Golden Globes: The Night 'La La Land' Soared — and Prevented Others from Doing the Same (Analysis)

THR's awards analyst breaks down the meaning of the original musical's record-setting seven wins, as well as the significance, or lack thereof, of other results, ranging from 'Moonlight' winning best picture (drama) to Aaron Taylor-Johnson winning best supporting actor.
Paul Drinkwater/NBC
The 'La La Land' team accepts the best motion picture musical award.

Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea, Fences and Nocturnal Animals each won something at the 74th Golden Globe Awards, as did Elle and its leading lady, Isabelle Huppert, but make no mistake about it: It was La La Land's night, from the incredible show-opening homage to the film's opening number (invaluable free promotion) through the film's record-setting seven wins — for best picture, best director (Damien Chazelle), best actor (Ryan Gosling), best actress (Emma Stone), best screenplay (Chazelle), best original score and best original song ("City of Stars"). Indeed, the clean sweep of its nominations exceeded the expectations of even its biggest proponents.

So what does it all mean? On one level, one could argue, not much — the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which determines Globe nominees and winners, is a group of roughly 90 L.A.-based foreign journalists, whereas the Academy is a group of roughly 7,000 people who actually work on movies (and there's only one journalist, a former film exec, among them). On another level, though, this year's Globes mean as much as any on record. Because the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences pushed back its voting period this year, the Globes ceremony fell right in the middle of Oscar voting, and therefore it could directly influence the behavior of Academy members.

In that sense, La La Land claiming so much of the spotlight deprived other films of a chance to showcase their own talent to Oscar voters. Take, for instance, its screenplay win, which was not anticipated by anyone. Does it mean La La Land will win the best original screenplay Oscar as well? No. Kenneth Lonergan's Manchester script probably still stands a slightly better shot, since the Academy tends to undervalue written contributions to musicals. But Lonergan never got to take the stage at the Globes. Chazelle, however, was up on stage twice, to pick up best screenplay and best director, on top of which he was effusively thanked by every other La La Land winner, which has to boost his prospects of becoming, at 31, the youngest best director winner in Oscar history.

Moonlight's best picture (drama) win was significant in its own right. It was no sure thing, but it was greeted with the only standing ovation of the night other than the one offered to Meryl Streep — not even La La Land got people on their feet — and it probably blocked the last best chance for Hacksaw Ridge to replace it as the principal Oscar alternative to La La Land. The HFPA has as warm a regard for Hacksaw director Mel Gibson as any awards group out there, so if he and his movie couldn't win here, it's hard to imagine either winning at the Oscars.

Others who missed valuable perception boosts include Jackie's Natalie Portman and Arrival's Amy Adams. One or the other was the pick of most pundits to win best actress (drama), but then Frenchwoman Isabelle Huppert stunned everyone by claiming the dramatic actress award for the French-language Elle — although perhaps pundits shouldn't have been so surprised, since these voters are, after all, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. It's a shame that the Globe wins by Huppert and Elle, for best foreign-language film, can't help Elle in the best foreign-language film Oscar race, since it egregiously was left off the Academy's shortlist. But one must assume that both wins immensely elevate the standing of the film's glamorous 63-year-old star in the best actress Oscar race, in which, if nominated, she could play the spoiler in a Stone-Portman contest.

Manchester's Casey Affleck and Fences' Viola Davis more or less held their serve by not losing races they were widely expected to win. Davis' director-costar Denzel Washington might have stood a better shot at the Globes had he not playfully but pointedly mocked the members of HFPA when accepting their Cecil B. DeMille Award last year. Davis did the same thing this year, which won't help her in the future, either.

The most bizarre, "that's so HFPA" result of the night was — with great respect — Nocturnal's Aaron Taylor-Johnson winning best supporting actor. Most people didn't expect him even to get nominated (the assumption was that his costar Michael Shannon had a better shot), and yet he prevailed over the likes of Moonlight's Mahershala Ali and Hell or High Water's Jeff Bridges. Taylor-Johnson might well join a very small group of people who, since 2000, won a Globe but then weren't even nominated for an Oscar: George Clooney for O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), Renee Zellweger for Nurse Betty (2000), Gene Hackman for The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), Richard Gere for Chicago (2002), Sacha Baron Cohen for Borat (2006), Colin Farrell for In Bruges (2008), Sally Hawkins for Happy-Go-Lucky (2008), Robert Downey Jr. for Sherlock Holmes (2009), Paul Giamatti for Barney's Version (2010) and Amy Adams for Big Eyes (2014).

But for one night, at least, he was among the lucky few who were, well, golden.

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