10 Cloverfield Lane
Hell or High Water
Eye in the Sky
Last Days in the Desert
La La Land
The Neon Demon
Lo & Behold: Reveries of the Connected World
The Nice Guys
Kubo and the Two Strings
Edge of Seventeen
A Monster Calls
Captain America: Civil War
Pee-wee's Big Holiday
The Conjuring 2
Moonlight / Lion
La La Land – Form Against Function
Rather cool rehearsal footage from a mock set giving those who haven't seen it a close approximation of the opening.
As an example of this scheme, the film opens with a really audacious, spectacular tracking shot tracking no one person in particular that weaves its way through a traffic jam on a highway ramp before slowly craning down and segueing into the introduction of the main characters, also done in one shot. I think I whispered to my friend in the theater, “That must have been made with a lot of CGI,” which would have been another parallel to Avatar. Silently, though, my intuition told me that something very wrong was happening in the movie, on one hand because I’d felt absolutely no emotions while watching the scene and on the other because the main characters weren’t even in the opening musical number.
My concerns were only aggravated by the next song some ten minutes later, which relates Emma Stone’s desire to be noticed and which Chazelle also opts to shoot in one or two extended, color-laden takes. Lyrically, Someone in the Crowd could be classified as a kind of “status-quo malaise” song, similar to Skid Row from Little Shop of Horrors, Deliver Us from Prince of Egypt, Where You Are from Moana, or Everything In Its Right Place in Vanilla Sky. In all these other instances, the status-quo song is the first (or close second) to play in the soundtrack, establishing either the setting of the film or where the character concerned is at in life. It’s also usually visualized in a style fitting the tone of the words and performance. In Little Shop of Horrors, which was for a while the pinnacle of movie musicals to me, Frank Oz uses claustrophobic angles and a dingy palette to convey the anxiety of Seymour and anyone else unfortunate to live in the trash heap that is Skid Row. Later on, Oz films the triumphant duet Suddenly Seymour a completely different way since it’s expressing a completely different set of emotions. In Prince of Egypt, Dreamworks drew dramatically framed scenes of slave labor and cut on or into jolting acts of violence and toil – the crack of a whip, the impact of a hoe in dirt – to accentuate the desperation of the Israelites. Other techniques and effects are used to evoke fear and wonderment respectively as Moses confronts Pharaoh’s magicians and leads his people out of Egypt.
Still a better Ryan Gosling love story than La La Land.
Hence we get La La Land, a demonstrably inferior picture to both Whiplash and Dancer in the Dark that nonetheless checks all the boxes for an ego-stroking, cinephile-pleasing Oscar frontrunner, a picture that followed Inarritu and Cuaron’s trail of bread crumbs to take home Best Director without a hitch. There’s so much more to scrutinize that keeps the movie from excelling: how unlikeable Ryan Gosling is, who snaps at his mother, “Then what we would have to talk about?” when she suggests he date someone who isn’t into jazz; how bland the characters are in general; how anachronistic the product placement and references (Toyota Prius, Jimmy Fallon lip-sync battle, cell phones) feel when everything else is mimicking another decade; how unfunny the comedy is; how much Damien Chazelle wants you to like jazz.
On February 20, the Amazon-owned IMDb closed its message boards for the first time in more than 16 years, an area of the web that had become my go-to place for learning more about any film that piqued my interest. It was on these same boards that I found lengthy dissections of set decoration in Doubt, coming-of-age symbolism in Hausu, and just who Sammy Jenkins was in Memento. As far as I know, IMDb was the most convenient, if not the only place on the internet one could locate and peruse such interpretations.