Column: The more Oscars 'La La Land' wins, the more its legacy will suffer


Fans of "La La Land" should be wary of just how many Oscars the film wins. Austin VanScoik

In 2011, “The King’s Speech” won Best Picture at the Academy Awards.

The period drama starred Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter and Geoffrey Rush and was directed by Tom Hooper. It told the story of an eccentric speech therapist who helped King George VI correct his speech impediment and confidently rule England.

As Best Picture winners go, “The King’s Speech” was fine. It was a nice, uplifting movie with an impressive turn from Firth and solid directing from Hooper. In addition to winning Best Picture, it also took Best Original Screenplay, Best Director and Best Actor.

“The King’s Speech” is no longer remembered for its uplifting story or for Firth’s performance. People don’t think fondly back on how it told the story of one of Britain’s greatest kings.

“The King’s Speech” is primarily remembered for winning Oscars that should have gone to “The Social Network.”

That’s it. That’s its legacy.

While “The Social Network” has gone on to be considered one of the greatest films of the 21st Century, “The King’s Speech” is just the movie that got in its way.

This year, “La La Land” faces the same threat, but on a different scale. Damien Chazelle’s old-Hollywood style musical is nominated for a stunning 14 Oscars, and while pundits don’t think it can tie the all-time record of 11 wins on Oscar night, it may still dominate this year’s awards.

Here’s something fans of the musical may not have considered: the more Oscars “La La Land” wins, the worse it may be remembered.

First of all, “La La Land” is the overwhelming favorite in the Best Picture race. The more prizes “La La Land” has won this season — from its Golden Globes sweep to various guild awards — the more backlash it has faced.

Think about the “La La Land” versus “Moonlight” battle like this year’s Grammys showdown between Adele’s “25” and Beyonce’s “Lemonade.” While “25” was a fantastic album, and everyone loves Adele, there's no question that “Lemonade” should have won. It was more culturally relevant, politically important and all-around groundbreaking.

That’s “Moonlight” in a sentence. The coming-of-age story of a young, gay black man struck viewers and critics in a way no other film could, and the themes “Moonlight” represents are especially important ones this year.

“La La Land” was fantastic in many ways, but “Moonlight” is the “Lemonade” of this year’s Oscars. “La La Land” won’t be remembered only for beating “Moonlight,” but it may well leave a dark stain on the colorful musical’s legacy.

In fact, the film may be better off if it loses more than just the “Best Picture” race.

When the 14 nominations for “La La Land” were announced, people began to buzz about its odds of breaking the all-time win record. Could it really win 12 of its 14 nominations?

No, it can’t.

Beyond Best Picture, there are only a few other near-locks for “La La Land.” Emma Stone will likely win Best Actress, Damien Chazelle will almost certainly take Best Director and the film will probably take at least one of the Sound Mixing or Sound Editing categories. A Best Score win for Justin Hurwitz seems likely, but a surprise in that category isn’t out of the question. Best Editing is also well within reach.

An Original Song victory for “City of Stars” or “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” seems like a good bet, but both are up against the powerhouse that is Lin-Manuel Miranda (and the possibility that the Academy splits votes between the two “La La Land” tracks is a good one.) The production categories are still up in the air at this point, and while Best Cinematography is a definite possibility, it’s not a lock. Ryan Gosling won’t win Best Actor, and Best Original Screenplay and Best Costume Design are long shots.

The Academy may love “La La Land” more than anyone suspects, but public backlash against the film is in full swing and odds are good the film will only win somewhere around half of its 14 nominations.

It all comes down to the campaign the “La La Land” team has run in the past month and whether it is enough to stand against the rising backlash. Their chosen “The Revenant”-esque narrative about difficulties getting the film made isn’t helping.

No matter how many times Chazelle and Stone gush about how difficult it was to get “La La Land” to the big screen, educated voters won’t buy it. Hollywood loves nothing more than to make movies about themselves, and musicals are in right now. Throw in the onscreen power couple of Stone and Gosling, and there was no way “La La Land” wasn’t going to be a huge hit.

Now an artistic, painful film about a gay teenager growing up in Miami? That’s a tougher sell.

Awards season backlash is something that Best Picture candidates face every year, and the winners are usually just the ones that survive longest. Thanks to its late December release, “The Revenant” backlash hit at the perfect time last year, and “Spotlight” slipped in for the upset. If “Moonlight” had swept every awards show up to this point, “La La Land” would probably have been considered the critical dark horse. Everyone loves the underdog, and it’s all about timing.

That’s why more Oscars for “La La Land” will ultimately mean loss of legacy. If the Academy decides to spread the love on Feb. 26 and “La La Land” only wins 5 or 6 of its nominations, people will probably complain that the movie was snubbed. If it wins 8 or 9 of its nominations, or even gets into the double digits, people will complain the Academy was too obsessed with the film.

For legacy’s sake, the fewer wins, the better. All that gold may look good on Damien Chazelle’s shelf, but “La La Land” will either be remembered as undeserving or under-appreciated — just ask the cast of "The King's Speech" which one they would have preferred. 

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