Few Oscar contenders in recent memory have evoked such love/hate emotions. You probably know someone who thinks it’s the best film in ages. You also know someone who was bored stiff.
Doesn’t really matter. “La La Land” hits all the sweet spots for Oscar success. With a record-tying 14 nominations, I fully expect it to walk away with the Academy Award for best picture and a bevy of other honors as well.
First, there’s momentum. “La La” cleaned up at the Golden Globes (picture, actor, actress, director), the Producers Guild and the Directors Guild. The ball is rolling.
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Then there’s the subject matter. Twice in the last decade Hollywood has honored a film celebrating Hollywood: “The Artist” in 2011 and “Argo” in 2012. (The industry’s romance with itself is childish but a fact of life.)
Consider the film’s high ambitions. Writer/director Damien Chazelle attempts nothing less than to evoke more than a half century of great film musicals. The picture is absolutely crammed with homages to the genre, from the overall story arc (guy and girl meet cute, have issues, finally click) and ends with the sort of brighter-than-life last-act musical blowout to be found in “An American in Paris,” “The Band Wagon” and “Singin’ in the Rain.”
Granted, as singers and dancers, stars Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are, well, functional. They can’t hold a candle to Fred and Ginger and Gene and Judy, whose killer blend of star power and immense talent was made possible by MGM’s musical assembly line, a nurturing system that no longer exists.
But frame for frame “La La Land” is one of the most ravishing movies in years, a riot of color and movement. It’s a technical tour de force, which has Academy voters swooning.
Yes, the film has a bad case of third-act letdown, when the music all but stops and the angst sets in. But Oscar will forgive.
Is it really the best film of the year? My personal favorite (“Loving”) didn’t even get nominated. And among the nominated pictures “Moonlight” was the most emotionally powerful.
Still, this is the year of “La La Land,” a link to a glorious past and, one hopes, an omen of a tuneful future.
Read more of freelancer Robert W. Butler’s reviews at butlerscinemascene.com.