Why the uncomplicated joy of La La Land will triumph at the Oscars
- Credit: Gilbert Films/Dale Robinette
We live in unsettling times. The world is anxious, the economy is fragile, long-term job prospects for anyone, regardless of qualifications, are not as secure as they were a generation ago. Young people are struggling to get on the property ladder and wonder what the future brings.
At times of uncertainty and economic gloom, the world needs a touch of glamour, a splash of sparkle and that is what we see with this year's Oscar nominations.
Hard-hitting human dramas like American Honey and I, Daniel Blake were sidelined as were earnest epics like Martin Scorsese's Silence – the story of Jesuit priests in Japan – and Clint Eastwood's real-life hero plane crash movie Sully, which, in any other year, would be seen as a prime Oscar-fodder.
Gritty, social dramas and dull but worthy films are not what audiences want as the world increasingly loses its head. They want reassurance, they want a feelgood factor, they want to be uplifted and that is what this year's Oscars have given them.
The biggest winner has to be La La Land, a glorious and well-made contemporary musical which scooped up 14 Oscar nominations and 11 BAFTA nominations but it has that Fred Astaire/Gene Kelly quality (and glamour) that helped people through previous rough times.
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Like that other big Oscar winner The Artist, the black and white silent film that collected seven BAFTAs and five Oscars including Best Picture in 2012, La La Land is a love letter to the world of Hollywood.
They make wonderful companion pieces because both films are a declaration of love to an era that people assumed had gone forever.
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While The Artist proved you could make a modern black and white silent that was genuinely engaging and moving, La La Land does the same with the Hollywood musical.
La La Land is not insubstantial froth and glitter, it conjures up a genuinely touching story that at times is very moving but, because it is such a well-made film, with a thoughtful, well constructed screenplay, it still sends the audience home with a bounce in its step.
Damien Chazelle's film has three great selling points: technically it is a very well-made; commercially it has been a huge success and artistically it has tapped into the mood of the era. People want to be entertained, they love a great musical but they want to be moved as well. La La Land does all these things.
It is up for all the major awards: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Music and Best Song. I fully expect it to march off with the bulk of these major prizes – but, it may not win them all.
The competition, while not being anywhere near as high profile, may well sneak off a couple of choice awards. Oscar doesn't always like a clean sweep.
After the fall out of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy last year, the Academy have a raft of non-white nominees and movies this year. Moonlight has some serious buzz about, looking at the life of a young black man during three stages of his life. With eight nominations, it is seen as the biggest threat to La La Land but the question remains is it just a little too hard-hitting to win in this feelgood era? Although, it would be great if Britain's Naomie Harris picked up the Best Supporting Actress award.
Indian adoption drama Lion gets a spread of nominations including Best Picture and Best Supporting nods for Nicole Kidman and Dev Patel.
Oscar has chosen to reward Fences, an adaptation of a stage play, starring Denzel Washington, with four nominations. This was largely overlooked by the Golden Globes and BAFTAs and because stage adaptations don't tend to win movie prizes, its nomination here is largely a public show of affection and support.
The same is also true of Denis Villeneuve's serious sci-fi movie Arrival. It gets a Best Picture nod, plus one for Best Director, Best Cinematography and Best Adapted Screenplay but without major acting nominations it doesn't look as if it will be a strong contender in these other categories.
Again, it is being honoured for offering something different. Villeneuve has given us a science fiction film that is not about lasers and space battles but is about making contact with another species. It's a companion piece to Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
It offers the suggestion that newcomers, travellers from elsewhere, may not be hostile and in fact may have something to offer us if we are welcoming. It's not a message which is likely to be well received at The White House.
Equally uplifting, but with more of a chance of actually lifting a trophy, is Casey Affleck's Manchester-By-The-Sea, which has picked up a raft of major nominations including the all-important Best Picture, Best Director and assorted acting nods.
It's been a personal project for Casey about a taciturn uncle who is forced to look after his nephew following the death of his brother. It's the uplifting tear-jerker that Oscars loves to reward with at least one trophy and I suspect this won't go home empty-handed.
Buried in among the high profile nominations is also something of a public act of forgiveness. Mel Gibson had been cast out in the Hollywood wilderness for ten years now after he was filmed having an anti-Semitic rant when he was pulled over by police officers after suspected drink-driving. His critically acclaimed Mayan Indian drama Apocalypto failed to win any of the expected nominations following his outburst.
His gritty Second World War drama Hacksaw Ridge tells the story of The Battle of Okinawa through the eyes of army medic Desmond Doss played by Oscar nominee Andrew Garfield.
But, this will be the year of La La Land. It's both moving and entertaining and both Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are likely to carry off the acting honours simply because Hollywood loves to see their stars proving that they can sing.