It seemed like an all-but-dead genre, but the movie musical is back. “La La Land,” starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling as two dreamers in Los Angeles, is not only the most nominated film at the Academy Awards this year, it is widely considered the likely winner for best picture.
It’s an unlikely comeback for a genre that peaked about 50 years ago. In the period between 1958 and 1968, five musicals won best picture, including “Gigi” (1958), “My Fair Lady” (1964) and “The Sound of Music” (1965). After the Dickensian “Oliver!” (1968) won the top Oscar, it would be more than 30 years before another musical, 2002’s “Chicago,” would win best picture.
It isn’t just the timing of “La La Land” that makes it a rarity. For starters, it’s not based on any Broadway musical or pre-existing work; it’s completely original, written and directed by Damien Chazelle (“Whiplash”) with music by Justin Hurwitz and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. If “La La Land” does win best picture, it would be only the 11th musical to do so (the first was 1929’s “The Broadway Melody”). What’s more, if Chazelle wins best director — another strong possibility — he would become the youngest person ever to win the award, at the age of 32.
With its 14 Oscar nods, “La La Land” has Oscar watchers wondering whether it could beat the all-time record-holder for a musical with the most wins. That would be “West Side Story,” from 1961, with 10 Academy Awards.