Tag Archives: Damien Chazelle

Oscar Spotlight: Editing

The Academy Award for Best Film Editing is very closely correlated to Best Picture. For 33 years, 1981-2013, every Best Picture Winner was nominated for Film Editing. Two thirds of Best Picture winners also win for Editing.

[What broke the mould? In 2014, Birdman won Best Picture but was shut out of the Best Editing nominations. Those went to American Sniper, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, and Whiplash; Whiplash won.]

Editing is the invisible art that even editors struggle to describe.

Nebraska editor Kevin Tent: It’s hard to articulate what editors do, but when it’s bad, you’ll know it. When it’s good, you’ll never know.

Gravity co-editor Mark Sanger: The editor needs to provide a canvas that complements all of the other aspects to tie them together. If an audience has engaged deeply enough with a story to nominate it for best picture, then they understand the pages were bound together in the editing.

Any clearer? Basically, what Oscar voters are thinking is:  Are there special challenges that go into it? Multiple story lines? Non-linear? Does it flow well, is the story clear? Is the film visually exceptional? Is the movie long but doesn’t feel it? Directing a movie is telling (showing) a story; editing a movie is how well you can tell it. Sometimes good editing means you don’t notice it at all, it seamless pulls together all the elements of the movie. Other times, it might purposely draw attention to itself: Wolf of Wall Street’s editor, Thelma Schoonmaker says “In ‘Wolf,’ we’re doing shocking cutting deliberately, because their world is out of control, and wild.”

Only the principal editor is named on the award. He or she may sit down and do the first edit of a movie by themselves, but the director is almost always sitting beside them for the polish of the film, and their work becomes blurred with judgments about pacing, film language, and martinscorsesethelmaschoonmakerpowellgadves9f5idlmore. Lots of directors have a go-to editor as this person will be their right-hand in making the film complete. They get to know each other very well, and must share a vision for the film, while pushing each other to make the best film possible. Michael Kahn, the most nominated editor is Oscars history, and tied for most wins (3), is a frequent collaborator of Steven Spielberg – they’ve worked together for nearly 40 years. Schoonmaker and Scorsese are also collaborators over several decades. Some of these editor-director ‘marriages’ last longer than the real ones do in Hollywood.

You probably can’t truly judge an editor unless you’ve seen the raw material they had to work with, but there are some things to look out for: is it focused? graceful? do they keep you on the edge of your seat when there’s action? are you riveted during a great performance? does it keep your interest throughout? are you ever confused, or left wondering what’s happening in a scene? do they stay on a particularly good moment for as long as it holds emotionally, or cut away too soon? What’s left out is just as important as what’s kept. And sometimes staying, rather than cutting, is even more powerful. Yup, it’s a lot to think about and certainly would require more than one viewing to really judge. There are only about 220 members of the Editing branch of the Academy, and they’re the ones who pick the nominees. Then everyone gets to vote for who wins.

This year’s nominees:

John Gilbert, for Hacksaw Ridge: Gilbert was previously nominated for his work on The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, but the Academy likes war movies in terms of editing. The battle scenes have lots of intense editing, and Gilbert agrees that these are what the Academy is responding to: “They’re made up of fragments of images, a lot of it is very short shots and high john-gilbert-1-1000x1482intensity. The idea was to put the audience in amongst it and people really feel it in the battle scenes, a lot of people sort of cover their eyes, there’s a lot of bloodshed and mayhem, and it’s quite sustained.” While the initial work of stringing the film together can be done quickly, perhaps in a week, the real meat comes afterword, when director and editor sit down together to make all the difficult choices. “I worked with Mel Gibson for about 10 weeks on it. I originally thought that 10 weeks was not going to be enough. About half the movie is battle scenes, with a lot of quick-cut action, and a lot of choices due to the amount of footage I had. Mel had been in during the shoot and we went over some sequences in great detail, looking at re-speeding shots, and trimming frames, taking quite a bit of time. There are always key scenes where small changes in performance and timing can be critical and we worked hard on them.” Gilbert is quick to point out that editing is a collaborative process: “The assistants break it down into scenes for me, and I skip through the circled takes to start with, just to have a look at what sort of coverage I’ve got. I like to get an idea in my mind about the shape of the scene, where I’m going to use the wide shots, where I’m going to use the close-ups, and how to best use the coverage I have. I like to find what I think are they key moments in the scene and make a note of any magic I find in the performances. I make a ‘selects’ sequence as I go, which I make in story order, and that becomes the basis for my first edit. It is also useful if the script supervisor has a good relationship with the director and is able to give me insight into what they were thinking, and any moments they loved when shooting.”

Joe Walker, for Arrival: Walker worked with Denis Villeneuve last year on Sicario and again this year on Blade Runner 2049, so they’re forming quite a successful partnership. He was previously nominated for his work on 12 Years A Slave. As Villeneuve and Walker wrapped up Sicario, Villeneuve passed him the script for Arrival, and he was immediately drawn to it for its “strong female lead. It was educated and it was grown-up, and I was fascinated by the joe-walker-800x600application of my craft to it, in so far as it’s right in the middle of what I think is our super power as editors, which is the manipulation of time.” Arrival is told with little glimpses of memory, other times, other places. How do you sew that all together? “Many things were just grabbed moments that were sort of very emotive and beautiful, a hand touching a baby’s hand in a cart, or an out-of-focus shot of a horse in a stable. They could have gone anywhere. Trying to build that into the narrative and marble this narrative through with these little glimpses of a memory, if you like.” Arrival doesn’t have a strictly linear approach, nor is it classically circular or backward or necessarily out of chronological order. It simply does not exist within our perception of time and order. It’s interwoven, with all moments touching each other, if you can think of time reaching around on itself. “To really be moved by the ending, we felt we had to adjust that. We had to make sure that the wall that we built at the beginning wasn’t so solid that we couldn’t kick it down, but also we had to choose a real moment where people will definitely get it. That’s right at the heart of editing and narrative storytelling, working out when you’re just ahead of the audience, or in parallel with the audience, and never behind. We always wanted to compliment the audience’s intelligence so that they could figure it out themselves.”

Jake Roberts, for Hell or High Water: Jake “NOT the Snake” Roberts has worked on some pretty great films, including Starred Up, Brooklyn, and Trespass Against Us, but this is his first Academy Award nomination. He was a film buff grown up and expected to be a “film maker” img_8854but fell into editing rather accidentally, and fell in love with it quite whole heartedly. “The alchemy that occurred when you juxtaposed certain images or performances and added music or sound effects was ‘filmmaking’ to me in the most literal sense. I’ve been editing ever since.” On the particular challenges of making a neo-Western like Hell or High Water: “The challenges were mostly about tone and pace. It’s a serious film but has plenty of laughs in it so we had to be careful not to let it get too heavy or too silly and walk a line between it’s extremes. Likewise we wanted the film to be languid in places and for the audience to be able to hear the space and the silences but equally for it to play plausibly as a mainstream thriller.” How does he evaluate editing? “Never stop asking questions of the material. What do I (as the audience) want to see next? What information, be it visual or expositional, do I need to follow the story? What don’t I need? What is repetitive? Why don’t I like that character as much as I should? Why does it feel slow here?”

Tom Cross, for La La Land: He’s only been the lead editor on films since 2010 but he’s already got one Academy Award under his belt, for – you guessed it – Whiplash. How does Cross describe his collaborator, director Damien Chazelle? “Very, very prepared. In that way, it really helps me as an editor to put the movie into the first cut. The other thing that is so great about Damien, as a director, is that he is a true believer in what film editing can do. He gets very excited about solving problems, whether they be story problems or a character problems. I shouldn’t really say “problems,” but issues. He gets very excited about solving certain issues lr-tomcross_whiplashthrough editing. To his credit, he’s a brilliant writer and a visionary director, but he also is not afraid to change something in his script, whether it be dialogue or action, in order to fit what the film has to be.” How does Whiplash compare to La La Land? “In the case of Whiplash, the directive was to tell a story at a break neck pace, and with a certain amount of precision. As if the character of Fletcher was editing the movie itself. In the case of La La Land, Damien had similar directives for the editing. He had different styles that he wanted to do scenes. He used certain romantic scenes that would play out at a slower pace, and maybe less cuts. He knew that in order for that to really work and have the right emotional impact, he would have to offset that in other scenes. Other scenes have quick cutting, or fast cutting, or are told with dissolve, or other optical techniques. I think that something that excites me about Damien’s work is that he really looks at how editing can help tell the story. He’s a real believer in varying the pace and varying the speed of the cuts in order to accentuate moments when he wants to have something play slower and more romantically.” Lots of the movie relies on old Hollywood techniques to help make the film feel more dream-like, sweeping camera movements and dissolving scenes. In that way, the editing too is a throw-back. Some scenes that are meant to be more ‘modern’ (like the concert footage with John Legend) feature a lot of cutting, but others, such as when Mia and Seb dance in the observatory, are a single, brave take. And for all La La Land’s big, showy, numbers, there are also quiet scenes that convey a lot of emotion. “There were items where the editing would have to take a back seat and be very invisible. That could be seen in the dinner scene where they break up. It was directed to me as an editor to use these four shot units—we had a medium shot of Sebastian, a medium of Mia, a close of Mia, and a close of Sebastian. That’s all you have.”

Nat Sanders and Joi McMillon for Moonlight: If Sanders and McMillon win, they’ll make history. moonlight-editorsActually, they already have; McMillon is the first African American woman to be nominated as an editor. She’d obviously also be the first to win! Sanders and McMillon divided the job between the two of them, with Sanders primarily focused on the first two segments and McMillon working on the third. The third, of course, was the toughie, and McMillon had to convince writer-director Barry Jenkins to move substantial pieces around in order to maximize and earn emotional involvement. Once he was on board “we found a place for everything, it became organic.” “Barry’s really focused on what life feels like,” Sanders said, specifying cutaways of a hand sifting through sand, or Naomie Harris moving in slow motion through the yard. Sanders and McMillon tinkered with sound design, and chose abrupt cuts to black, but kept a respect for the elegant camera work. “When you get such beautiful footage, you have to treat it like another performance,” Sanders said. He also explains the particular challenge of working for college pal Jenkins: “maintaining Barry’s filmmaking voice, which was observational and ponderous, and always wanting to preserve that, but still needing to keep things moving.”

 

So does that make things clearer, or muddy the waters? And who’s your pick for Oscar?

 

 

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Oscar Nominations 2017

For some reason, the Oscar nominations were not presented in front of a live audience this morning. Pre-taped bits with past Oscar winners like Jennifer Hudson (best supporting actress, 2010 for Dreamgirls) and Brie Larson (best actress 2016, for Room) preceded an automated list announcing the Oscar nominations for 2016’s best movies, interrupted with a commercial for itself. The Academy Awards will take place February 26th, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel. I just realized that I won’t be in the room to win my Oscar pool this year – Sean and I will be in Philadelphia, perhaps not even watching the ceremony!

An accounting firm called PricewaterhouseCoopers has taken care of the Academy balloting process for over 80 years. They send out the nomination forms in December and tabulating them in January takes about 1700 hours. There are over 6000 voting members of the Academy, and they’re all industry professionals. Each branch has different rules as to who can become a member – visual effects supervisors have to be active for a certain number of years, while an

actor must have a credited role in at least 3 films, and a writer should have at least 2 credits, and all must have “achieved distinction” in the motion picture arts and sciences. The tricky part is that you can only be a member of one branch, so someone like Ben Affleck has to decide whether he wants to be there as an actor, a director, or a writer. Each category votes only for itself – on editors can decide who will be nominated for best editing, and only actors vote for best actors nominees. Everyone can vote for best picture, however.

For a film to be considered, it has to meet some basic requirements: it must be over 40 minutes, it must have had at least a 7-straight-day run at a paid-admission L.A. theatre, and it can’t have debuted on television or the internet.

When an Academy member receives a ballot, they get to list their 5 nominee choices in order of preference, and are encouraged to “follow their heart”. The ballots are counted by hand, and the accounting firm looks for the “magic number” – the number of mentions it takes to turn a name into a nomination. The formula they use is: total # of ballots, divided by total possible nominees plus 1. So for Best Director, say you have 600 ballots, and you get to have 5 nominees (plus 1 = 6), that’s 600 divided by 6, or 100 ballots to become a nominee.

The counting starts based on a voter’s first choice  until someone reaches the magic number. Once Damian Chazelle (for example), reaches the magic number, all the ballots that had him as first choice will be set aside. The director with the fewest first-place votes is automatically knocked out, and those ballots are redistributed based on the voters’ second choice (the directors still in the running keep their calculated votes from the first round).  Once the nominees are announced today, the accounting firm will now send out new ballots and everyone can vote in all categories for the actual awards, although people are discouraged from voting for categories that they don’t understand.

Now on to the nominations!

Best Picture

Arrival

Fences

Hacksaw Ridge

Hell Or High Water

Hidden Figures

La La Land

Lion

Manchester By The Sea

Moonlight

Best Director

Denis Villeneuve – Arrival

Mel Gibson – Hacksaw Ridge

Damien Chazelle – La La Land

Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester By The Sea

Barry Jenkins – Moonlight

Best Actor

Casey Affleck, Manchester By the Sea

Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge

Ryan Gosling, La La Land

Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic

Denzel Washington, Fences

Best Actress

Ruth Negga, Loving

Isabelle Huppert, Elle

Natalie Portman, Jackie

Emma Stone, La La Land

Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

Supporting Actor

Lucas Hedges, Manchester By The Sea

Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water

Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals

Dev Patel, Lion

Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

Cinematography

Arrival (Bradford Young)

La La Land (Linus Sandgren)

Lion (Greig Fraser)

Moonlight (James Laxton)

Silence (Rodrigo Prieto)

Documentary

Fire At Sea

I Am Not Your Negro

Life, Animated

OJ: Made In America

13th

Documentary Short

Extremis

4.1 Miles

The White Helmets

Watani: My Homeland

Joe’s Violin

Foreign Language Film

Land of Mine

A Man Called Ove

The Salesman

Tanna

Toni Erdmann

Live Action Short

Ennemis Entreniers

La Femme et le TGV

Silent Nights

Sing

Timecode

Sound Editing

Arrival

Deepwater Horizon

Hacksaw Ridge

La La Land

Sully

Sound Mixing

Arrival

Hacksaw Ridge

La La Land

Rogue One

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

Production Design

Arrival

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Hail, Caesar

La La Land

Passengers

Visual Effects

Deepwater Horizon

Doctor Strange

The Jungle Book

Kubo And the Two Strings

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Costumes

Allied (Joanna Johnston)

Fantastic Beasts (Colleen Atwood)

Florence Foster Jenkins (Consolata Boyle)

Jackie (Madeline Fontaine)

La La Land (Mary Zophres)

Original Screenplay

Hell or High Water (Taylor Sheridan)

La La Land (Damien Chazelle)

The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthimis Filippou)

Manchester By the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan)

20th Century Women (Mike Mills)

Adapted Screenplay

Arrival (Eric Heisserer)

Fences (August Wilson)

Hidden Figures (Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi)

Lion (Luke Davies)

Moonlight (Screenplay by Barry Jenkins; Story by Tarell Alvin McCraney)

Makeup & Hairstyling

A Man Called Ove (Eva von Bahr and Love Larson)

Star Trek Beyond (Joel Harlow and Richard Alonzo)

Suicide Squad (Alessandro Bertolazzi, Giorgio Gregorini and Christopher Nelson)

Original Score

Jackie (Mica Levi)

La La Land (Justin Hurwitz)

Lion (Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka)

Moonlight (Nicholas Britell)

Passengers (Thomas Newman)

Original song

Audition – La La Land

Can’t Stop the Feeling – Trolls

City of Stars – La La Land

The Empty Chair – Jim: The James Foley Story

How Far I’ll Go – Moana

Animated

Kubo And the Two Strings

Moana

My Life As A Zucchini

The Red Turtle

Zootopia

Animated Short

Blind Vaysha

Borrowed Time

Pear Cider and Cigarettes

Pearl

Piper

Editing

Hacksaw Ridge (John Gilbert)

Arrival (Joe Walker)

Hell or High Water (Jake Roberts)

La La Land (Tom Cross)

Moonlight (Nat Sanders and Joi McMillon)

Supporting Actress

Viola Davis, Fences

Naomie Harris, Moonlight

Nicole Kidman, Lion

Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures

Michelle Williams, Manchester By the Sea

Wow, we’ve seen a lot of these! What have you seen, loved, hated, felt was overhyped? Surprises?

Best Screenplay

La La Land swept the Golden Globes and set a new record doing it. No other movie collected 7 Globes before, and only 2 merited 6 (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Next, Midnight Express). This paints a huge target on La La Land’s back going into the Oscars – or more likely, on Damien Chazelle’s. If he wins best director there like he did at the Globes, he’ll be the youngest person ever to do so.

La La Land is a superb movie and its merit is splashed across the screen in dazzling technicolour. It’s technically perfect, visually dizzying, and directed with evident love. The lalachazellegoslingone things that’s easy to overlook, however, is the screenplay. Which is why there were some raised eyebrows when it took the Globe for that as well. A movie like La La Land doesn’t necessarily need a great script, it just needs a bridge between big, magical movie moments. But Damien Chazelle offers more than that. He doesn’t just write characters who randomly break out into song and dance. He writes true characters, people who speak to each other with nuanced emotion, raw around the edges, honesty we can all identify with.

Mia and Sebastian are fairly classic types, starving artists. But the dialogue between them establishes them as outsiders, oddballs. There is specificity to their oddness that makes them jump off the page: she drives a Prius, so generic among the Hollywood set, he drives a classic car, that’s maybe a little like him, a little like the jazz he loves so much, finicky, temperamental, requiring work, not easy to love.

Chazelle lays the groundwork for the emotional reality of the film. The script earns it. When Mia and Seb waltz literally up into the stars, our hearts take the leap along with them. We don’t hesitate, we are ready. We have been prepared by the excellent writing and also by the fully fleshed characters brought to life by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. But we feel it just as truthfully when the relationship begins to disintegrate.The scene in the gritty little apartment when the smoke alarm goes off, romantic dinner burned, is about as grueling as it gets. And when we finally get to the climax of their imagined life together, the attention to detail pays off. If you’ve been paying attention, all those little moments added up to something. It’s Chazelle’s fluidity between vision and execution that pulls us headlong into this bittersweet romance.

Certainly, as a writer-director, Damien Chazelle pulls off exactly what he intends. Two other of this year’s nominees accomplished the same: Moonlight‘s Barry Jenkins and Manchester By the Sea’s Kenneth Lonergan are both writer-directors as well, and it’s no surprise that they were Chazelle’s biggest competition. Sean was pulling for Jenkins, in gallery-1477344433-barry-jenkins-01-david-bornfriend-courtesy-of-a24fact, calling Moonlight’s writing “tight” – and I knew just what he meant. There’s no fat in the script. Everything is precise, the chapters discreet. As writer-director, he trusts his audience to make certain leaps with him, and these small revelations help us to feel a part of the story. Jenkins pulls us in by showing us not just who this person is, but why he is, how he is. By showing rather than simply telling, we have so much more empathy and understanding, and this depth is what we really respond to in Moonlight. The character is so specifically written that even though we may have very little in common with him, we recognize the universality of his struggle and for a moment, we can slip into his skin. I’m glad Moonlight was rewarded with Best Picture, Drama and in truth, I would not have been disappointed had it garnered Best Screenplay as well. It truly is some remarkable writing.

Manchester By The Sea, written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, is also a major 1251523_lonergan-2accomplishment in terms of writing. Its main character Lee (Casey Affleck) is a man so paralyzed with pain that he rarely speaks. Every word in the script therefore counts doubly; Lonergan must convey everything with hardly anything, and he knows that because there is little dialogue, we are paying close attention to every word. Lonergan has the courage to present us with a very un-Hollywood story of grief that is not vanquished. There is no character arc, there is no redemption or triumph, certainly no happy ending. The script bravely presents us with the painful notion that not everyone will overcome.

The last two nominees were no slouches either. Tom Ford is nearly a writer-director himself, having personally adapted Nocturnal Animals from Austin Wright’s novel, Tony NOCTURNAL ANIMALS, from left: director Tom Ford, Jake Gyllenhaal, on set, 2016. ph: Merrick Morton/and Susan. It’s a very layered script, requiring a boundary between “real life” and “the novel” that sometimes blurs. It’s part psychological thriller, so it needs to keep a pace that grips us, titillates us, without ever leaving us behind. Ford deviates importantly from the source material, strengthening it in the process, at least in terms of film making. He sets it in a vapidly stylish world where the plot can work as a further metaphor for vanity and aesthetic, perhaps a nod at Ford’s own critics.

Hell or High Water was written by Taylor Sheridan, a man not well known for writing until taylorsheridan2he burst on the scene with his impressive 2015 effort, Sicario. Hell or High Water is a smaller, quieter movie, at once a throw back to Westerns of yore, and a timely commentary on today’s economic crisis. He counts both these movies as part of a trilogy about the “modern day American frontier.” Sheridan never studied film or writing but seems to have learned his craft by appearing on loads of television shows, some good (Sons of Anarchy, Veronica Mars), others not so much (CSI) and learning to spot the difference between them. He knew Hell or High Water would thrive on authenticity, and he wanted to give the audience something to take home and chew on.

There are no losers in this bunch. Awards are subjective, and you may prefer one of these over La La Land. But La La Land is not undeserving. It’s a beautiful film that doesn’t take any short cuts.

La La Land: Discussion

If you’re looking for a spoiler-free review of the film, please check it out over here. I wrote it all the way back in September, fresh from seeing it at TIFF, and I’ve been waiting all this bloody time just to talk about what for me is the best film of the year. I was absolutely giddy for this movie, how it made me feel, how it made me think, how it whisked me away into something both surreal and familiar. We exited the theatre from La La Land and rushed on to the next (I think it must have been Lion) but between the two, I wept. I wept for heartbreak, and for beauty, because La La Land abounds in both.

If you’ve kept reading, then you know by now that La La Land, for all of its romance, does not have a traditionally happy ending. But are the characters unhappy? Mia and Seb separate in part because their ambitions overshadow their love. Was this the right move? Do they have regrets? Certainly they’ve both gone on to achieve the success they so coveted. Mia is married, la-la-land-1with children. When she sits in Seb’s club at the end, we are treated to an alternate version of events in which they manage to stay together. Do they wish that this was so? Do they still love each other? Have they moved on?

One of Chazelle’s unspoken themes must be “Is it worth it?” – is it?

During their courtship, the movie takes cliches about love and makes them true: love lifts them, they dance on air, they sing from rooftops. Did this feel organic to you in the movie? I often felt that when things felt intense to them, they broke out into song as a metaphor for feelings that are too fervent to verbalize. When words fail, they’d sing, or dance, which is often the way we feel in our excited little hearts when we’re first falling in love (reminds me of a certain scene in 500 Day of Summer).

Sean noticed that when the relationship got rocky, the movie got a little more boring, and frankly, a little repetitive. The songs are reused. But in time he felt like that was sort of the point: that the newness and wonder of the relationship had worn off, that they were beyond the first crush and settling into patterns and habits and less passion. The film itself reflects it. Did you find new meaning in songs as they were revisited? During the second half of the film, during the relationship’s demise, there is noticeably less music, which means less joy, less intensity. Their world goes a little drab when the shine has worn off. Did you miss the music when it was gone? Certainly when it returns in that final scene, it’s a heart breaker.

Originally Chazelle imagined that Miles Teller and Emma Watson would fullfill the lead roles. I can’t picture Teller ever being right for the part. Watson left the project so she could do another musical, Beauty and the Beast. Ryan Gosling ended up turning down the opportunity to play the Beast so he could do this instead, with frequent collaborator, Emma Stone. Chazelle has stated they were hired together intentionally, because they’re a modern-day version of an old-Hollywood couple, frequently working together and already having an established chemistry. Do you think anyone else could have pulled off these roles? Do you think either of them has a legit chance at an Oscar?

Seb states that jazz has to be experienced. He’s disgusted by people who use it as ‘background music.’ It’s a special language that he teaches her and she comes to appreciate. He takes full advantage in the final scene, telling her he still loves her using only his music, and he plays so passionately that she can see how he wishes things had been different. However, there’s an interesting part in the movie, the “sellout” phase where Seb is playing jazz in the background during a scene. Is this where it all went downhill? What would you say was their final straw?

Chazelle has deliberately taken this musical off the backlots and grounded in modern-day Los Angeles. The opening number, though originally not my favourite, helps set the tone. This is the world in which they live, but both are outsiders among that set. At the end of the number, Gosling gives Stone the finger before driving off. The offramp used in this number is the same one they used in Speed, where they had to jump the gap. Lots of real locations were used in the film – even Seb’s apartment is an actual apartment, not a set. Let’s not forget that the movie isn’t called Mia or Seb, it’s called La La Land: the city is also a character. City of stars, city of dreams. Did the locations help give the movie a sense of reality to you?

The one criticism I’ve heard from this movie is that it never addresses the true roots of jazz: does La La Land “whitesplain” jazz? Is it racist in its portrayal? Did Damien Chazelle fail us by casting white actors in a movie about jazz? Then I wondered – wouldn’t Whiplash have faced the same controversy? It’s another movie about jazz starring two white dudes, but I don’t recall

hearing any hooplah over it [turns out the criticism was there all along]. Of course it’s not for me to say, but I can understand how it might sting a little to have an art form that was “invented” by African-Americans, music by black people for black people, to be told by white people. Not to say that jazz belongs to any one people, but if these are the only stories being told about jazz, then maybe the stories belong to the people who truly wrote them. And it does feel regressive in 2016 to see a white man play jazz, and a white woman dance to it, while people of colour make up the blurry background characters surrounding them, out of focus, besides the point. What do you think – is there cultural misappropriation going on here? Is Ryan Gosling a “white man saviour” in his quest to save jazz?

Mia and her friends are resplendent in primary colours because they’re young, and they dream in technicolour. She’s dressed in emerald, saphire, yellow. At the end of the movie though, she’s wearing white. She’s supposedly made her dreams come true, but she’s leached of colour. What’s that about?

TIFF: La La Land

Damien Chazelle has bested himself, and everyone else. With just 3 feature films to his name, he has established himself as a visionary, an innovator, a pusher of boundaries, a seeker of beauty,

Sean was immediately aflame with praise. He wasn’t just finding a spot in his top ten of the year for it, but dusting off old standbys in his all-time list to make room.  And let me remind you that this is a musical. Not normally Sean’s cup of tea. Sean needs one of three La La Land (2016) Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone)things to love a movie: sports, explosions, boobs. La La Land has none of those. It has singing and dancing and old-fashioned romance. Yet Chazelle has breathed new life into the genre, with riots of primary colour, energy so vivid you can taste it, and music that evokes deep troughs of emotion. And by ‘breathed new life’ I mean that he’s actually found a way to bring great musicals from cinema’s past into modern times. Forget made-for-Broadway musicals like Chicago or Into The Woods, their theatre sets turned into movie sets – it’s more reminiscent of Singin In The Rain. La La Land takes place in the streets of Los Angeles and Chazelle takes advantage of its sprawling landscape, and its glittering skyline.

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, in the two lead roles, don’t just burst randomly into song. You very quickly get to sense that they sing when ordinary words just won’t do. They play Seb, a jazz pianist, and Mia, an aspiring actress, both a little down on their luck when the meet. The song and dance make up their courtship. The pair do not meet-cute; they meet-ugly several times until it takes: toes tap, together. New love is exhilarating. You feel as though you could sing your lover’s name from the rooftop, as if you could dance on air. It just so happens that in La La Land, they do these things literally. And it’s glorious. The fluid, ethereal dance steps will remind you of Fred and Ginger. Chazelle weaves magic, and a touch of fantasy, into their story, and even though you may never have waltzed among rs-248320-emma-stone-ryan-goseling-la-la-land-sing-dance-trailerthe stars in your sweetheart’s arms, you sort of know how it feels. But this great passion never lasts. It tapers off. Songs repeat. Sean felt himself longing for the exuberance of the beginning of the movie, and realized that was the point. Seb and Mia were missing it too.

If you’ve watched the gorgeous trailer, you’ll recognize the song that Ryan Gosling sings. The lyrics go: “City of stars, are you shining just for me?” But the movie reminds you that L.A. isn’t just a city of stars, it’s a city of dreams, and Seb and Mia are there to chase theirs. They haven’t come to Los Angeles to find love, but to find meaningful work. To become famous and\or successful. La La Land is about following your dreams, and it’s about the cost of following those dreams.

Ser lack of trying, it’s  just that every time I open my face to spean, whose movie reviews often consist of just three words (“It was good”) can’t shut up about this film. He’s fumbling to find the right words, but he knows he hasn’t just seen a good film, but experienced something unforgettable. I, on the other hand, have been oddly silent in the 24 hours since we saw it. Not for lack of trying, it’s  just that every time I open my face to speak, more tears fall out of it. And lest you start to worry that this is some tragedy wherein Ryan Gosling ends up shot, it’s not. These aren’t just tears of sorrow, but of joy and of wonder. This movie has made me feel. It has made me feel all the feels. I can’t even make it through this review with any dignity. La La Land is why I go to the movies. It’s unselfconscious and unabashed, a cake among pies, and as soon as I’ve finished weeping, I want another slice.

 

If you’re as desperate as I am to keep reading (and talking! and weeping!) about this wonderful movie, please visit our discussion section – SPOILERS – be warned.

 

IF