A musical tops Oscar noms? No surprise, film scholar says

A musical tops Oscar noms? No surprise, film scholar says

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone star in "La La Land," which was nominated for a record-tying 14 Academy Awards. Photo by Dale Robinette.

"La La Land," the movie musical featuring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, landed a record-tying number of Oscar nominations Jan. 24. Wheeler Winston Dixon, a film studies professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, says the movie's popularity among Oscar voters says much about the nostalgic mood of the nation.

Dixon, the Ryan Professor of Film Studies at Nebraska and the author of numerous books on film and film history -- including the forthcoming "A Brief History of Comic Book Movies," co-authored with the university's Richard Graham -- offered some of his thoughts about "La La Land."

It's a cinch to win Best Picture:

"The 14 nominations for 'La La Land' reflect the uncertain times we live in; people want escapism, and they want a sense that, despite all the violence and war around us, a return to the past is possible.

"It's a surprising revival of that most artificial of all Hollywood genres, the musical. Ryan Gosling himself said he was surprised when he was tapped for the film, because he thought the days of the musical were long gone.

"It's bright, it's colorful, it has a 'you can make it if you try' narrative that's as old as the 1930s Depression-era musicals and it's been embraced by a public starved for sheer entertainment.

"It's certainly influenced by such classic musicals as 'Singin' in the Rain' (1953), another blast of color and sunshine. It's been embraced internationally, especially in France, even the brilliant film director Agnès Varda, widow of 'The Umbrellas of Cherbourg' (1964) director Jacques Demy, has applauded the film."

But he doubts "La La Land" will sweep the field. After two years of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences virtually ignoring performers of color, a record six black actors were nominated for Oscars:

"The brightest note to my mind in the nominations is the presence of six African-American actors. It's a clear response to the #OscarsSoWhite phenomenon -- and a welcome tonic to the racism that still informs Hollywood mainstream cinema."

He predicted the winners during the Feb. 26 ceremony:

"Isabelle Huppert, for Best Actress for 'Elle.' She's been overlooked for so long, and Meryl Streep (nominated for 'Florence Foster Jenkins') has more than enough honors; Gosling for Best Actor in 'La La Land;' Mahershala Ali for Best Supporting Actor for 'Moonlight;' Best Supporting Actress to Viola Davis for 'Fences;' and Best Director to Damien Chapelle for 'La La Land.' Music, editing and sound awards probably will go to 'La La Land,' as well. It is after all, a valentine to Hollywood and the industry itself, and so is the favorite out of the gate."

"Moonlight" got a pleasing eight nods, but Dixon said 'La La Land' will probably win more:

"'La La Land' swept the Golden Globes with a record seven awards and I think this pattern will continue at the Oscars, which will be hosted this year by late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel."

Some of the Academy's nominations -- or lack thereof -- were surprising:

"Mel Gibson was nominated for Best Director for 'Hacksaw Ridge' but he won't win; Martin Scorsese was passed over for his passion project, 'Silence.' Pharrell Williams was ignored for his producing chores, plus music, for 'Hidden Figures.'"

Dixon has more thoughts -- he offers them regularly at his popular weblog, Frame By Frame -- but instead offered a caveat:

"In the end, we must remember that it's the Academy members who vote on the Oscars, not the public or critics; as always, the Oscars are really an advertisement for the business of Hollywood filmmaking."