After months of anticipation, "La La Land" has proven itself to be everything that I had hoped! About 2 minutes into the opening tracking shot, I was obsessed. The stunning introduction perfectly sets the mood of the story and introduces us to the Los Angeles setting. This scene is easily my second favorite tracking shot of all time (next to “Atonement”). The film pays tribute to classic musicals of the 40’s with its lengthy single-take dance sequences like the six-minute tap scene as they search for Stone's Prius. As the film progresses, each scene is more ambitious than the last and the execution is consistently perfect. Dancing among the stars in the planetarium, moving in regular motion among bodies in slow motion, an entire scene fading to black as a spotlight illuminates one character in the center of it - you can't even measure the production value of this well-conceived tribute to the Hollywood musical. Though a lot of stylized films miss the mark, this one hits the bullseye. I often grow frustrated with modern movie musicals whose songs are forgotten before even walking out of the theater. Days after seeing this film, I can clearly recall Justin Hurwitz’s simple musical themes that stick with you far beyond the closing credits. "La La Land" is a true musical triumph, and the genre of choice is jazz. Much like in 2014’s “Whiplash,” director Damien Chazelle has found a way to make jazz accessible to modern audiences. Ryan Gosling's monologue about jazz pinpoints the experience of hearing it live and reflects the passion of true jazz fans; meanwhile the jazz-infused musical theater songs keep the thematic genre at the center of the film. In a weak Oscar class, "La La Land" soars beyond the competition and is a shoe-in for Best Picture (unless the culturally relevant statements of "Moonlight" manage to steal it away). While many of the technical aspects make the film shine, its heart lies in its believable characters. Emma Stone delivers her most impassioned performance since "Birdman" with her phone audition and I believe that she has the Oscar in the bag. Her singing has a soft, light quality that properly suits her character and her chemistry with Gosling drives the film from musical number to musical number. I also appreciate that Gosling did all of his own piano playing for this film, which adds to the realism of his character. The casting of John Legend was really clever in that it incorporated a pop culture icon who sings with excellent vocal technique. I believe that the screenplay will win an Oscar, though I would have enjoyed a little more humor. I can also see it winning Oscars for Director, Cinematography, Film Editing, and Score. My main complaint about the film is its ending, which reflects Hollywood ideals over what we would expect to happen. I’m still worked up about it, though this emotional response is a testament to its effectiveness. “La La Land” is the complete package. It is destined to win several of the technical Oscar categories and is the only film that will leave me shocked if it does not win Best Picture. If you haven’t seen this one yet, you need to. Now.
[Pictured: La La Land is full of cute romantic moments and classic Hollywood imagery]