There’s a strong backlash against Oscar frontrunner ‘La La Land’ — but here’s why it’s still going to clean up

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Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling get lost in love in “La La Land,” but some people think their characters are “whitesplaining” narcissists.
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Summit Entertainment

Oscar voting ballots are already in, but with the awards on Sunday imminent, everyone seems to suddenly have a strong opinion about who’s going to win, and perhaps more importantly, who should win.

This year, the tug of war that’s emerged is between the movie musical “La La Land,” which ties the record for the most Oscar nominations ever, and “Moonlight,” a critically beloved and smaller indie drama about a black man in three parts of his life.

Basically every serious Oscar prognosticator has already put their money on “La La Land.” Literally. The odds on betting sites overwhelmingly favor the Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling movie for best picture.

A critic at Slant Magazine may have put it best when he said, “As ‘La La Land’s’ Oscar chances in each category are concerned, there are only three statuses to assign: all sewed up, highly probable, and Ryan Gosling.” (Gosling is expected to lose in the best actor category to either Casey Affleck or Denzel Washington. It’s the one area where the musical looks weak.)

Some people really, really hate ‘La La Land’

Nevertheless, there is a considerable backlash to “La La Land,” and it has serious detractors who all seemed to get louder than usual in the week leading up to the Oscars. (I should say I’m one of those people who has argued that “Moonlight” deserves best picture.)

The Guardian described the situation bleakly, in a piece with the headline, “‘La La Land’s’ inevitable Oscars win is a disaster for Hollywood – and for us.” Writer David Cox says the movie is a story of “narcissists” who are “humorless” and “insensitive.”

The movie has also taken a hit from people who charge that it’s “too white.” Cox calls out what he sees as “whitesplaining jazz” in Gosling’s character, a musician who longs to open up his own jazz club. Paste Magazine similarly criticized the “unbearable whiteness” of “La La Land,” picking apart its racial politics and emphasis on nostalgia.

Critic Sam Adams said on Twitter, perhaps ironically, that “if ‘La La Land’ wins the world will be plunged into a never-ending night from which it will never emerge.” Others have chimed in on social media with their grumbles about the movie and its perceived frontrunner status at the Oscars.

The actor, writer, and director Mark Duplass even wrote an open letter to the Academy urging its voters to choose “Moonlight” and “think about what it would mean” if the film took home the big prize, clearly aware of its dark-horse status.

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You can put a bet on “Moonlight,” but it’s a very long shot. Don’t be surprised when it loses best picture.
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A24

Why ‘La La Land’ is (almost) definitely going to win best picture

But there are some very simple reasons you can expect “La La Land” to win best picture on Sunday, whether you admire the movie, feel ambivalent about it, or think it’s going to plunge us all into darkness.

Aside from having the record-tying number of nominations, it broke the record for wins at the Golden Globes, and has secured the most love from the important Producers Guild, Directors Guild, Screen Actors Guild, and other honors tracked by FiveThirtyEight.

The most likely upset is a win for “Moonlight,” and it would certainly be a way for the Academy to respond to the #OscarsSoWhite conversation about a lack of diverse representation in the awards and Hollywood at large. “Moonlight” is also just a powerful, beautifully made movie about a specific black man’s experience in a poor neighborhood of Miami that also happens to universally resonate.

You could theorize about other potential upsets, especially after “Spotlight,” an early favorite at last year’s awards, stole the thunder from “The Revenant,” which gained steam later. Perhaps “Hidden Figures,” the most crowd-pleasing nominee, as well as the highest-grossing in the US, or “Manchester by the Sea,” which is about as depressing as movies get but also about as moving, could get their due.

Yet “La La Land” has been tracking as the favorite for all of award season, and that’s for good reason.

The simplest answer for why “La La Land” will win is that it’s a platonic Oscar movie. It checks the boxes that have made for best picture winners time and time again: It’s a stylish musical (think “Chicago”) that, thanks to its retro styling, takes us into the past (“Argo,” “The King’s Speech”), and pokes fun at Hollywood while also fundamentally flattering the town’s idea of itself at its most artistically ambitious (“Argo,” “Birdman,” “The Artist”).

That nostalgia and love of Hollywood from its own insiders seems especially potent these days, when people question the studios’ current business model and reliance on franchises and sequels full of spectacle. Hollywood still wants to sell the best version of itself, and this year it’ll do that by crowning “La La Land,” an original, LA-set musical that’s in love with movies of the past, cinematic strivers of today, and, some would argue, its own directorial flashiness.

If you were hoping the Oscars would get a little more real than that, expect to be disappointed.