The least surprising Academy Award nominations in recent memory were announced today in Los Angeles. The good news is that the OscarsSoWhite controversy is behind us, at least for this year. What we have in its place is OscarsSoPredictable. In its incestuous, self-regarding way, Hollywood loves Hollywood stories, which is why La La Land has netted so many nominations – 14 in total, equalling the record shared by Titanic and All About Eve – and why it will score big on the night. It’s a diverting but shallow movie, reassuringly uncontroversial, which has coasted to glory on a wave of goodwill that will culminate at the Oscars ceremony.
There were a handful of surprises. A Best Actress nomination for Ruth Negga, for her quiet, understated performance as a black woman imprisoned for marrying a white man in 1950s Virginia in Loving, is very welcome. It is good also to see Mica Levi nominated for her adventurous score for Jackie and Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou in the running for their screenplay for The Lobster.
More controversially, Mel Gibson is a contender for Best Director for his violent war movie Hacksaw Ridge, which indicates that the industry has decided to forgive the drunken antisemitic outbursts, which seemed at one point to have ended his career for good.
But La La Land is up for all the biggies – Best Picture, Best Director (Damian Chazelle), Best Actor (Ryan Gosling), Best Actress (Emma Stone), Best Original Screenplay (Chazelle). It could feasibly win them all except for Best Actor. I had hoped that the Best Actress award would go to Natalie Portman, who is brilliant as Jacqueline Kennedy in Jackie, but a clued-up colleague assured me recently that the La La love is likely to dominate in that category too. Imagine that! All those trophies going to a candyfloss fantasy which tickles the eye but leaves the brain untroubled. La La Land? Looks like more like Cloud-cuckoo-land to me.
Chazelle’s movie isn’t a Best Picture by any stretch of the imagination. But then Best Pictures so rarely are. The King’s Speech instead of The Social Network? My Fair Lady rather than Dr Strangelove? Argo over Amour? Argo over anything, come to that? That film, which won in 2013, was another beneficiary of the tendency for Academy voters to favour movies about their own kind, their own world. Movie-movies. (See also: Birdman, the 2015 winner.) That tendency will give La La Land an extra push.
Its closest competitor, which still isn’t that close, will be Kenneth Lonergan’s intense drama Manchester By the Sea. Casey Affleck has the Best Actor prize sewn up for his brooding, minimalist turn as a grieving handyman saddled with his teenage nephew. It’s a deserving performance and Affleck must already be thinking about where in the house he’s going to put his statuette. At last count, he’d already scooped 16 awards for this film alone. I reckon someone’s going to be putting up a new shelf. A whole den or anteroom may be in order.
Another dead cert is Viola Davis for Best Supporting Actress in Fences, directed by her co-star Denzel Washington, which opens in the UK on 10 February.
Mahershala Ali should take the Best Supporting Actor award for playing the drug dealer who becomes a surprisingly tender mentor to a young Miami boy in Moonlight (out here on 17 February). Ali’s chief rival will be Jeff Bridges, who gives one of those grizzled-but-affectionate veteran performances as a good-hearted sheriff in Hell and High Water. Moonlight is to my mind one of the few genuinely great titles vying for Best Picture and would have been my choice by miles – except that I don’t have a vote.
That said, I did have a vote in the London Film Critics’ Circle Awards, which were announced last weekend. We made some choices of which I heartily approve, such as naming I, Daniel Blake Best British/Irish Film and giving the Best Actress award to Isabelle Huppert for Things to Come. She is up for an Oscar in that category for a very different film, Paul Verhoeven’s thriller Elle.
Then again, we also handed our Best Film prize to La La Land. Oh well. You win some, you lose some. Unless you’re La La Land, that is, in which case it’s win-win all the way.
The 89th Academy Awards ceremony will be held on 26 February.