‘Moonlight,’ ‘La La Land’ separate from award season pack

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New York (AP) – In Holly­wood’s early but rapidly solidifying awards season, two films — radically different in tone and tune — have separated themselves from the pack: “Moonlight” and “La La Land.”

This image shows Ryan Gosling (right) and Emma Stone in a scene from, “La La Land.” (Dale Robinette/Lionsgate via AP)
This image shows Ryan Gosling (right) and Emma Stone in a scene from, “La La Land.” (Dale Robinette/Lionsgate via AP)

“Moonlight,” Barry Jenkins’ lyrical coming-of-age tale, added to its already hefty haul earlier this month, taking best picture from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association.  The group also gave best director to Jenkins, best supporting actor to Mahershala Ali and best cinematography to James Laxton.

Those three awards mirrored the picks by the LAFAA’s East Coast corollary, the New York Film Critics Circle.  But the New York critics ultimately chose Damien Chazelle’s “La La Land” as the year’s best film, whereas the LA critics had “La La Land” — a colorful ode to the group’s hometown — as runner-up for best picture and best director.

Which film will have the edge in the coming weeks — when the more crucial industry groups begin ringing in with their awards — is an open question.  “Moonlight,” which also triumphed at the Gotham Awards, is perhaps the year’s most critically celebrated film.  Across three chapters, it follows a boy growing up black, gay and poor in Miami.

But “La La Land,” starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, is only just hitting theaters.  It has widely been seen as the best-picture front-runner since winning the audience award at the Toronto International Film Festival.  While “Moonlight” is bracingly intimate, the song-and-dance “La La Land” is a starry, show-stopping crowd-pleaser.

Alex Hibbert is shown in a scene from the film, “Moonlight.” (David Bornfriend/A24 via AP)
Alex Hibbert is shown in a scene from the film, “Moonlight.” (David Bornfriend/A24 via AP)

“La La Land” is also likely to dominate in sheer number of nominations, thanks to its lead performances, high-level of craft and original songs.  It was honored by the LA critics for the musical work of Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.

The only film that has rivaled either in the early awards is Kenneth Lonergan’s “Manchester by the Sea.”  The National Board of Review bestowed its top award on the New England drama, and the film’s star, Casey Affleck, has been the most common pick so far. (The LA critics, however, went with Adam Driver for Jim Jarmusch’s “Paterson.”)

And despite a crowded best-actress field, including Stone for “La La Land” and Natalie Portman for “Jackie,” the early favorite has been French actress Isabelle Huppert, star of both “Elle” and “Things to Come.”  She was the choice of the LA and New York critics, as well as the Gotham Independent Film Awards.

Other films have been singled out elsewhere.  The British Film Independent Awards gave four awards to Andrea Arnold’s road-trip odyssey “American Honey,” including best film. (It also chose “Moonlight” as its best international independent film.)

A lot could still change, but the Feb. 26 Oscars are increasingly coming into view.  They finally have their host, in Jimmy Kimmel, and in “La La Land” and “Moonlight,” the night’s finalists might already be decided, too.