As the academy awards draw closer and the films vying for a place on the ballot are beginning to separate from the crowd, La La Land has emerged as the favourite amongst critics and audiences to take home the award for Best Picture.
A lot of the taste for ‘independent cinema’, as acquired by big studios, comes from tendency towards an awards season cash in- a period equally confusing as it is celebratory of the cinematic arts. The result of this trend, particularly in its emergence in the 21st century has given us terms like ‘awards bait’; good reason to be sceptical of films that exhibit an overly deliberate attempt to cash in on heart wrenching stories, grounded performances and at times, a careful political slight too. Because cinema more inclined towards the arthouse, but equally possessive of a Hollywood sensibility seem to revolve around Oscar season, with the road to the academy awards winding its way through countless festivals before a films general release, it’s perhaps best to view this industry as a machine – one that results in a rush of films imposed by the press and vetted through countless cycles of acclaim before the stars reach our chat shows and the posters make it to our magazines.
La La Land springs from this tradition, streamlined into an awards race that’s release last Thursday in UK cinemas chimed perfectly into its trajectory towards awards glory. Lucky then, that it’s a brilliant film. A musical of immense power and quality, made with a sharp awareness of the genre’s tradition and the Hollywood dream system; it is the complete package of what only the best movies can deliver: A capability to mix cinematic excellence with pure enjoyment in a way both original and familiar. Not much more needs to be said about the fantastic performances of the two leads, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone as well as the inventiveness of the musical numbers. This is a movie that is able to transpose moments of genuine beauty within the frame of Hollywood’s plasticity.
And oddly, this is what fits the film in so well with its awards buzz. The two central characters, Sebastian and Mia are both chasing dreams of artistic success. Sebastian desires a life in which his love of jazz can be manifest with authenticity whilst Mia sees her fortune in the Billboards displayed outside the coffee shop she works in between auditions. Fusing together timeless dreams of Hollywood stardom and a contemporary environment, the director (Damian Chazelle) mines all the emotions that connect these dreams with reality to startling effect.
It might be too early to call La La Land a masterpiece, but after a first viewing, it takes little convincing to view this film as one that will still find viewers in years to come. There’s an enduring quality to how it has repurposed the musical in many ways similar to, and I should be careful here, Singin’ in the Rain – A film that was made for its era but also transcended it. And with this comparison also comes the context awards season or not, in spite of awards and the endless press circuit, La La Land is a film that returns to the love of the movies – the perfect awards bait.