story helped it build a strong following when it was released last summer. And “Arrival” tells a very human story through the appearance of aliens, and features a major twist that highlights an impressive script.
And yet none of these films holds-up when compared to Damien Chazelle’s awe-inspiring, yet simple tale of two out-of-towners trying to make it big in the big city.
“La La Land” checks all the boxes when to comes to an Oscar-winning Best Picture:
Genre – It’s a musical: a throwback to yesteryear set in modern-day, providing moviegoers something fresh, daring, unexpected (“Birdman”, “The Artist”)
Star-Appeal – Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, J.K. Simmons
Tone/Feel – Emotional, positive and loud. For the most part The Academy chooses grand over “intimate” and the grander, the better. (“Gladiator”, “Titanic”)
Memorable, Emotional Conclusion – Not necessarily happy, but authentic and powerful. (“American Beauty”, “Braveheart”)
Unique Look – Technically challenging and inventive (“Slumdog Millionaire”, “Chicago”)
And most importantly, in a year dominated by political tension, social turmoil and negativity from all corners of the globe, this is a movie that takes you away (if only temporarily) from all the problems of the world. It is pure escapism which, in years past, may have been a negative. But in 2016 this film clearly ‘right place, right time’.
Not that everyone has embraced “La La Land”, but most of the legitimate criticism (“too white”, “too male-centric”, “not true to jazz”) is unwarranted, while the biggest complaint against the film seems to be that it’s simply been too dominant this awards season. People enjoy competition, and many critics and fans are upset that there isn’t a Best Picture race this year (some still holding on to hope that “Moonlight” or “Hidden Figures” will make a last-minute push).
Well, sorry folks. Attacking a movie for being too successful and popular is both lame and, frankly, predictable, considering the times in which live. “La La Land” is the New England Patriots of the movie world – garnering hate because it simply wins too much.
Will movie “purists” roll their eyes if “La La Land” breaks the record for most Oscar wins. Of course, just as many did when it tied “All About Eve” and “Titanic” for most nominations. But here’s the thing: it deserved every one of those noms. Whether you like “La La Land” or not, there’s no denying that it has become a cultural phenomenon – and one of the defining movies of this generation (as “Titanic” was in the late 90s, and “Eve” in the 50s). Some just don’t realize it yet – or they do but just don’t want to admit it.
The truth is, this Best Picture race was over months ago. And rightfully so.