Oscars 2017 Countdown – ‘La La Land’ primed to rewrite history

Welcome, welcome, welcome. I’m so excited I had to say that three times. But, this is how I feel leading up to the greatest Sunday of the year and I don’t mean Super Bowl Sunday. Nope, I am talking about the “other” Super Bowl, the one for movies. That’s right boys and girls; we are only 4 weeks away from Oscar Sunday and after last Sunday’s SAG Awards, we might have a tad bit more to talk about. Several surprise winners emerged clouding up and already tough list to pick from, so for those that have never taken this journey with me into everything Oscars, feel privileged. This isn’t your average Academy Awards preview, especially now that it’s part of the Sonic Film Box family. Yes, I will give my thoughts and opinions on this year’s crop of nominees and even give you my picks, but that only scratches the surface for an award show that goes by two names. That’s how big this ceremony is to Hollywood and why you can’t compare it to the others that come before it. Because as cool as it is to be called a SAG or Golden Globe winner, it doesn’t have the same ring as Oscar winner. So let the scrutiny begin as this is the time to pick and poke at every nominee on those ballots who hope to be called an Oscar winner come February 26th.

Going off script for a change, I’m just going to come right out with my pick for Best Picture. Yeah that’s right. Hate to burst that bubble, but sometimes you have to just call it like it is. That’s how confident I am in “La La Land,” a film that transcends Hollywood in a way like I have never seen. Yeah I know, this isn’t exactly breaking news given the run it’s been on, including a clean sweep of all seven awards it was nominated for at the 74th Golden Globe Awards a few weeks ago. But, as impressive as that was and the other 71 wins this film has had over the past couple months, it wasn’t even nominated for the night’s top prize at the SAG Awards. Surprised? I was until I realized there isn’t much of an ensemble there, the main ingredient in a SAG nominee for ‘Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.’ Figure, the smallest cast nominated for that SAG is three credited actors (“Million Dollar Baby” and “Beasts of No Nation”), so “La La Land’s” cast of primarily two had no real shot. Still interesting to look at though when you figure “Braveheart” is the only film since 1995 to win the Oscar for Best Picture without previously being nominated for the SAG’s top prize. So we’ll see what happens with “La La Land” this time and if it manages to re-write history yet again. I obviously think it will, but that’s why we play the game.

For a year in film that really didn’t pack that big of a punch, “La La Land” was a pleasant surprise. It’s just too bad we had to wait until the end of year to see it, as I could have used this film and its joyfulness a lot sooner. And I think that’s probably the best compliment I can give it, as it really just makes you smile from start to finish. So as far as I’m concerned, it deserves all 14 nominations and maybe more. Figure, only “All About Eve (1950)” and “Titanic (1997)” have earned that many nominations, so had ‘La La Land” pulled off just one more nod, we really would be in some new territory. But, history can still be made if it happens to win 12 of those 14, besting “Ben Hur,” “Titantic” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” who all won 11 awards. By the look of the categories it’s nominated in, it could happen given it has two songs nominated for Original Song (“Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” and “City Of Stars” ) and also the nomination for Original Score. That’s two Oscars right there and we’re not even getting into the serious stuff yet. Don’t worry, I will, but first we must talk about the music from this film which along with its cinematography made it what it was. And yes it was a Musical, so of course the music would have an impact. But, I would challenge most people that watch this film to come up with something that it compares to given how original, yet nostalgic it felt throughout. And a lot of that was because of Justin Hurwitz and his amazing score. What a job by the newcomer and one he better get an Oscar for. Because it’s rare for a score to fit so perfectly into the images on the screen. Sure, all movies succeed at this to an extent, but Hurwitz and Director Damien Chazelle really figured something out given how easy it all felt to experience.

In a way it’s not fair for a musical to be among the nominees for Best Original Song or Score. Then again, there’s no guarantee it wins either, as we have seen some upsets take place among these categories in the past. Like in 1976 when the song ‘Evergreen’ from the film “A Star Is Born” went home the winner over the song ‘Gonna Fly Now’ from “Rocky.” Or how about in 1984 when both songs nominated from “Footloose” (‘Footloose’ and ‘Let’s Hear It For the Boy’) walked home empty handed because they couldn’t beat out ‘I just Called To Say I Love You’ from “The Woman in Red.” But possibly the worst upset might have been in 2006 when ‘I Need To Wake Up’ from “An Inconvenient Truth” somehow managed to beat all three songs nominated from “Dreamgirls” a film built around music. That’s insane and why as much as I see “La La Land” winning one of its two nominations for Original Song crafted by Justin Hurwitz; lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paulbut, I could also see it winning zero. Same might also be said for Sound Editing and Sound Mixing, which it has a fighting chance to steal from more formidable competition like “Hacksaw Ridge” and “Arrival.” And the truth is, if it manages to win one or both of these categories, I think we will be in for a very historic night watching “La La Land” attempt to best “Titantic” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” by winning more than 11 awards.

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Getting into how the film looked, it’s hard to not start at cinematography which it will win hands down. Much like last year with “The Revenant,” the camerawork for “La La Land” lifted everything from great to spectacular. When that happens, good luck beating that film.  And really, it’s hard to not get consumed by the shots crafted by first-time nominee Linus Sandgren. From the opening musical sequence on the Freeway all the way to the quiet moments inside the planetarium, Sandgren nailed it. Cinematography is one of my favorite categories mostly because of how much the landscape behind a shot matters. Watching any moment of “La La Land” almost defines this category, so if it doesn’t win, I will be shocked. Then again, without the masterful production design from David Wasco and Sandy Reynolds-Wasco, I doubt some of those same shots would have looked as cool. Shots performed by the amazing and young Damien Chazelle, who is starting to make some noise as one of the best up and coming directors Hollywood has to offer. But, I’m getting ahead of myself here as I will be getting into all of this next week when I feature Cinematography, Production Design and Directing.

It’s rare to find two young actors in their prime at the same time, but don’t tell that to Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. They are just doing their thing and making it look easy like they did in both “Crazy, Stupid, Love” and “Gangster Squad.” What a pair and one worth the nominations they received this year. I just don’t know if either of them will win given the other nominees involved. Then again I didn’t expect Stone to walk away with the SAG award the other night, so she might be primed for the spotlight finally. Same can’t be said for Gosling though, as he was not the best actor from a year ago among his group of nominees. Sure, I liked him and he definitely is getting more polished as he gets older making me believe he will one day be known as an Oscar winner. It just won’t be this year. But, maybe I change my mind by the time I get to the fourth week of this journey, a week where it’s all about acting. That’s right, this is only the beginning to the madness that will be taking over Sonic Film Box. So get your popcorn ready for what will ultimately be the best place to get your Oscar fix leading up to the ceremony on February 26th. 

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