Let me make one thing perfectly clear: I enjoyed La La Land.
And this millennial musical is charming, sweet even, with an ever-so-catchy title song that will certainly win the Oscar for best song.
But 14 (yes, 14) Oscar nominations is, in my opinion, a bit excessive.
But (and here I must admit that my generation gap is showing) viewed in the light of the legendary Hollywood musicals of yore — Singin’ in the Rain, Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers flicks, those magical Busby Berkeley elaborations — La La Land is an also-ran.
Oscar caliber? I think not. It’s — in my opinion — much ado about nothing.
And in passing, let me note that Hollywood musicals have led a rocky life: In fact, the 1953 classic Singin’ in the Rain got just one Oscar nod: Best Supporting Actress for squeaky-voiced Jean Hagen. She didn’t win.
That’s Hollywood and its musicals history.
Having said that, come Sunday’s Oscar night, La La Land is likely to scoop up at least a handful of golden statuettes, although not, I hope, for best actor or actress. It might collect best film, and even best director. (More about that later.) That could happen, as the Academy has been trying to recruit a younger generation of voters (or at least says it is) to even out the average voter age, which is well into the 60s.
OK, now I’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about what else is likely to happen when the 89th Oscar awards show unspools in the hands of first-time host Jimmy Kimmel. Last year, you may recall, there were tons of complaints about the absence of color in nominees or, as they put it, “the lack of diversity.”
Not so this year.
Best actor should go to Denzel Washington for Fences. Of course, he’s helped by August Wilson’s Tony-winning words, which deliver savage and brutally biting dialogue. It could bring him his third Oscar. (In l989 he won a best supporting trophy for Glory and in 2001 a best actor as the vicious cop in Training Day.)
The only upset could be Casey Affleck for his role as the taciturn and troubled star in Manchester by the Sea, directed and written by the much-acclaimed Kenneth Lonergan. Lurking in the best actor wings is Ryan Gosling, another LLL candidate. If that should happen, then my whole thesis goes up in smoke.
I must say, I liked Viggo Mortensen in Captain Fantastic — but he’s a rank outsider.
And speaking of color and Fences, Viola Davis is a shoo-in for best supporting actress as Washington’s long-suffering wife. That one smoldering scene, with Viola literally blubbering and spitting, should wrap it up for her.
If, as I expect, Washington wins best actor and Davis, best supporting actress, it will be the first time in history that two actors win Oscars as well as Tonys for repeating stage and screen roles.
Isn’t that perennial Oscar contender, Meryl Streep, up for best actress again? But there’s little doubt that Meryl is a spectator this year for her amusing turn in Florence Foster Jenkins.
My choice is Natalie Portman as the grief-stricken Jackie Kennedy in Jackie, a moving film from Chilean Pablo Larraín, who does a terrific job directing his first English-language film. Emma Stone is, of course, La La Land’s candidate.
When it comes to best supporting actor, voters usually surprise us.
Who doesn’t love Jeff Bridges for Hell or High Water, a rollicking piece of movie entertainment? But my pick is another actor of color: Mahershala Ali as the drug dealer in Moonlight. He’s a solid, workmanlike thespian from Oakland, California. Voters also like Dev Patel (remember him in 2008’s Slumdog Millionaire?) for his role in the heart-tugging Lion.
A few years ago the Academy decided to increase the contenders for best film, which means the race for best film is a lot harder to call. This year there are nine competing — and here’s where La La Land may score. Movies like Arrival, Hacksaw Ridge, Hidden Figures and Hell or High Water don’t have — if you’ll excuse me saying — a chance in hell of winning.
Now we come to best director. Winning best film does not guarantee an Oscar for the director. The Academy has a long history of the director being left out in the cold when the film has swept the board. Painful, I know. Consider the fact that in Academy history, legendary directors like Alfred Hitchcock, Ridley Scott and Orson Welles never won Oscars — although Welles received an honorary one in l970.
That said and done, Damien Chazelle could add to La La Land’s collection, if he’s not upset by Mr. Lonergan. Surprisingly, the “10 years sober” Mel Gibson is in with the contenders, with his Hacksaw Ridge — but redemption and glory are not his this year.
There’s one dead certainty: Another for La La Land. Didn’t you come out of that movie humming “City of Stars”?
The main challenge comes from Justin Timberlake. (Why do I get him confused with Justin Bieber, the guy who never seems to be able to behave normally in public? Different guys.) Timberlake sings “Can’t Stop the Feeling” from the movie Trolls. Now hum that one for me please. You can’t.
And did you even see the movie? Remember? It’s the one based on a line of toys!
The envelope please . . .
The 89th Academy Awards will be on Sunday, Feb. 26, on ABC. Live coverage starts at 4 p.m.