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Friday, October 21, 2016
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Why ‘La La Land’ Winning Best Picture at the Oscars Would Be Monumental

'La La Land' (Courtesy of Venice Film Festival)

‘La La Land’ (Courtesy of Venice Film Festival)

By: Carson Blackwelder
Managing Editor

Musicals have always had their place in Hollywood, but they aren’t exactly hyped these days. One film, La La Land, could change that this year and — based on what critics are predicting — is poised to at least be nominated for, but potentially win, best picture at the Oscars.

Should the film — directed and written by Damien Chazelle and starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone — take home the top honors at the 89th Academy Awards on February 26, 2016, it would be joining an elite group of works as just the 11th musical to win the coveted category.

The list of musicals to have won best picture at the Oscars include: 1929’s The Broadway Melody in 1930, 1936’s The Great Ziegfeld in 1937, 1944’s Going My Way in 1945, 1951’s An American in Paris in 1952, 1958’s Gigi in 1959, 1961’s West Side Story in 1962, 1964’s My Fair Lady in 1965, 1965’s The Sound of Music in 1966, 1968’s Oliver! in 1969, and 2002’s Chicago in 2003. There are others who have been nominated, but these are the ones that triumphed.

When looking at this handful of films, four of them come from MGM with the other six coming from their own respective production company or production companies. When breaking down the inspiration behind them, half (the most recent five) were inspired by a Broadway stage production with the other half (the second through fifth) calling various things — a novella, an orchestral composition, a pre-existing story, and a series of old shows — source material and one (the very first) being completely original.

It’s interesting to look at where the ideas of these movies came from as those based on an already established Broadway stage production have a built-in audience there while those that are original works had to find an audience on their own. Based on the above evidence, the award going to movie adaptations of stage shows is what has happened since 1960. This is important because La La Land — set for release on December 9 — is an entirely original work.

Going into a musical and not knowing what to expect or making a musical without people wanting to see the adaptation of something they’ve either already seen or have heard rave things about is quite the risk for Lionsgate and should get La La Land some real street cred.

For musicals to win the title of best picture is a pretty rare occurrence with it having occurred 10 out of 88 times — or a little over 11 percent of the time — with nominations being a little more common with it having happened around 40 times since the beginning of the Oscars.

At one moment in history, though, musicals winning the best picture category was commonplace. For films made between 1958 and 1968 — therefore competing between 1959 and 1969 — five musicals won Hollywood’s biggest price. But after that, however, we see a huge drop off until Chicago in the early 2000s — about 30 years of drought.

Forgetting those musicals that have won best picture, only three — besides Chicago — have even been nominated in the top category at the Oscars since 2000: 2001’s Moulin Rouge! in 2002, 2004’s Ray in 2005, and 2012’s Les Misérables in 2013. That means that just over eight percent of the musicals that have been nominated for best picture — a total of 37 — have happened since the turn of the millennium.

A best picture win for La La Land would be a true return to form for the genre at the Oscars — not just because musicals aren’t made all that often anymore, but because of this work’s originality and uniqueness.

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