I’ve been having conversations lately with friends who aren’t quite buying into the frenzy. They may like or dislike La La Land, but either way they’re just not getting it. “Fourteen Oscar nominations? Tied for the most in history?” La La Land may be good, but it’s not a juggernaut, they might say. Its effect on our culture is hardly titanic in scale. So why all the hype?
As I see it, there are three reasons:
- La La Land is an original movie musical. When was the last time you’ve seen that? The story may be simple (often, the best stories are) and not terribly original, but the film represents the continued reemergence of the musical genre, and most importantly offers a fresh perspective with new music, new characters, and a welcome young talent in Damien Chazelle, who’s quickly proving himself as an auteur worth singing about.
- The film is a celebration of Hollywood. And Academy voters love that. They enjoy films that represent their field, especially those that do so in a positive light. Given the recent successes of Argo and The Artist—both eventual Best Picture winners—is La La Land‘s hype within the film community really all that surprising?
- In this Trump era, in which “alternative facts” and fake news cloud the better judgment of so many people, a light, uplifting film provides the necessary escape to remind us that perhaps our dreams are achievable—and more importantly, that we should still bother to dream at all. Maybe not everything is so doom and gloom. At least, not in the movies. And frankly, I wouldn’t mind living in a world in which people stand on car roofs singing about bright days ahead—as long as those people aren’t keeping me from getting to where I’m going.
Still, 14 Oscar nominations? Keep in mind, voters don’t sit in a big room and say, “Gee, what film should we give a record-tying amount of nominations to?” Nominations are decided by voters in individual branches of the Academy. The sound folks vote in the sound categories, the writers vote in the writing categories, the actors vote in the acting categories, etc. Hollywood is a small town and people know each other. I’m sure there’s some commingling going on, but in theory each branch’s votes don’t affect another’s. View these 14 nominations not as a whole, but individually. Ask yourself, “Does La La Land really deserve that nomination for its editing? What about its direction?” Go on down the line. If you agree that each nomination is worthy, then there you have it—a film with 14 nominations.
You may not think the film measures up to Titanic or All About Eve, and that’s okay. Film is an art. It’s not meant to be agreed on. As I said to a friend recently, if an artist creates a work on which there’s universal agreement, she’s doing it wrong.