Just less than two days past the Golden Globes, where La La Land solidified its front-runner status as the film to beat at the Oscars, we have further proof from today’s BAFTA and PGA nominations that it still isn’t missing a beat. With a leading 11 nods at BAFTA, and that expected spot in the PGA’s list of 10 contenders for its Darryl F. Zanuck Award For Outstanding Producer Of Motion Pictures (or the guild’s version of Best Picture), this is a movie that all the competition can do is hope to knock it off its perch somewhere along the way.
It isn’t stumbling, though it could run into a little trouble at SAG where it has no Outstanding Cast nomination and its stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are longer shots in the lead acting categories — particularly Gosling, who has to contend with the likes of category favorite Casey Affleck in Manchester By The Sea and Denzel Washington in Fences. Stone, coming off her Golden Globe, could well win there in her category since this is a group (however large) of actors who can relate to her character, with the same kinds of hopes and dreams.
That La La Land, Manchester By The Sea, Moonlight, Arrival, Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, Hell Or High Water and Lion made the PGA list is not surprising. These are titles that turn up repeatedly on any list of Best Picture contenders, particularly the consistent awards-season power trifecta of La La, Manchester and Moonlight. Arrival has proven to be a steady factor too and one to keep watching, though it is shorter on actual wins than the top three.
But for me there were two contenders that make for the most interesting scenario from today’s PGA nods, and they both come from 20th Century Fox, and not (for a change) its awards-magnet specialty division Fox Searchlight whose only hope this year, Jackie, was AWOL. Fox’s February box office juggernaut Deadpool made the list, at odds with the usual trend of snubbing comic book movies. It should be noted that whereas a film like Clint Eastwood’s box office and critical hit Sully (surprisingly missing also at the Globes, WGA and SAG) might have been more expected to make the finals at PGA today, Deadpool has so far figured in various awards contests with a Best Picture and Actor (Musical or Comedy) nomination at the Golden Globes and even another guild, WGA, where it has an Adapted Screenplay nod.
For the PGA , which tends to be more kind to movies that make tons of money (having nominated the likes of James Bond and Harry Potter in past seasons), Deadpool in retrospect seems like a no-brainer. Does this mean a Best Picture Oscar nomination is in the offing? Doubtful, but I am sure the ratings-loving Academy wouldn’t mind a bit if it did. However, the Academy can name as few as five up to 10 films for its Best Picture list, whereas the PGA always goes with a solid 10. Thus there are always discrepancies, though the two organizations (PGA also vets Academy individual producer nominees) most often are in lockstep.
A more realistic Best Picture Oscar contender, also from Fox,is the movie to watch at the moment. It is trending way up these days. It was an afterthought basically at BAFTA today, where it only received a Screenplay nomination (it doesn’t even open in the UK until February 17), and at the Globes, where it had a couple of smaller mentions, it has so far made a clean sweep of nominations from key guilds SAG (Best Cast, Supporting Actress Octavia Spencer), WGA, and now PGA. The guild nominations are the ones I look at most closely as the memberships of the guilds and the Academy overlap in significant ways.
Fox was late in sending screeners for Hidden Figures so it was a slow starter, but it is peaking perfectly just as Oscar-nomination voting is going on with ballots due back Friday. Knocking Rogue One off its box office throne last weekend was one way to get attention, and a rare A+ Cinemascore (even rarer since it was A+ in every demo) was another way to indicate this movie will be a huge factor throughout the next few weeks leading up to the February 26 Oscars.
It is also a film that Academy voters to whom I speak can all agree. If there’s anything that might be a spoiler against La La Land, it could be this little-engine-that-could, of which the PGA endorsement is further proof. An unlikely upset win at PGA on January 28, or the next day with an Outstanding Cast victory at SAG, could really shake things up, especially if, as I have always suspected, Hidden Figures scores well with Oscar nominations on January 24.
In my KCET Screening Series which ended last month, the audience choice for Favorite Movie was indeed Hidden Figures by a substantial margin over second-place Lion and third-place La La Land. It’s a similar demo to the Academy, and its feel-good emotional effect still being front of mind, and even John Glenn’s recent death, probably contribute to its momentum. Do “I See A Victory,” as the Pharrell Williams song from the film suggests. Not quite, but I do see a potential new player in the race.
As I say there are always downsides to being a front-runner. We have seen it time and time again, even though La La Land has so much to cheer about and is a genuinely deserving and highly original movie that seems to be hitting the zeitgeist in every way. There is no question it is the one to beat, but it ain’t over til it’s over, or at least until the Oscar nominations are revealed.
So let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. The all-important DGA nominations Thursday will be the next big stop — or bump? – in the ever-winding road of Oscar season.