Oscar Nominations Reaction: La La Land and then everything else

​So did “La La Land” get nominated for anything? 

I’m sure I didn’t hear their name called more than 14 times early this morning, tying a record for most nominations in Academy Awards history.

It’s a City of Stars and we’re all just living in it.

If you haven’t already seen “La La Land,” you’re going to want to go and watch Damien Chazelle’s cinematic masterpiece at least once over the next month before it takes the Oscars by storm.

When you’re done with that, go find “Whiplash,” Chazelle’s equally brilliant 2014 film that earned a couple of nominations and a much deserved Best Supporting Actor win for J.K. Simmons. You’ll see that “La La Land” is no fluke.

Before we get into more of the specifics, a few words on the nominations “ceremony” itself that shows just how out of touch the Academy is with the general movie going public.

Nominations were released online at the crack of dawn (or before the crack of dawn depending on what time zone you’re in) via a pre-taped video reel featuring past nominees and winners talking about how great and life-changing it is to be nominated. Fantastic.

Yet a good chunk of the country – the so-called “forgotten” ones we keep hearing about in Washington these days – will be too busy sleeping or getting ready for work that they’ll just glance at a list of nominees hours from now and lament about how they’ve barely seen any of these films.

The Academy undercuts the value of their own Oscar nominations by releasing them haphazardly on a Tuesday morning. How perfect would it be for millions of Americans to see an hour-long special highlighting the nominees in prime time, with trailers and clips of the films to entice people into the theaters to see these films. 

The divide between what Academy voters award nominations to and what moviegoers spend their hard-earned dollars on in theaters is widening and it’s not the audiences’ fault. Studios often make their best films difficult to find in rural America, cramming less quality movies down the throats of a populace much smarter than Hollywood gives them credit for.

This isn’t to say that voters need to give “Deadpool” a Best Picture nomination, say, or a Best Actress nomination to Felicity Jones for “Rogue One.” But something’s got to change.

The Academy needs to bridge the gap. And fast.

Best Picture – “Arrival,” “Fences,” “Hacksaw Ridge,” “Hell or High Water,” “Hidden Figures,” “La La Land,” “Lion,” “Manchester By The Sea” and “Moonlight”

The nine nominees in the Oscars’ top category are a terrific blend of everything right that’s going on in filmmaking right now in Hollywood. 

Everything from big-budget blockbusters like “La La Land” and “Hacksaw Ridge” to small, intimate indie pieces like “Moonlight” and “Hell or High Water” are nominated. Amazon becomes the first internet company to earn a Best Picture nomination with “Manchester By The Sea,” which is surprising given how prevalent Netflix is in the online film world.

All of these films are worthy of their nominations, but I can’t help but feel for films like Tom Ford’s haunting “Nocturnal Animals” and Martin Scorsese’s compelling “Silence” which feel incredibly under-seen and underappreciated given the complete nomination list. I had both films making the Best Picture race in my “best case scenario” predictions, besting “Hacksaw Ridge” and “Hidden Figures.”

Acting Categories

It’s probably best to start with the least surprising category – Best Supporting Actress – which went pretty smoothly with nominations for Viola Davis in “Fences,” Naomie Harris in “Moonlight,” Nicole Kidman in “Lion,” Octavia Spencer in “Hidden Figures” and Michelle Williams in “Manchester By The Sea.” All but Spencer seemed like an absolute lock for a nomination in this category.

Spencer’s performance is very good in the critically acclaimed, surprise box office smash hit “Hidden Figures,” but I would have personally gone with Rachel Weisz’s wonderful turn in Derek Cianfrance’s criminally under-seen “The Light Between Oceans.”

Best Supporting Actor had three certain choices confirmed with Mahershala Ali in “Moonlight,” Jeff Bridges in “Hell or High Water” and Dev Patel in “Lion.” Michael Shannon’s nomination in the category for his terrific work in “Nocturnal Animals” over Golden Globe winning costar Aaron Taylor-Johnson shouldn’t really come as much of a surprise to those who’ve seen the film. Both are fantastic.

Lucas Hedges’ great work opposite Casey Affleck in “Manchester By The Sea” is well earned, though the Academy could have gone in any number of directions here, including Hugh Grant in “Florence Foster Jenkins,” Issey Ogata in “Silence” or my personal favorite fifth option, Mykelti Williamson in “Fences.”

The Academy seemed to take the most chances with their nominations in the Best Actress category, though Natalie Portman in “Jackie,” Emma Stone in “La La Land” and 20-time nominee Meryl Streep in “Florence Foster Jenkins” aren’t surprises by any means.

The biggest omission in any category has to be Amy Adams getting left out here despite her flawless performance in “Arrival,” a Best Picture nominee that simply does not work without Adams killing it in the lead role. Golden Globe winner Isabelle Huppert of “Elle” shouldn’t be as much of a surprise as it still feels like given her upset win last month, though Ruth Negga’s work in the barely-seen “Loving” will have average moviegoers who have never heard of the film scratching their heads.

Best Actor, as expected, will feature the two-horse race between front runners Casey Affleck in “Manchester By The Sea” and Denzel Washington in “Fences.” They are joined by nominees Andrew Garfield in “Hacksaw Ridge,” Ryan Gosling in “La La Land” and Viggo Mortensen in “Captain Fantastic.”

All are deserving, though it feels as if Garfield is nominated for the wrong film as his performance in Scorsese’s “Silence” is perhaps the best of his young career. Mortensen does a fine job in a great film, though “Captain Fantastic” feels like any number of terrific indie comedies that seem to come out every year. To me, Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe are both better in the tonally similar “Swiss Army Man,” but there are far too many fart jokes in that film for the Academy to take notice.

Other various thoughts

“La La Land” getting 14 nominations makes sense if you watch the film, though it will be incredibly unlikely the film carries the day as easily come Oscar night as it did sweeping all seven categories at this year’s Golden Globes. Backlash from the Globes could actually hurt its chances overall, though it probably has the best shot at Best Picture given the Academy’s preferential balloting system in the category.

It feels pretty foolish for the Academy to pass on Pharrell’s incredibly catching tune “Runnin’” from “Hidden Figures” in the Best Original Song category given two “La La Land” nominations for “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” and “City of Stars.” Voters might split their votes between the two songs and open the door for “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda to slip in and win the category with the great “How Far I’ll Go” from the hit Disney animated film “Moana.”

“O.J. Made In America” should be the consensus favorite for Best Documentary, though the Academy certainly needs to clarify what is eligible here (and in the supporting acting categories). Like most who’ve seen Ezra Edelman’s terrific doc, I caught “O.J. Made In America” spread across several parts on ESPN rather than in one seven-hour sitting at a theater. To me, it’s a television miniseries rather than a single documentary. It will win, and probably deserves to, but it still seems fishy.

Other nominations that I would have liked to have seen:

Alicia Vikander and Michael Fassbender for “The Light Between Oceans”

David Mackenzie’s direction for “Hell or High Water”

Love somewhere, anywhere for “Sing Street”

John Goodman for “10 Cloverfield Lane”

“Weiner” for Best Documentary

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