Everyone agrees La La Land is going to win the Oscar for Best Picture, right? Director Damien Chazelle’s ode to Hollywood features great performances from great performers, brilliant technical qualities, a story that’s personal to the film industry elite voting on the award and offers the kind of novelty voters typically love, bringing back the classic song and dance genre Hollywood’s been missing for years.
It’s won the Golden Globe for best Musical or Comedy, the AFI’s Film of the Year, the Critics’ Choice award for Best Film and some 10,000 other awards. The Oscar record-tying 14 nominations is the cherry on top. Some have already handed Chazelle the statue.
It’s all very intimidating to bet against, but in the face of all those accolades, there are reasonable seeds of doubt. The most obvious can be found on this very website: At 1.168* to win, La La is a longer shot than all but one of the favourites in our six Oscar markets, which means there’s intelligence out there that suggests it’s not the lock Hollywood insiders insist it is.
That intelligence suggests Moonlight is very much in the race, and considering Barry Jenkins’ coming of age film about the struggles that come with being gay in the black community is still offering a 4.93* payoff? There’s ample reason to bet against “the sure thing.”
An excellent film
Moonlight is a different kind of film. La La Land’s emotional outpouring and plot peaks and valleys are countered by the quiet strength of Moonlight’s deep character studies and the relatable pain and power of loneliness. It’s the kind of serious examination of a new kind of emotional frailty that Hollywood has traditionally loved.
First and foremost, it needs to be recognized that Moonlight is an excellent film. Some of the reasons we’ll list below will suggest there are other factors at work here, but without Moonlight’s excellence, the rest would be moot. An amazing 98% of reviews detailed on Rotten Tomatoes were positive, out-distancing La La Land’s 93%. This is a truly great film we’re talking about.
#Oscarsowhite and changing voter demographics
When it comes to judgment of art, one might idealise a world where things like an artist’s skin colour wouldn’t affect one’s judgment of the quality of artwork, but last year’s #Oscarssowhite discourse showed us that if nothing else, there’s a large segment of the film industry that doesn’t believe that to be the case.
Oscar votes will be coming from a younger, more diverse demographic of voter than ever before in a liberal industry that’s rebelled with vigor against a new American President who has put the racism issue on the forefront.
The hashtag was born when the 2016 nominations were announced and lacked a single actor/actress of colour (AOC) amongst twenty acting nominees. The issue went viral immediately. Some said it was a one year blip, others an indicator of a larger pattern of AOCs only getting roles specifically for AOCs. Whatever one’s opinion of the debate, it can’t be argued that the discourse shifted the focus of the academy, and ultimately the nature of its membership as well.
As recently as 2002, the LA Times found that 94% of the electorate was Caucasian and the median age 62. Those demographics have certainly shifted with the Academy’s announcement in January 2016, which included:
“Beginning later this year, each new member’s voting status will last 10 years, and will be renewed if that new member has been active in motion pictures during that decade. In addition, members will receive lifetime voting rights after three ten-year terms; or if they have won or been nominated for an Academy Award.”
In addition, the Academy pledged “an ambitious, global campaign to find and recruit new, more diverse members” and to doubling the number of women in the Academy by 2020. In short, Oscar votes will be coming from a younger, more diverse demographic of voter than ever before in a liberal industry that’s rebelled with vigor against a new American President who has put the racism issue on the forefront.
In the steps of Boyhood?
Entering Awards season in 2014, Boyhood was a mortal lock to win Best Picture, but eventually lost out to Birdman in part because of a hangover effect. After winning throughout the early portion of the awards season schedule, Boyhood started to lose its footing as the hype of its gimmick wore off.
It’s plausible that La La Land—a truly charming film—could suffer the same fate. As beloved as it’s been in Hollywood circles, there have been those who have speculated that the love stems in part from what is essentially an examination of voter lives.
With two stars whose singing/dancing wouldn’t cut it on those artforms’ professional circuits, there are those who say “it’s a nice film, but…” and their legion is only likely to grow as repeat screenings highlight those shortcomings.
We haven’t seen quite the same drop-off in the awards season for La La Land that we did with the extreme case of Boyhood (note that Birdman was a 1.524 favourite by the time markets closed), but if La La Land fatigues, Moonlight (which, like La La, won a Best Picture Golden Globe) may be primed to pounce, and like the video suggests, voters may only be getting their first look at Moonlight as they prepare to cast their final votes.