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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

Four people of color earned nominations for Best Documentary: Ava DuVernay, who was snubbed by the directors branch for Best Picture nominee “Selma,” did land a nod this year for Netflix’s “13th,” along with Ezra Edelman (ESPN’s “O.J.: Made in America,” at 7 hours 47 minutes, the longest film in Oscar history), Raoul Peck (“I Am Not Your Negro”), and Academy Governor Roger Ross Williams (“Life, Animated”), who won an Oscar for his short “Dear Prudence” in 2009. In one year, that’s more nominees of color than had ever been nominated in that category. (Spike Lee was the first, for “4 Little Girls,” followed by T.J. Martin, who won the Oscar for “Undefeated.”)

Mel Gibson

Mel Gibson

Shutterstock

The Academy offered another major surprise by not only honoring “Hacksaw Ridge” (Lionsgate) with expected nominations for Best Actor Andrew Garfield, Editing, Sound Editing and Mixing, but also Director and Best Picture, signaling that scandal-tainted Mel Gibson, who directed “Braveheart” to five Oscar wins including director and picture back in 1996, made such a strong movie that the Academy couldn’t deny him.

Lionsgate is having a good day. As expected, Damien Chazelle’s showbiz musical “La La Land” tied the nominations record set by “All About Eve” (14 nominations, 6 wins) and “Titanic” (14 nominations, 11 wins). It’s only the third original musical to land a Best Picture nomination, following “All That Jazz” (1979) and “Anchors Aweigh” (1945).

READ MORE: Oscars 2017: Surprises and Snubs

“La La Land” could top those “Titanic” winning numbers on Oscar night. That’s because it’s a musical, so expected wins for Original Score and Original Song give it an advantage. (On the other hand, two nominated songs means Lin-Manuel Miranda could squeak into EGOT territory with “How Far I’ll Go” from Disney Animation’s South Sea Island musical “Moana”). Golden Globe winner Emma Stone is a favorite to win Best Actress, and Chazelle should win Director as well. The other ace in the hole for a movie that could follow the like-minded “Birdman,” “All About Eve,” and “The Artist” to a Best Picture win: Academy members, especially actors, respond to this aspirational story about “the city of stars.”

However, the nominations frontrunner doesn’t always win on Oscar night. “La La Land” gained valuable momentum, but Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” scored 12 and won only two, while last year Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “The Revenant” led the field with twelve and took home three.

“La La Land”

Denis Villeneuve’s gorgeous sci-fi drama “Arrival” (a Paramount pickup from Shawn Levy’s 21 Laps, FilmNation and Lava Bear) followed “La La Land” with eight nods, including writing, directing and editing — a sign of strength for a Best Picture contender — but five-time nominee Amy Adams lost her slot in the most competitive Best Actress race in decades, presumably to Negga. Golden Globe hero Meryl Streep notched a record 20th nomination for “Florence Foster Jenkins” (Paramount), which also scored a Costume nod for Consolata Boyle, but nothing for her fellow SAG nominee Hugh Grant.

“Elle” star Isabelle Huppert joins Marion Cotillard, Simone Signoret, Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Adjani and Emmanuelle Riva in the rarified French Best Actress club.

“Moonlight” producers Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner of Plan B are the first individual producers to snag Best Picture nominations in four consecutive years (“12 Years a Slave,” “Selma,” “The Big Short”). 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; his fellow producers include African-American Kimberly Steward, the second in Oscar history (Oprah Winfrey was first, for “Selma”).

Writer-directors Jenkins (“Moonlight”) and Kenneth Lonergan (“Manchester By the Sea”), making a career comeback, are both expected to win their respective screenplay categories, while “Manchester” star Casey Affleck and “Moonlight” star Ali are leading Actor and Supporting Actor contenders. Amazon Studios picked up “Manchester By the Sea” at Sundance 2016 and ran a smart campaign with theatrical partner Roadside Attractions. Its Amazon’s first Best Picture contender and Roadside’s second after “Winter’s Bone.”

Rooney Mara and Dev Patel in Lion

“Lion”

The Weinstein Company

Behind them are surging late-breaking holiday hits “Lion” (Weinstein Co.) with six nods (not including DGA contender Garth Davis) from the producers of Oscar-winner “The King’s Speech,” “Hell or High Water” with four (the first Best Picture slot for CBS Films), “Fences” with four (the eighth nomination for producer Scott Rudin and the first as a producer for Washington), and “Hidden Figures” with three, produced by four-time Best Picture nominee Donna Gigliotti (“Shakespeare in Love”), along with Pharrell Williams, Peter Chernin, Theodore Melfi, and Jenno Topping.

“Passengers” scored surprising technical nods for Production Design and Original Score for Thomas Newman, his 14th: that brings a record total to 90 for any family (Newmans Alfred, Lionel, Emil, Thomas, David and Randy).

Among the foreign contenders, two are from Scandinavia: Sony Pictures Classics’ “Land of Mine” and Music Box’s “A Man Called Ove,” the favorite to win over SPC’s German entry “Toni Erdmann” and “Tanna,” which is Australia’s aboriginal “Romeo and Juliet.”

Martin Scorsese’s noble failure “Silence” (Paramount) had to settle for just one nomination, for cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto. And while nine of the Academy’s best pictures nominees aligned with nine of the PGA 10 nominees, the Academy ignored comic-book movie “Deadpool.”

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