La La Land (2016)

2018 #10
Damien Chazelle | 128 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.55:1 | USA & Hong Kong / English | 12 / PG-13

La La Land

Oscar statue2017 Academy Awards
14 nominations — 6 wins

Won: Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Score, Best Song (City of Stars), Best Production Design.
Nominated: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Original Screenplay, Best Editing, Best Costume Design, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, Best Song (Audition (The Fools Who Dream)).

Yes, I am very, very, exceptionally late to the party here. For example: whenever I watch a film I log it on Letterboxd, then have a scan through the ratings my ‘friends’ have given it, whether that’s just one other person or a few dozen. This had by far the highest number of ‘friends’ who’d already seen it that I’ve ever encountered. And it was on Letterboxd that I first encountered La La Land, in fact, when it started screening at festivals in the latter half of 2016 and everyone was raving about it. It was a must-see long before the Oscar buzz started to build, and obviously that only intensified the film’s reputation. It’s a lot of anticipation to heap upon one movie. Fortunately, La La Land can bear it.

For anyone who’s even later to it than me, it’s the story of aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) and aspiring jazz musician Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), who encounter each other randomly, initially hate each other, but fall in love. Don’t worry, I haven’t spoilt the ending — there’s more story beyond that typical romance plotline. And much of it is told through the mediums of song and dance.

Watching the best picture...

La La Land isn’t “kind of a musical”, or “I suppose you could call it a musical”, or “a film with songs, a bit like a musical” — it is a Musical. And while the leads can’t really sing, that doesn’t stop there being some beltingly good numbers in it — though, for my money, the best either (a) don’t involve the leads at all, or (b) don’t involve singing. Coincidentally, two of those are the set pieces that bookend the film. The opener is a colourful stunner, a bright and breezy singalongathon on a gridlocked freeway, made even more enjoyable by being realised in a (faked) single-take. Related thought: I feel like we need to bring back done-for-real oners — people are faking them too easily and too often nowadays. Though, saying that, another particularly joyful sequence is the dance routine that adorns the poster. Its success lies in part with Gosling and Stone’s well-performed moves, but also, like the opening number, with how well shot it is. I assumed it was done on a set with some CGI’d backgrounds and probably some invisible cuts, but no, it was achieved on location, the shoot squeezed into the real ‘magic hour’ — actually a half-hour window — and is, I believe, a genuine single take.

Now, the other bookend is (obviously) the ending. Well, I think they actually label it an epilogue, because its events occur after the main story; but an epilogue is an addendum, isn’t it?, and I reckon this final sequence is as vital as any other part of the film. It’s how the story really ends, and it’s an all-timer of a finale. That comes both from the tone it takes (no spoilers here, but see my Letterboxd comment) but also the sequence itself, a stunning marriage of visuals, soundtrack, and meaning — and I say this as someone who (for a pertinent example) disliked An American in Paris specifically because of its extended ballet bit at the end. Damien Chazelle well earned his Best Director Oscar.


Speaking of which, I must mention what went down at the Oscars. Well, not so much the snafu itself (though that made for great telly), but the ultimate result. I think there can be little doubt that Moonlight is a more significant film for our times, for all kinds of reasons, and it’s certainly a quality work of filmmaking in its own right, but La La Land is a more purely enjoyable cinematic experience, with just enough grit in the mix to stop it being too sappy. I don’t resent Moonlight its victory, but I’d’ve voted for this.

5 out of 5

The 2018 Academy Awards are handed out tonight from 1am GMT.

La La Land placed 4th on my list of The 26 Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2018.

6 thoughts on “La La Land (2016)

  1. Nicely put. In the final analysis I thought that both MOONLIGHT and MANCHESTER BY THE SEA were better tips for the win that year, but all I can say about this one is that we went to see it in a packed cinema, everyone – including us – loved it, or seemed to, and that’s good enough. I caught it again some months later to see if it was the audience experience that had made it work, but even on the small screen it was still great, life affirming work.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Oh definitely. I’m by no means the first to say it, but it worries me how little the Academy Awards have to do with praising the best film and how much it’s all down to agendas beyond quality, people whose ‘turn’ it is to be acknowledged, and so on. One of the most fascinating aspects of it all to me is how much fun it is to disagree with the results. Like I said, I thought MOONLIGHT was a rare instance of a film that deserved all the praise it got, but I will confess to leaving the screening of LA LA LAND with a big smile on my face, knowing I’d seen something a bit special, and that’s quite rare.

        Liked by 1 person

        • The campaigning, and how much that seems to affect the result, is also quite mad. Oscar voters seem to be insanely easily influenced by advertising, somehow. I guess they too often don’t bother to see all the films and just vote along with what they perceive the consensus to be. It’s kind of sad when you dig into it, actually.


  2. Yeah, this film even made the most craven cynic in me well up and applaud the sheer breathtaking old-style Hollywood glory of it. As you say, what really makes the film, and truly sealed the deal for me, was that ending. Its such a perfect ending, and it makes the film a really surprisingly dark film somehow. All the way through it tells us to dare to dream and that in tinsletown dreams can and do come true, and yet at the end it turns out to be not the dream we were expecting. Is it reality gatecrashing the party?

    In a way it’s the perfect Hollywood movie and the perfect Best Picture. In time, the likes of Moonlight will fade away but I suspect La La Land will play forever and in many more peoples film collections too. So whatever Oscar says, there’s a different definition of Best Picture right there.

    Liked by 1 person

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