‘La La Land’ may well win Best Picture, but only one musical film in the last 48 years has taken home the most prestigious Academy Award. reports
Nominating a musical for Best Picture isn’t weird, but pretending that musicals are some weird, dated Hollywood anomaly is. When the makers of La La Land wait for its name to be called at the Academy Awards this year, the question isn’t whether all Ryan Gosling’s piano lessons paid of f, if Emma Stone’s ribs still hurt from the dancing-in-theplanetarium harness or whether anyone will finally acknowledge John Legend and multiple jazz artists’ participation in this film. The question is: “Why did it take so long for another musical to be a serious Best Picture contender?”
Within the last decade, the U.S. market alone has seen 27 musicals released into theaters. That doesn’t count jukebox musical biopics like Straight Outta Compton, Jersey Boys or Get On Up -- which would add another 21 films to the total. It also doesn’t include musical comedies like Pitch Perfect or School of Rock or musical dramas like Once, which would add another dozen or so films to the tally.
It certainly doesn’t include animated musicals like South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut or anything from the Disney canon. Meanwhile, a generation was raised on Alan Mencken’s songs from Aladdin, The Little Mermaid and Beauty and The Beast. They listened to Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens warble through the High School Musical series. They came of age to Ryan Murphy’s personal playlist in Glee and transcendent theater including Rent, Hedwig and The Angry Inch, Wicked, Spring Awakening and Hamilton. The musical has entrenched itself within the collective subcons ciou s o f j u s t ab out anyone under 40, yet in nearly 50 years, there’s been only one musical Best Picture winner -2002’s Chicago, based on Bob Fosse’s Broadway production. It’s not that the Academy doesn’t r e c og ni z e music a l s : both Jennifer Hudson and Anne Hathaway won Oscars with their strong musical performances in 2006’s Dreamgirls and 2012’s Les Miserables, respectively. Penelope Cruz garnered a nomination for her turn in Rob Marshall’s 2009 adaptation of Maury Yeston’s Broadway musical Nine. These films also tend to clean up in musical categories, as Best Original Song winners Once and The Muppets can attest. So why hasn’t the musical had as much success with the Best Picture category as it’s been having with pop culture in general? Because the nation’s been in kind of a dark place since 2002 and the film industry has rewarded that brooding. Make the arguments for 2014’s Birdman and 2012’s Argo as comedic if you’d like. Get behind 2010’s The King’s Speech and 2008’s Slumdog Millionaire as uplifting portrayals of triumph over adversity. Even pretend that nobody gets slaughtered by the thousands in 2003’s Lord of the Rings: Return of The King if you must, but all of they above are laced with a dark, spiritcrushing undercurrent that doesn’t completely wane after the payoff. The modern Oscars are a depressing place that rewards the morose and thirsts for both moral and message -- but not too much of either. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10.
Musicals aren’t always joyous, twee affairs. In fact, La La Land has taken knocks this year for being too upbeat despite reaching a fairly somber conclusion. But musicals are viewed as light and insubstantial and, thus, don’t get the recognition they often deserve. Comedies get similar treatment, with Woody Allen’s Annie Hall serving as the last true comedy to win Best Picture and no comedic film without the “dark” prefix taking home that award since Shakespeare In Love in 1998 -- with the latter still being criticized for defeating three fairly dire depictions of World War II. However, with La La Land garnering 14 Academy Award nominations this year, it has a realistic chance of ending the musical’s drought and continuing a long line that looked fairly thin recently.
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