You know the deal with La La Land. The people who made this movie can't go anywhere without another awards group bowling a statue at them. Even in the face of a recent, growing ripple of discontent about the film's core narrative — white guy on a one-man mission to save jazz, the blackest musical genre of all — and the fact that neither Emma Stone nor Ryan Gosling is much of singer, Damien Chazelle's homage to classic Hollywood musicals like Singin' In The Rain continues to ruthlessly dominate the competition at all the major awards and critics' circles.
By now you'll have seen it mentioned once or twice that #LaLaLand has a record 14 Oscar nominations, none considered more of a lock for the win than Emma Stone in Best Actress — except that, when it comes to Academy Awards, there is no such thing as a lock. Politics, box office success, pop cultural impact, media conversation — all of these influences can rock the boat and deliver a shock winner.
In my opinion (and I'm not an expert, just somebody who enjoys keeping up with the #Oscars race), Best Actress is not a done deal, and there are already several signs that Emma Stone might not be going home with a golden statuette on February 26. With that in mind, let's talk about why it might be Isabelle Huppert, the terrifyingly great star of the French film Elle, could pull off a major upset.
I'll keep it spoiler-free while discussing #Elle for those who haven't seen it yet, but suffice to say you need to watch this astonishing film. Check out the trailer below.
So what is it that could catapult Huppert onto the stage to give an acceptance speech at the Oscars, over a younger actress who gives a brilliant performance in a much more crowd-pleasing movie? There are a few factors at play, not all strictly related to the quality of the two women's respective performances.
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For one thing, Elle didn't even make the Oscars shortlist for Best Foreign Film due to a recently-implemented selection process which was actually designed to avoid situations exactly like this. Last month, the Golden Globes handed Elle a win in the same category. Best Actress is now the only Oscars category in which Elle can be recognized, and zero Academy love for what is considered by far the best foreign film of the year is basically quite embarrassing.
Huppert is widely considered not just one of the finest French acting talents but one of the best actors working today, and her resume from the past twenty years is pretty much wall-to-wall brilliance — and yet this is her first-ever Oscar nomination. Few actresses could take a role about a woman whose response to being raped is to coolly investigate the suspects herself, and in the process craft a character who is wickedly funny, highly manipulative, emotionally detached and yet impossible to turn away from. Far from being a victim, Michèle suggests to her neighbor during a dinner party that she might be the psychopath (see the clip above). And you totally buy it.
Inside the category, both Stone and Huppert also face competition from Natalie Portman for her strong performance in Jackie. If Stone and Portman split the vote, effectively killing one another's chances, Huppert could be second-placed on enough ballots to seal a victory overall.
It also remains to be seen whether La La Land is able to surf that spiralling wave of online criticism directed its way by various journalists, or whether the Oscars decide to skirt the controversy by swerving toward Moonlight in Best Picture (another surprise result I would actually bet on). If that happens, the momentum may begin to swing away from Stone and toward Huppert.
At this moment in time, Emma Stone is still very much the favorite. A win would be wholly deserved. Part of the mystique of the Oscars, though, is the knowledge that everything can go off-script once in a while, and I can't shake the feeling that this is simply Isabelle Huppert's moment.
We'll find out on February 26.
Do you think Emma Stone has Best Actress locked down, or will La La Land be swallowed up by its own hype and open the door for Isabelle Huppert?