With the 89th Academy Awards coming up this Sunday, we have been glued to the screen in an effort to watch as many nominated films as we can before the verdict falls. But since there are so many, and we have only so many hours in a day, we cannot hope to see them all, which is why we directed our focus on the Oscar to rule them all: Best Picture. Sadly, some nominees have not yet been released here, so from today till Saturday we will review those we have already watched, closing on the 26th with our predictions.
To commence our five-day Oscar bonanza, the film that has everything to gain, and everything to lose this Sunday, a little musical called La La Land.
Coming into this film without great expectations is nigh impossible, but to then see it unfold so beautifully from the opening song-and-dance, which impresses more from a cinematographic standpoint than a musical one, quelled most of our presupposed reservations on the genre.
The unbridled enthousiasm that permeates the first act, typical for musicals both old and new, underlined by the hopeful songs and bright primary colours, slowly but steadily shifts towards a more dramatic realism, both in visuals and story, when it becomes apparent to the characters that not all dreams can come true, and the ones that do, usually come at a cost. Earthen tones, not so magical night skies, and a rising wave of frustration within both characters, coming to a collision at the start of the third act.
Unlike its predecessors, the film also does not end on a final happy twist, which undoes the harm done in the third act, instead giving us a glimpse of such an end in a wonderfully parody of the cliched storybook ending.
La La Land is beyond all an ode to the classic musical of old, Singing in the Rain and consorts, gems of Hollywood's Golden Age, and is thus rife with references both subtle and outright. A quick path into ham territory, were it not that the moments are expertly woven into the narrative, a fleeting look rather than a wink, which further illustrates the director's love for the genre.
That director, still only 32-year-old Damien Chazelle, shows skill beyond his years, crafting a film that should not work as well today, what with the public's wildly different tastes in cinema, with a confidence and commitment that has led him to the doorstep of a golden statue, and the title of Hollywood's next golden boy.
A musical, more than any other film, stands or falls with - of course - its music, and Justin Hurwitz, who has worked on Damien Chazelle's other films, the last being the equally brilliant Whiplash, propels himself to instant mastery, providing both drama and joy and everything in between with his deceptively simple score.
Partnered with the music is the choreography, of which we know very little, but flowed fluently across the screen, and yet still felt spontaneous and natural. Yes, Gosling and Stone cannot hold a candle to that famed couple Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, but their chemistry and overall performance make up for their at times dodgy dancing, which only adds to the idea of La La Land as a musical for the new generation.
While not without its faults, La La Land is not merely a succesful return to a forgotten genre, but instead plays with that which it revives, without ever losing itself in nostalgia or easy emotions, offering a wonderfully fresh take on the lost art of the musical.