Sunday, February 26, 2017

Winning Best Picture & Best Actress Is Rare: A Defense For Emma Stone and La La Land

We could talk about all the things La La Land has been criticized for endlessly, but I'm not here to discuss “mansplaining” jazz or the dancing prowess of actors who, in my opinion, flow pretty darn good together for not being professional dancers. I'm just here to talk about a set of very specific facts and data. Numbers and statistics – exciting, right? Compiling data can become very interesting if you start to recognize disparities.

As a person who is fascinated by female representation in all forms of media, certain facts that can be examined from past Academy Award winners have led to me aggressively rooting for Emma Stone and La La Land to walk away with Best Actress and Best Picture.

Many will argue that Moonlight is the better choice. I tend to agree, even though it is hard to make decisions when all the nominees are amazing for different reasons. Moonlight is an utterly transfixing movie that I would argue should win Best Picture this year, but it doesn't feature a Best Actress nominee, which makes it not fit into the data I am about to pass on. This would be a different article if Naomie Harris was up for Best Actress.

While it won't be a victory for racial representation, a win for Stone and La La Land would be a triumph in a different way, by adding one more movie to a certain small list.

Over the last couple years I watched each of the past Best Picture winners. There is a trend I quickly noticed, since I am a super trivia nerd who does a deep dive into the IMDB page of every movie I see. What I discovered is that it is rare for a movie to win both Best Picture and Best Actress. That combination has only happened 11 times out of 88 years. The movies on that illustrious list are:

Million Dollar Baby
Shakespeare In Love
The Silence Of The Lambs
Driving Miss Daisy
Terms Of Endearment
Annie Hall
One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest
Mrs. Miniver
Gone With The Wind
The Great Ziegfeld
It Happened One Night

(By the way, all these movies are still worth watching.)

In comparison, over double the amount, 26 Best Picture winners, have featured the Best Actor winner:

The Artist
The King's Speech
American Beauty
Forrest Gump
The Silence Of The Lambs
Rain Man
Kramer vs Kramer
One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest
The Godfather
The French Connection
In The Heat Of The Night
A Man For All Seasons
My Fair Lady
Ben Hur
The Bridge on The River Kwai
On The Waterfront
All The King's Men
The Best Years Of Our Lives
The Lost Weekend
Going My Way
It Happened One Night

(Most of of these are still great too. Just a recommendation – maybe skip A Man For All Seasons.)

These stats give off the impression that movies featuring impressive female performances in a leading role are not widely deemed extraordinary as a whole. This is clearly seen in that Stone is the only Best Actress contender who is representing a Best Picture nominee. In stark contrast, four out of five Best Actor nominees this year are from Best Picture nominees. (Sorry Viggo.)

When looking back though history, there were many opportunities for the Academy to award the Best Picture prize to the movie that also featured the Best Actress winner – they just didn't. When comparing
the winners from those years with the movies that could have won, it clearly reveals that movies with heavily male dominated casts often rule the biggest category on Oscar night.

First of all, A Streetcar Named Desire (with includes Best Actress winner Vivien Leigh) is a more
impressive film, top to bottom, than An American In Paris (the Best Picture winner from that year).
Here are some other oversights: Who's Afraid Of Virgina Woolf (featuring the Best Actress winner
Elizabeth Taylor) should have easily won over the bore that is A Man For All Seasons, Funny Girl
(with Best Actress winner Barbara Streisand) should have topped Oliver, and Moonstruck (with Best
Actress winner Cher) would have been a more memorable Best Picture winner when compared to the
long slog that is The Last Emperor. I would also choose Fargo (featuring Best Actress winner Frances
McDormand) over The English Patient any day.

Sometimes though, tremendous movies with almost completely female casts are pitted against each
other. In 2003, The Hours (which includes Best Actress winner Nicole Kidman) lost to Chicago. Since
I enjoy a beautifully depressing flick, I personally prefer weeping over Meryl Streep, Kidman, and
Julianne Moore tackling the work of Virginia Woolf, but it is hard to complain when The Hours lost to
a film like Chicago that has razzle dazzle and also features a large female cast.

Would this disparity end if more movies focused on women were produced each year? We can only
assume, but yes of course!

In 2013, it was reported that out of the top 100 films from that year, only 15% of protagonists were
women. This has directly effected the dominance of movies focused on male driven stories in the Best
Picture category. It seems insane, but not a single one of the eight Best Picture nominees in 2015
featured a story completely centered around a woman. (It is a slight stretch for a lead performance, but
you could say The Theory Of Everything did at least include a woman's story when the film shifted
some focus away from Stephen Hawking to his wife – wonderfully portrayed by Felicity Jones. At least
she was featured on the movie poster.)

While still not perfect, this year is a much better situation, where over half of the Best Picture nominees are focused around women in a lead or supporting capacity! This might have a little something to do with a recent report that found women film protagonists increased to 29% last year. Of course much more work needs to be done in regards to women of all races attaining leading roles, but at least this year the diverse list of Best Supporting Actresses are all from a Best Picture nominee. That is truly something to applaud.

Having not seen Jackie or Loving yet, I can't compare Stone to other nominees like Natalie Portman and Ruth Negga. All I can do is point out that Stone has that big fact of being the only Best Actress
nominee from a potential Best Picture winner. Let's get real though – the stats on her side is definitely not the only reason that makes Stone and La La Land worthy for winning big.

That movie's appeal to many (including the big fan typing these words) is the almost exclusively lighthearted story that blasts your mind out of the madness of reality and into a place where people dance and sing atop cars on jam packed freeway off ramps. As a person currently riddled with high anxiety over the state of the world, please, someone, take me to that place!

Although, it is not just the escapism that makes it a terrific movie. There is beautiful staging of performance scenes - set overlooking the hills of L.A. at sunset, down on a pier at twilight, or in brightly colored sound-stages on the Warner Brothers lot. Combine that with a bunch of toe tapping, instantly sing-a-long worthy songs and it is clear that this movie took a bunch of talented folks to pull off. It is dazzling to watch all the literal moving parts come together. The sheer creativity behind crafting a big successful modern musical is praise worthy.

Stone brings in her zany charisma and that makes her character delightful to watch. She succeeds at
having plenty of fun singing and dancing in the streets, but also at tackling emotional issues, like facing
the reality that the dreams you had for your life may not come to fruition.

Like I already mentioned, many have been critical of the star's musical talent, but I lean on the more supportive side to Gosling and Stone. Are they Adele, Beyoncé, or Celine powerhouse singers? No, but they carry a tune well enough for it not to be a distraction. I also felt like it was refreshing for a musical to have some scenes that felt more natural, as if they could actually be happening in real life. Stone gives a stand out performance that is an essential piece to one of the most lively and enjoyable movie going experiences I have had in years.

Even with all of that merriment on its side, the backlash has begun. It may not be “cool” to support La
La Land
, but when anyone makes you question your devotion to a film you loved, just think, a win for
the movie and Stone could be one more notch up for the girls.

Until next time.

[This is an update to an article published last year about Room and Brie Larson. It will probably continue to be updated until it is no longer newsworthy.]

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