By Piya Sinha-Roy
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Romantic musical “La La Land” became the movie to beat at the Academy Awards after earning 14 nominations on Tuesday in a diverse list that silenced the #OscarsSoWhite controversy of the last two years.
With nods that included best picture, actor, actress, director, score and screenplay, the musical about a struggling actress (Emma Stone) and her jazz pianist boyfriend (Ryan Gosling) equaled the record set by the 1997 blockbuster “Titanic” and the 1950 film “All About Eve.”
“La La Land” also became the first original musical to win a best picture Oscar nomination since “All That Jazz” in 1979.
Director Damien Chazelle called the acclaim “a delirious, wonderful moment.” He told Reuters in a phone interview the musical resonated because it looked at “what it means to be young and in love today, what it means to be an artist today and chase a dream.”
The 6,600 member Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which votes on the Oscars, has a history of responding well to movies about show business, including past best picture winners “Birdman” and “The Artist.”
However Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs said the multiple nominations for “La La Land” reflected its craftsmanship.
“I think Hollywood likes any film that has a tremendously good script, very well directed, acted and all aspects together, which is what you’re talking about with the 14 nominations,” she told Reuters Television.
The film will vie for best picture with black coming-of-age movie “Moonlight and sci-fi film “Arrival” each with eight nods; Mel Gibson’s Hollywood comeback war movie “Hacksaw Ridge”; dramas “Manchester by the Sea,” “Hidden Figures,” “Lion”; modern western “Hell or High Water”; and Denzel Washington’s adaptation of stage play “Fences.”
Whereas last year all 20 acting nominees were white, unleashing an #OscarsSoWhite backlash, seven people of color were among this year’s acting nominees – the highest ever ethnic representation. Four of the nine best picture contenders told African-American or Asian stories.
They included supporting actor nominees Dev Patel for the Indian adoption story “Lion,” Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris for “Moonlight” and Viola Davis who is expected to win for “Fences.”
“The Oscars have rallied to do a better job reflecting the diversity of America and the world,” said Tom O’Neil, founder of awards website Goldderby.com
“Moonlight” director Barry Jenkins called the nominations for his low-budget film “an affirmation that film has the power to erode barriers and reveal what makes us all human.”
“Hidden Figures,” a feel-good box-office hit about three black female mathematicians working on the U.S. space program in the 1960s, brought a supporting actress nod for Octavia Spencer.
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In the best actor field, “La La Land” star Gosling is thought to be in a close race with Washington and Casey Affleck, who plays a grieving father in “Manchester by the Sea.”
It was a big day for Amazon Studios , which becomes the first streaming service to land a best picture Oscar nomination with “Manchester by the Sea,” which also earned five other nods..
The lead actress race includes front-runner Natalie Portman for her role as the late Jacqueline Kennedy in “Jackie,” French actress Isabelle Huppert for thriller “Elle,” Stone and Ruth Negga for mixed-marriage story “Loving.”
Meryl Streep, who earlier this month attacked new U.S. President Donald Trump in a Golden Globes awards speech, earned a record 20th Oscar nomination for playing a tone-deaf singer in “Florence Foster Jenkins.” Streep celebrated by releasing a GIF of herself dancing with joy
Some notable absences from Tuesday’s list included Annette Bening’s turn in “20th Century Women” and “Arrival” star Amy Adams. Martin Scorsese’s film “Silence,” which was 28 years in the making, earned just one nomination, for cinematography.
Jimmy Kimmel will host the Academy Awards ceremony in Hollywood on Feb. 26.
(Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis and Melissa Fares; Writing by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Cynthia Osterman)