A scene from "La La Land." Image from official trailer
A scene from “La La Land.” Image from official trailer

The musical love letter to Los Angeles “La La Land” could have a monster night at Sunday’s 89th Academy Awards thanks to its record- tying 14 nominations, but upstart “Hidden Figures” could steal the spotlight in a ceremony likely to include a heavy dose of political discourse.

Director Damien Chazelle’s “La La Land” tied “Titanic” and “All About Eve” with its 14 Oscar nods, and it has an outside chance of at least tying the record for most Oscars ever won by a film — 11 — a number reached by “Ben-Hur,” “Titanic” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.”

But “La La Land” is competing against itself in the original song category, in which it has two nominations, and Ryan Gosling is unlikely to walk away with the best actor prize, with most pundits eying the race as a toss-up between Denzel Washington (“Fences”) and Casey Affleck (“Manchester by the Sea”).

Emma Stone is a favorite to win for best actress, but veteran French performer Isabelle Huppert has gained award-season momentum for her work as a revenge-seeking rape victim in “Elle.”

“Hidden Figures,” about three black women — a math whiz, a computer expert and an engineer — who overcome 1960s prejudice to help propel NASA into space, stole some of “La La Land’s” thunder by winning the ensemble cast honor at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, and it could score an upset for best picture at the Oscars. Golden Globe winner “Moonlight” could also provide some competition.

“La La Land” has won most of the other major awards leading up to Oscar night, including the prestigious film prize from the Producers Guild of America, which has traditionally predicted the ultimate Academy Award winner. That trend was broken last year, however, when the PGA honored “The Big Short,” but the Oscar went to “Spotlight.”

Also competing for best picture are “Arrival,” “Fences,” “Hacksaw Ridge,” “Hell or High Water,” “Lion” and “Manchester by the Sea.”

In addition to its nods for best picture, actor and actress, “La La Land” is also up for a best director prize for Chazelle, along with nods for cinematography, costume design, film editing, original score, original song, production design, original screenplay, sound editing and sound mixing.

Gosling won the Golden Globe for best actor in a musical/comedy, but the Globe for best drama actor went to Affleck and the more influential SAG Award went to Washington for his role in the screen adaptation of August Wilson’s “Fences.” A win for Washington would be his third Oscar. He won a best actor prize for “Training Day” and a supporting-actor Oscar for “Glory.”

Also up for best actor are Andrew Garfield of “Hacksaw Ridge” and Viggo Mortensen for “Captain Fantastic.”

Stone’s win at the SAG Awards cemented her as the Oscar favorite for best actress, but Huppert is considered a potential dark horse. They’re competing with Meryl Streep from “Florence Foster Jenkins,” Ruth Negga of “Loving” and Natalie Portman from “Jackie.”

The nomination for Streep is her 20th, padding her record for most nominations by an actress. Streep has won three Oscars, for her leading roles in “The Iron Lady” and “Sophie’s Choice” and for her supporting work in “Kramer vs. Kramer.”

Golden Globe and SAG winner Viola Davis is a heavy favorite to take home the supporting actress prize for her work in “Fences.” She will compete with Naomie Harris of “Moonlight,” Nicole Kidman of “Lion,” Octavia Spencer for “Hidden Figures” and Michelle Williams for “Manchester by the Sea.” The nomination for Davis is her third career Oscar nod — a record for a black actress.

Battling for supporting actor are SAG winner Mahershala Ali for “Moonlight,” Jeff Bridges for “Hell or High Water,” Lucas Hedges for “Manchester by the Sea,” Dev Patel for “Lion” and Michael Shannon for “Nocturnal Animals.”

Six of this year’s acting nominees are black, a stark difference from the past two years that featured all-white slates of nominees and sparked an “OscarsSoWhite” backlash against the Academy. The supporting actress nominations for Davis, Harris and Spencer marked the first time three black performers have ever been nominated in the same category.

Mel Gibson — who hasn’t been nominated for an Oscar since he won two for 1995’s “Braveheart” — is among the nominees for best director for “Hacksaw Ridge.” But he’ll have an uphill climb against Chazelle for “La La Land,” Denis Villeneuve for “Arrival,” Kenneth Lonergan for “Manchester by the Sea” and Barry Jenkins for “Moonlight.”

Chazelle is also nominated for original screenplay for “La La Land,” as are Taylor Sheridan for “Hell or High Water,” Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou for “The Lobster,” Lonergan for “Manchester by the Sea” and Mike Mills for “20th Century Women.”

Competing for best adapted screenplay are Eric Heisserer for “Arrival,” August Wilson for “Fences,” Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi for “Hidden Figures,” Luke Davies for “Lion” and Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney for “Moonlight.”

The trio of Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul have two nominations for original song for their work on “La La Land,” one for the tune “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” and another for “City of Stars.”

Justin Timberlake is nominated for his work with Max Martin and Karl Johan Schuster on “Can’t Stop the Feeling” from the film “Trolls.” Lin- Manuel Miranda, best known for his work on the Broadway hit “Hamilton,” is nominated for penning “How Far I’ll Go” from the Disney animated hit “Moana.” Sting and J. Ralph round out the category with “The Empty Chair” from “Jim: The James Foley Story.”

A win for Miranda would give him a rare “EGOT,” signifying a person who has won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and a Tony. Only 12 people have ever accomplished the feat, but Miranda would become the youngest at age 37.

“Moana” is nominated for best animated feature film, along with “Kubo and the Two Strings,” “My Life as a Zucchini,” “The Red Turtle” and “Zootopia.”

The 89th Academy Awards ceremony will hosted by Jimmy Kimmel and televised live on ABC from the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood.

If this season’s previous awards shows are any indication, the Oscars are likely to include a heavy dose of politics from the presenters and award winners, both on stage and backstage. Streep set the stage during the Golden Globe Awards when she gave a passionate speech condemning President Donald Trump, who responded by calling her an overrated performer.

—City News Service

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