The Culture Movies

Here's why 'La La Land' just may be unstoppable at the 2017 Oscars

Industry watchers think it will be a major upset if anything but 'La La Land' wins the best picture Oscar on Feb. 26. Why critics say it looks like a sure win for the movie musical.

'La La Land' stars Ryan Gosling (l.) and Emma Stone (r.).
Dale Robinette/Lionsgate/AP
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“La La Land” has danced and sung its way into the hearts of those who bestow awards such as the Golden Globes and is viewed as almost impossible to take down at the Oscars on Feb. 26. How did the movie succeed to such an extent during the awards season? 

“La La” stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone as a jazz pianist and aspiring actress who fall in love in contemporary Los Angeles. It’s directed by Damien Chazelle of “Whiplash.”

The movie found acclaim early on after screening at festivals including the Toronto Film Festival and positive reviews from critics. Monitor film critic Peter Rainer gave the movie an A, calling it a “deliriously fine movie musical.” 

“La La” soon set a record for the most prizes ever received at the Golden Globes (though it did miss out on the usually crucial Screen Actors Guild best ensemble award) and now it’s viewed as far and away the frontrunner for the best picture prize at the upcoming Oscars. 

“This has become the 800-pound gorilla in the Oscar race,” Deadline writer Pete Hammond wrote of “La” in predicting the best picture for 2017. “At this point, barring some sort of catastrophe, the only real question seems to be not if ‘La La Land’ wins Best Picture, but just how many Oscars it takes before that final envelope is opened. It is ‘La La’’s to lose this year.” 

The film has attracted some criticism, with New York Times writer Jon Caramanica writing that the movie “is a culturally isolated film that feels like a rejoinder to this rejoinder, a celebration of moving through the present moment – political, racial, representational – with blinders on.... In leaning so hard on Seb’s jazz classicism as a proxy for unvarnished artistic truth, ‘La La Land’ ends up having very little respect for jazz as a living art form.”

But Mr. Hammond doesn’t think naysayers will have an effect on Oscars night. 

“[T]he only thing perhaps holding it back might be the feeling that the movie isn’t important enough, so maybe the Academy will award the top prize to something a little meatier,” he wrote. “Don’t count on it.” 

How did “La La Land” become the presumptive Oscars champion, winning over voters and guild members during this awards season? 

Collider writer Adam Chitwood thinks the fact that the movie celebrates the film industry and is an enjoyable experience has helped it. 

“It’s a film that celebrates dreamers and Hollywood itself – which as we’ve seen with wins for ‘The Artist,’ ‘Birdman,’ and ‘Argo’ recently is a plus – and ultimately it’s uplifting and fun, which counters the dour national mood of the moment,” he wrote. 

And Vox writer Alex Abad-Santos writes that “La La” may have done so well in part because of its storyline – it's fairly tame compared to what the Academy may consider more alternative storylines explored among its major competitors. 

“What makes ’La La Land’’s win seem even more inevitable is that the Academy has a history of not rewarding progressive stories like ‘Moonlight’ (see: ‘Brokeback Mountain’’s loss to ‘Crash’ in 2006 or ‘Carol’ failing to garner a Best Picture nomination in 2016),” Mr. Abad-Santos writes of best picture nominee “Moonlight.” "That history makes a win for ‘La La Land’’s musical escapism – over a movie about a black gay man’s tumultuous coming of age – look even more likely.”