Back to IndieWire

Oscar Nominations Analysis: ‘La La Land’ Will Win Best Picture, Unless Voters Let ‘Moonlight’ Shine

Academy voters show their serious side with this year's nominations — and that could give African-American drama "Moonlight" a Best Picture advantage.

"Moonlight": Andre Holland, Ashton Sanders, Mahershala Ali, Alex Hibbert, Tarell McCraney, Naomie Harris, Trevante Wright, director Barry Jenkins

“Moonlight”: Andre Holland, Ashton Sanders, Mahershala Ali, Alex Hibbert, Tarell McCraney, Naomie Harris, Trevante Rhodes, director Barry Jenkins

Daniel Bergeron

Talk about a course correction. A year after #Oscarsowhite, not only did Academy voters nominate a record seven actors of color, but they also positioned “Moonlight” as the only film that’s likely to rival the 14-nomination juggernaut of “La La Land” for best picture.

The eight nominations for “Moonlight” include two supporting actors, writing, directing, cinematography, and editing (which was not among the six nominations for “Manchester By the Sea”). That upset would require A24 doing everything right, much as Fox Searchlight did for “12 Years a Slave.”

However, one element is in their favor, and it’s beyond the control of any Oscar consultant: “La La Land” is a light escapist romp through musicals past. More often than not, gravitas tends to win the day with Oscar voters, and that’s an instinct that may have even greater resonance this year given the recent inauguration of President Donald Trump.


Other nominated films that feature actors of color include Paramount’s “Fences” and Fox 2000’s “Hidden Figures,” the surprise best foreign-language nominee “Tanna” (distributed by Lightyear Entertainment), and The Weinstein Company’s “Lion.”

The Academy actors branch nominated a record seven actors of color: familiar faces Octavia Spencer (“Hidden Figures”) and “Fences” stars Denzel Washington (his eighth nomination) and Viola Davis (her third) as well as Oscar newbies Dev Patel (“Lion”), Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris (“Moonlight”), and Ruth Negga (“Loving”).

Voters were inclusive through other categories as well. In cinematography, Bradford Young (“Arrival”) is the first African-American man to earn a nomination from that branch. Editor Joi McMillon was nominated for “Moonlight,” with Nat Sanders. McMillion is the first African-American woman editor to be nominated; the only other African-American nominee in the Academy’s history was Hugh A. Robertson for “Midnight Cowboy” in 1969.

For his second feature, Barry Jenkins (“Moonlight”) is the fourth black man nominated by the directors branch, following John Singleton (“Boyz n the Hood “), Lee Daniels (“Precious”), and Steve McQueen (“12 Years a Slave”).

READ MORE: Full Oscar Nominations List

“African Americans did exceptionally well with a record total of 18 nominations across all categories,” stated African American Film Critics Association president Gil Robertson, “including history-making nominations earned by black women in the Best Supporting Actress category; one black editor, a black cinematographer, and three African American themed films for Best Picture. AAFCA applauds the Academy’s efforts and we hope that their progress continues to reflect America’s rich diversity.”

This Article is related to: Awards and tagged



“It’s [LA LA LAND] only the third original musical to land a Best Picture nomination, following ‘All That Jazz’ (1979) and ‘Anchors Aweigh’ (1945).”

This is incorrect. If Best Picture nominee ALL THAT JAZZ is an original musical (it has an original screenplay (by Bob Fosse and Robert Alan Aurthur, though it features few if any original songs), well, so is AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, which won the 1951 Oscar for Best Story and Screenplay for scripter Alan Jay Lerner. So is Powell and Pressburger’s 1948 THE RED SHOES. 1937’s 100 MEN AND A GIRL is another original-for-the-screen musical Best Picture nominee, as are 1936’s THREE SMART GIRLS, 1935’s THE BROADWAY MELODY OF 1936, 1934’s FLIRTATION WALK. [It could be argued that 1942’s YANKEE DOODLE DANDY is also an original screen musical (it received an Oscar nomination for Robert Buckner’s original story); too, Leo McCarey’s 1944 tune-filled comedy-drama GOING MY WAY features more songs (and musical performances) than ALL THAT JAZZ.]

    William Boyd

    Though its story was adapted, doesn’t Gigi count as an original MUSICAL?

Houston Rufus

I am so disappointed in this headline Anne. I despise Trump. So that should compel me to support Moonlight? What sort of connotations are you helping create? I feel bad for Chazelle being made to be the Trump in this Oscar race. This is highly irresponsible. I happen to love both movies and can’t believe you’d push this narrative. And if Moonlight wins, what then? You’ll have helped create the impression it only won because AMPAS wanted to make a statement against Trump? What about the film’s merits? I think you’ve lost this reader.


    I totally agree with Houston Rufus. Just write about the movies please, and leave the commentary to the movie makers. I come to this website for cinematic discussions. This article was completely inappropriate and disappointing.


“And ‘Manchester by the Sea’ producer Matt Damon is only the third person ever nominated in the Acting, Writing and Best Picture categories, following Warren Beatty and George Clooney…”

Well, in 1941, there was this guy named Welles… (OW also scored a Best Director nomination that year). It could be argued that Charlie Chaplin also qualifies as a member of this club, as he was nominated for producing, writing and starring in 1940’s THE GREAT DICTATOR. [Chaplin is said to have refused his Best Actor nomination, but as far as I can tell, it still stands in Academy records.]


    And Woody Allen did it with Annie Hall as well.


      And Kenneth Branaugh. He’s been nominated in 5 different categories – producing, directing, supporting actor, actor and adapted screenplay.


Will La La Land be Driving Miss Daisy to Moonlight’s DTRT? LOL.

John Calhoun

“Titanic,” while not a musical like “La La Land,” won both Best Original Score and Best Original Song, so “la La Land” does not have an advantage there.
“The Revenant” received 12 nominations, not nine.
Another French Best Actress nominees include Anouk Aimee, Isabelle Adjani, Marie-Christine Barrault, and Catherine Deneuve.
And I don’t really know if it’s a given that this year’s Best Actress race is the most competitive in decades. That seems like an overstatement. Over a decade, maybe. Look at 2002, when Meryl Streep couldn’t even get a nomination for “The Hours.”

    John Calhoun

    Sorry, meant “Other Best Actress nominees…”

    William Boyd

    Isabelle Adjani was nominated TWICE for Best Actress—L’histoire d’Adele H.and Camille Claudel.

      William Boyd

      God, how could we forget Leslie Caron, nominated TWICE for Lili and The L-Shaped Room?


ANCHORS AWEIGH, by the way, isn’t completely an original screen musical; the Isobel Lennart screenplay is based on a 1943 story by Natalie Marcin which appeared in This Week magazine. If ANCHORS AWEIGH is an “original musical,” then GIGI, adapted and musicalized for the screen by Lerner & Loewe from Collette’s novelette might also qualify.


“…only the third person ever nominated in the Acting, Writing and Best Picture categories, following Warren Beatty and George Clooney…”

Another would be John Huston, who received various nominations for writing and directing (winning both for TREASURE OF SIERRA MADRE), as well as for producing 1952’s MOULIN ROUGE and for acting in Preminger’s 1963 THE CARDINAL.

I’ll stop now, Anne. And, yes, I did mostly like your article — as always.


Ali is not a contender for leading actor.


La la land deserves the win. This is a landmark movie, in the time with all major studios spewing out unoriginal, money hungry crap, here comes an ORIGINAL MUSICAL, and it’s just fantastic. If this movie wins, maybe other major studios will follow in Lionsgate footsteps and produce original content?

    Jack no

    Clearly, opinions of La La Land cross along generational (or cinematic amnesia) lines. See Demy’s originals, An American in Paris, Seven Brides for…, et al. and tell me this retread is “landmark.”


      Amen to that. La La Land is at best an homage/pastiche of lots of other musicals, chiefly Demy’s, with a story that invokes Casablanca but doesn’t have the stakes or structure to pull it off.


    LLL doesn’t deserve to win because it’s just a pastiche of far superior films. Very predictable, unoriginal storytelling and characters. Moonlight deserves the win not bc of politics — but bc it’s a better film, period.

The Other James D.

One advantage that Moonlight has over La La Land is the latter’s lack of an Outstanding Ensemble Cast award at SAG. I love both films (My Top 2 for the year.), so either winning makes me happy.


Anne, come on, both of these films are astounding, but why are we making this about politics? Why does not thinking Moonlight is the best movie of the year equate to not taking a stance against Trump? La La Land is the most beautiful escapism at the movies in years, and if anything, that’s just as much of a statement if you want to make one. But it shouldn’t be about that AT ALL. The Oscars are about picking the best movie of the year, not the one that might resemble a message on the current state of affairs. So I reject this logic and think this shouldn’t even be an argument.


So La La Land may even exceed “Crash” and “Driving Miss Daisy” for being the most preposterous piece of mediocrity to win an Academy award — how do you top a musical with no music to speak of, lousy dancing and two leads about whom nobody could give a damn?

Trump only confirms American civilization was dead before he ever arrived. The cast of Hamilton does owe Mike Pence an apology, but it’s for producing a terrible self-infatuated show beloved only by culturally infantile audiences.


    But be an equal opportunity critic: Moonlight, for its “masterpiece” designation is a mashup of late 2000s verite and Asian New Wave aesthetics. If folks are crying “original” about this, it equally speaks to their ignorance of global film culture and history. But since we live in a Trump v Hillary world, it’s battle royale at the Oscars: La La Land vs. Moonlight. May the “best” movie win.


      It’s true Moonlight can’t claim to be original, but at least it’s an advance on the usual Sundance indie naturalism — mom’s still a crack addict, but it offers a sense of place and time which improves on the usual Park City Guided Tourism for Rich White Liberals who wanna feel good about going to parties and taking in a little skiing.


        “Park City Guided Tourism for Rich White Liberals.” I def. gotta give you that. And maybe that’s the conundrum (see Precious, Fruitvale, et al.): white liberal paternalism and condescension toward movies like these. What’s the net effect? Pity? Cliched “guilt?” What’s the largely the audience for these films? It’s the Ta-Nehisi Coates dilemma: you’re the fire to the conscience of smug (white) America until they’re the ones who make up your biggest funders/donors/supporters.


What in God’s name has become of Indiewire??…what the hell is up with this headline/article?.

So, Anne…exactly when were you and Indiewire co-opted?, you hacks.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *