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The State of the Race: The Rules Don’t Apply to 2016

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I think last night proved, to me anyway, that the rules don’t apply to this year. I tend to follow the race based on stats and history and trends – sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. This is a year that probably intuition is the better bet. There were a few who predicted La La Land to win big – with 6, like Anne Thompson and Michael Patterson and Mark Johnson and many others. I thought no way it wins 6 because only two movies have won 6 and those are Midnight Express and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The most I thought it could win was 5 but I was predicting it for maybe 3. It’s been since the 1970s that any movie there took the most awards of the night so this was pure true Hollywood Foreign Press love. They also sharply went against what was the building consensus among awards pundits, and some of that is likely due to the Critics Choice awards trying to muscle in on their territory and being “first.” The Critics Choice went consensus all the way down the line with Mahershala Ali in supporting, Natalie Portman in Best Actress. The Globes went instead of Aaron Taylor Johnson in Supporting for Nocturnal Animals and Isabelle Huppert, who does not have a SAG nomination at the moment, for Lead Actress.
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But the big win of the night, other than Meryl Streep (I’m going to write a separate post about that because honestly it’s all I can think about now) was La La Land’s historic sweep of the awards. Whatever you think of the Hollywood Foreign Press, this was a big deal for them as La La Land won more awards than any film in their history, including The Godfather, Chinatown, Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, Slumdog Millionaire, Titanic or even A Star is Born, which won a clean sweep way back when. So it’s safe to say that they really really really really really really really really really loved the movie. The question everyone will be asking is, will the Academy follow suit?

Well, I’m just going to say this – no one knows for sure. I’ve seen movies come out of the Globes riding a wave of success and hype until the Producers Guild knocks them out (Avatar, The Revenant, Atonement, Babel, etc). And I’ve seen movies do well there and keep the train a-rolling on (The Artist, Slumdog Millionaire, Argo). Here’s the thing about the preferential ballot – it’s either tricky in a competitive year or it’s not at all tricky in a non-competitive year. If La La Land is as popular with the Academy as it is with the Hollywood Foreign press it will come in with enough votes that no recount is required. And it’s looking more and more like that might be the case.

Still, there is always time for a backlash and if there is one it will be due to the hype that follows this win. After all, Spotlight didn’t win a single Golden Globe last year. About 100 people vote on the Globes. Can La La Land earn that much support with thousands and thousands? Well, as Kris Tapley always says, what else can?

People like me and Anne Thompson and Michael Musto are the doubting Thomases this year where La La Land is concerned. Each of us has our own reasons why. I do think that it’s likely it’s going to steamroller on through and there is no point in fighting it. But I also think Musto and Thompson’s comments about why it might not win are also valid. Remember, the Academy is filled with people who have worked in Hollywood for decades, many of them on the greatest musicals of all time. The thing is, La La Land is being shepherded by the very best Oscar strategist, or certainly one of them, and there is no way she is going to drop the ball on this. Liza Minnelli, in fact, was recently showing support for La La Land. Remember how they brought out Charlie Chaplin’s granddaughter for The Artist? Different studio, perhaps, but same publicist. The SAG nomination thing can also be remedied simply by no one caring about it.

There is still a possibility for an upset, like Moonlight winning the Producers Guild – and I wouldn’t count it out. Those things are incredibly hard to predict. I’ve spent many a night watching my pundit pals on Twitter on the night of the Producers Guild being 100% certain it would be one movie and have it turn out to be a totally different movie. Birdman, for example, is that movie. Once Birdman won there, it won everything, including the Oscar. Our group think can betray us because the truth is we really don’t know how people are going to respond to a movie because movies, like great wine, are different depending on what week people are seeing them. That’s why strategists try to make their movie the last movie people see before voting – they want that lasting moment of joy.

Since no film has ever won 7 Golden Globes we’re really flying blind here. There isn’t much you can do, though, but sit back and enjoy the ride — because it looks like this baby is a freight train.  The one thing we know it can’t win, however, is the SAG ensemble. There is a chance for another movie to potentially steal its thunder by winning there. Or not.

The rule that says “if it’s about Hollywood, it wins” it partly true. If it’s about a broken man, it wins – that’s partly true. But remember, the actors, 2500 of them, did not pick La La Land for ensemble, and that will always seem weird to me since all of the movies that have won that were about Hollywood and actors did. It probably is just a fluke. If the race is competitive in any way, like another movie wins the PGA or the DGA — if there is any kind of interruption at all in the freight train from a guild’s perspective, then we might be in for a competitive race, which means the preferential ballot could produce a surprise winner if La La Land proves divisive in any way. Remember movies like Gravity or Life of Pi or Mad Max or even The Revenant can win a shit-ton of Oscars but still miss on Best Picture because of … say it with me now, the preferential ballot.

As far as the other categories go, Best Actress feels sort of wide open. Now it’s a three way race between Natalie Portman (yes, still), Emma Stone (the frontrunner, still) and Isabelle Huppert (the dark horse and major threat to win). If La La Land wins Best Picture it will be the first film since Million Dollar Baby to win with either a Best Actress nomination or a Best Actress win, and that is astonishing. That is why I think, and have always thought, that one won’t win without the other. To me, La La Land IS Emma Stone. On the other hand, as we saw with Birdman, which WAS Michael Keaton, the more “difficult” part can sometimes emerge the winner and in this case, perhaps Portman, perhaps Huppert. Stranger things have happened. Probably whomever wins the SAG wins the Oscar but again, Huppert isn’t nominated there. So do the rules apply or don’t they apply? The rules state that it’s almost impossible to win an Oscar without a SAG nomination. But maybe this will be the year that changes.

Casey Affleck also seems like he can’t be stopped – but I still feel like Denzel Washington’s performance towers over not just Affleck’s but everyone else’s. That could just be me. With the most nominations heading into the SAG awards, it’s not likely they’re going to go home empty handed. Moonlight, Hidden Figures or Fences will win the SAG ensemble, especially with La La Land out of the way. That is going to be an interesting night to predict.

Screenplay is still open, even with the Globes stat that says La La Land now has to win for Screenplay. If you stick to the rules, yes. If the rules don’t apply, no. Moonlight and Manchester by the Sea seem to have the momentum there. Kris has been saying all along that he thinks La La Land is going to be the biggest winner in preferential ballot history. You have to go back to the 1930s to a time when they also used that ballot and back then, Gone with the Wind was the biggest winner, winning eight competitive Oscars. Can La La Land win more than 8? Picture, Director, Actress, Score, Song, Cinematography, Production Design, Editing. It seems like it can easily win 8.

And away we go.