As of about two months ago, my loose prediction was that La La Land would win the 89th Best Picture statuette this coming Sunday over it’s two closest (and far superior) competitors: Moonlight and Manchester by the Sea. Weeks later, and having watched a dozen or so other winners for the first time, I can happily take out the “loose” in that sentence and replace it with “all but certain.”
The Best Picture winner is rarely a great movie, but it happens, so part of me hopes that an upset is pulled off but La La Land fits the bill snuggly. The majority of the movies that have won the Oscar are well made, well acted, and competently written. It’s in their political meaning that their most troubling faults are so often found and that’s exactly where La La Land falls apart as well. Revisiting many of the winners over the last few months, it became more and more clear how cyclical the whole system is, how today’s nominees are often direct echoes of former winners or major nominees. One would have to be blind, for instance, to not see the similarities between From Here to Eternity and Hacksaw Ridge.
The new, which Moonlight clearly represents this year, has always been alluring to Oscar voters but the ultimate decision goes towards classicism. Does this movie feel and act like a classic? The metric is anchored directly to the accomplishments of the past, secured to knowledge of what is widely considered classic and the ability to reimagine it with some new bodies, script pages, and a little new paint. It’s difficult not to get cynical about the whole mishigas, but as going through these movies made me realize, there are flashes of innovation and ambition even in something as painfully irrelevant as Crash. Much like society, the Oscars adopt change slowly but when they do finally find their way to awarding truly great works of art and storytelling, one feels a quick flash of optimism about an industry and art form that often produce trash. It might be illusory but that flash is important, as much to cinephiles as to a new class of filmmakers who have plenty of ideas, both new and old.