Favorite Movies of the 2010s: #4
4. La La Land (2016)
Musicals are a cinematic universe all their own. An agreed upon language exists in this world where characters understand that some emotions are too strong for mere dialogue. They must sung. Dancing is a universal expression, as well. The style of music and dancing performed in this world varies from story to story, but the idea is the same. When Danny sees Sandy looking hot at the senior carnival at the end of Grease, it's not enough for him to say "damn, girl!" or her to say "if you want me, get your shit together." No, they must sing it. The characters around them know this, which is why they join in. The best musicals know that stuff that is deep in our hearts and finds it through song. La Land is one of the best musicals in a long time to tap into the hopeless romantic in me.
The movie opens with a massive ensemble number involving people stuck on a Los Angeles freeway. The song, "Another Day in the Sun," is about the opportunity that each new day brings, even in the mundane. Right away, Damien Chazelle tells us this is a movie for romantics and dreamers and people who love music. After this opening, we meet Sebastian and Mia (Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone). Sebastian is a lover of traditional jazz and wants to open his own club. Mia enters his life and, as is the case in these matters, sparks fly. They bicker at one another, certain they can not stand one another. Then, they walk in the Hollywood Hills and ease into the wonderful "A Lovely Night," a playful song about how this beautiful evening is wasted on them since they so obviously are wrong for each other. Over the course of the song, again as is the case in these matters, they fall in love. This one number encapsulates the appeal of musicals for me. The song and dance accomplishes in five minutes what some movies take several scenes to accomplish. We can move on to the relationship and more great numbers because that's what we signed up for.
La La Land works because its willing to plumb the emotional depths of the relationship between Mia and Sebastian. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are exceptional actors and La La Land draws upon their skill and natural charisma. He is charming, she is witty. Make no mistake. These two are movie stars and one of the many strengths of La La Land is Chazelle's emphasis on this. Old movie musicals knew people wanted to see stars and the chemistry of these two is critical.
I understand if this isn't your thing. I've heard all the scuttlebutt about why a person doesn't like musicals. Your complaints fall on ears that would much rather listen to the La La Land soundtrack than your reasons for not wanting to. The latter makes me just shrug my shoulders and wish you well. The former lifts my spirits and excites my imagination. We need more movies like La La Land.
NOTE: Damien Chazelle also wrote and directed the superb Whiplash, which could've easily made this list.