Sunday night at the Golden Globes, Damien Chazelle’s La La Land landed a clean sweep, winning a record seven awards. These include Best Lead Actor and Actress in a Comedy/Musical for its amiable stars, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, as well as awards for screenplay, director, and, of course, Best Picture (Comedy/Musical). It won for song and original score, too. How lucky is it that it’s a musical?
It’s an impressive feat. The last movie to sweep the Globes was Alan Parker’s 1978 prison drama Midnight Express, which won six awards — more than Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver was even nominated for, just two years prior. But history favors Taxi Driver. Whether or not they measure merit, awards certainly can’t be said to measure relevance. That’s likely a ray of hope for La La Land’s detractors, who’ve had a bone to pick with the movie’s lack of polish, and even its supportive critics, who’ve noted the movie’s odd racial politics.
I would love to not talk about La La Land anymore — or, truthfully, any awards racehorse, so long as the occasion demands we discuss them as awards racehorses. Oscar season is tricky in that way. Awards don’t exactly inspire insightful public discussions of cinema. But as a competition, awards are inherently exciting. Some win, some lose, and though most of the speeches are actually kind of a drag, the reaction shots are often worth their weight in Oscar gold. As is the chance to see Hollywood A-listers in their natural habitat: with each other. (Do men in Hollywood not shave anymore?)
Still, it’s nice to see a scrappy movie like La La Land succeed. Its triumph is much less surprising than anyone accepting trophies on its behalf is in the position to admit — they’re surprised, we aren’t. Even more exciting is the success of Best Picture (Drama) winner Moonlight, which, unlike La La Land, doesn’t have attention-getting Hollywood history written into its DNA. These are the same awards shows that once almost entirely bypassed Malcolm X (Denzel Washington got Globe and Oscar nominations, but the movie itself was only nominated for costume design), and which, despite the awards success of movies like the abstract, violent 12 Years a Slave, haven’t really been open to artistically risky black filmmaking (Spike Lee’s entire career is evidence of that).
Moonlight is a miracle — as a movie, but really as an awards movie. Forgive me if I never expected a movie accurately described as a “black gay coming-of-age story set in an impoverished but vibrant Miami community” to be an awards front-runner. And even after Sunday night, when it was beaten in most categories — sometimes by upstarts, like Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who surprisingly won for supporting actor over Mahershala Ali, but most times by La La Land in categories like screenplay and director — Moonlight stands out as a high point for the awards industry. It’s a movie sailing through the season because, simply, it’s that good.
But, you know, awards are strange. In one Best Picture category Sunday night you had a movie about raising a man amongst multiple generations of second- and third-wave feminists; a naughty superhero movie; a movie about kids in a punk band; a Meryl Streep vehicle about a tone-deaf 1-percenter who loves to sing; and La La Land. They’re all entertainment. How do you compare these things to each other? It’s all apples and oranges. After Sunday night, a head-to-head Oscars battle between Moonlight and La La Land now seems inevitable. But what matters isn’t whether a black gay coming-of-age story can stack up against a jazzy neo-musical about young artists in L.A. What matters is simply seeing the movies.