Undercurrents of Hollywood anxiety over this year’s Academy Awards darling

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NEW YORK, AP

By Jake Coyle — Hollywood is ready for its close-up. Again.

If Damien Chazelle’s “La La Land” is to win best picture at Sunday’s Academy Awards — and just about everyone thinks it’s going to — it will surely go down as another in a run of movies about Hollywood to be celebrated by Hollywood. Two years ago it was Alejandro Inarritu’s backstage comedy “Birdman” that was crowned at the Oscars. Before that, it was Ben Affleck’s true-tale caper “Argo,” where movie magic saves the day in Iran. And before that, it was Michel Hazanavicius’s black-and-white homage to the silent era, “The Artist.”

As of 5 p.m. PST Tuesday, all the votes are in. But many have already lamented the increasingly self-congratulatory nature of Hollywood’s already exceedingly self-congratulatory awards season.

“It’s just so narcissistic,” lamented Bill Maher recently. “Another movie about movies. About us.”

Maher is far from alone in his disdain for the navel gazing. Hollywood, the Los Angeles Times critic Justin Chang, wrote, has fallen in love “with yet another intoxicating vision of itself.” Film writer Mark Harris called the anticipated sweep for “La La Land” (nominated for a record-tying 14 awards) “Hollywood-bubble solipsism.”

“The history of the Oscars is going to be ‘For decades, the academy gave best picture to films about all kinds of things,’” wrote Harris. “Then they stopped.”

So what’s changed? Well, just about everything.

In the five-year time span between “The Artist” to “La La Land,” the movie industry has been beset by a swelling tide of turmoil. Streaming services have moved in. (Amazon and Netflix have 12 nominations between them this year.) So-called “Peak TV” arrived, and with it came an exodus of talent to the open fields of the small screen. The studios, watching the number of tickets sold decline every year, have doubled-down on comic-book adaptations and remakes. Film, itself, turned digital.

Cinema has proved indomitable to countless challengers in the past. But fears are pervasive that a new wave of disruption will topple the movies. “Cinema is gone,” Martin Scorsese said upon the release of his little-seen religious epic “Silence.” “The cinema I grew up with and that I’m making, it’s gone.” Scorsese, as passionate a believer in the big screen as anyone, is reportedly taking one of his next films to Netflix.

There have been a number of Oscar best-picture winners about show business and the colorful lives of performers, including “The Broadway Melody” (1928), “Grand Hotel” (1932), “The Great Ziegfeld” (1936), “All About Eve” (1950), one of the two other films to notch 14 nods) and “Shakespeare in Love” (1998).

But it’s a relatively recent development that the Academy Awards have been so swayed by movies about its own backyard. As the Los Angeles Times pointed out, it wasn’t until “Million Dollar Baby” and “Crash” won in the mid-’00s that an LA-set movie won best picture.