I’m going ga ga for La La Land

by Emily Reed, Managing Editor

La La Land is the musical sweeping the nation off its feet this award season. It’s been nominated for 204 awards and has won 153 of them and counting. While this movie has fared well this awards season, how will it perform at the Oscars?

Best Picture

The trick to enjoying La La Land is appreciating it for what it is. It isn’t a philosophical statement. Instead, it’s a nostalgic movie musical for the offbeat movie fan. If that’s not your cup of tea, then you probably won’t enjoy this film. As for me, I thought it was great fun and I would be happy if it won the Best Picture award.

Actor in a Leading Role (Ryan Gosling)

You can’t say that Ryan Gosling isn’t a dedicated actor. In this film, Gosling plays the character of Sebastian, a struggling jazz pianist. However, before landing the leading role, Gosling had never played piano in his life.

Gosling wanted to be able to play all of the piano sequences by the time filming started. So for six months he spent two hours a day, six days a week in piano lessons. All of his hard work paid off and he accomplished this goal because none of the piano sequences used in the film required the use of a hand double or special effects.

While Gosling managed to become a talented pianist, he didn’t become a talented dancer. It’s obvious that he’s trying very hard to dance gracefully but sadly, he is not successful in pulling off the effortless look of grace. He often has one hand shoved in his pocket and the other flung out to the side like a frying pan I could cook an egg on.

Regardless, the chemistry between Emma Stone and Gosling is magnetic. (It should be, considering that they’ve starred alongside each other in Crazy, Stupid, Love, (2011) and Gangster Squad (2013)). Unfortunately, he didn’t add much emotional depth to his role, and his dancing is such a let down that I don’t think he should win the award for best actor.

Actress in a Leading Role (Emma Stone)

Emma Stone improves on all of the areas in which Gosling struggles. She plays the main character of the film, Mia, a struggling actor who attends audition after audition and always gets rejected.

An absolutely exquisite range of emotions visibly stream across Stone’s face during the audition monologue and the following rejection as well as while she is falling in love with Sebastian. The attention to detail that she pays to her acting carries over to her dancing. She attacks each move with intensity coupled with precision. For these reasons, she definitely deserves the award.


This movie is a kaleidoscope of colors that is endlessly appealing to the eye. Reminiscent of a Kubrick movie, every single shot in this movie is a work of art.

What’s really impressive is that the entire movie was shot in eight weeks. The opening number was filmed in two days in blazing 109 degree heat. The fact that they managed to achieve this level of visual perfection in such a short time AND on a low budget is a statement to how spectacular the cinematography truly is.

Costume Design (Mary Zophres)

Each costume fits the emotions of the movie. When there is extreme happiness, there is a swirl of bright, primary colors. When Mia and Sebastian’s relationship starts to go downhill, the colors become monochromatic and/or feature faded neutral tones.

Interestingly, costume designer Mary Zophres said that her favorite costume is Emma Stone’s  white dress in the ending sequence. Personally, I don’t see why this was her favorite because I didn’t find it particularly awe-inspiring. I preferred Stone’s bright yellow dress (as seen in the movie poster) which represents a happier, earlier time to tie in to the movie’s main themes.

Because of the keen attention to detail, I wholeheartedly believe that La La Land should win this award.

Production Design (David Wasco)

La La Land is a billet doux to its namesake city (Los Angeles) and old Hollywood films. The production crew filmed at landmark locations in LA and creatively framing them to fit the color palette of the film.

After Mia and Sebastian miss their movie date to see Rebel Without a Cause, they go to the Griffith Observatory just like the characters did in the movie they didn’t see. To go the extra mile, the production team arranged the Observatory to replicate the Observatory seen in the 1955 movie Rebel Without a Cause. 

Also, each room in Mia’s apartment is painstakingly designed to fit the bright color palette, and somber Sebastian has a neutral room to fit his persona. I’d say that the purposeful arrangement of colors and accurate remake of the Griffith Observatory deserve an Oscar.

Film Editing (Tom Cross)

Film editing isn’t a key to the film’s success since the film was shot in continuous long takes as a nod to traditional movie musicals. There was nothing particularly bad about the film editing but it isn’t memorable. Perhaps give the Oscar to Arrival where great film editing is essential to understanding the film’s plot.

La La Land (Original Score) (Justin Hurwitz)

As a soundtrack, it doesn’t have the depth to stand on its own. There are seven songs of free-form jazz on the album which is quite ironic because the movie empathizes the importance of the live jazz experience. Then again, if the soundtrack didn’t have any jazz music on it, it would feel incomplete.

I find myself skipping most of these songs and going back to listen to the first three songs of this album again and again. The opening number is extremely catchy and is still stuck in my head a week after seeing the film.

All of the other nominees are purely classical scores so it’s tough to compare apples to oranges and definitively say that this film should or should not win the award.

Sound Editing (Ai-Ling Lee)
Sound Mixing (Ai-Ling Lee and Andy Nelson)

If sound editing and mixing counts as the excessive amount of variations of “City of Stars” (four in total), then I don’t think this movie should win in these categories. The movie subtly plays “City of Stars” in the background before you even know the words! Sure, you could claim that the repetition in different tones is coordinated with the highs and lows of Mia and Sebastian’s relationship but for me, they ruined the otherwise great tune by repeatedly hitting the viewer over the head with it.

Music (Audition “The Fools Who Dream”) (“City of Stars”) Justin Hurwitz

Setting aside my dislike that is based solely on it being overplayed, “City of Stars” is a catchy and cute love song about finding your one true love in the city of stars (Los Angeles). However, I think “The Fools Who Dream” is easily the better song of the two.

This song is sung at the end of the movie when Emma auditions for the final time and gets her big break. It’s a vivid story about her aunt but it’s symbolic of the bittersweet end of Emma’s struggle as a starving artist alongside Sebastian. Their time together is over as her career advances and the emotional performance by Stone of this song does an excellent job of showing it.

If “The Fools Who Dream” won the award, I’d be happy but unfortunately, the far more popular “City of Stars” will probably win instead.

Original Screenplay (Damien Chazelle)

This movie isn’t philosophically deep but it is loaded with symbolism that isn’t in the script.(Instead, it’s shown through song, dance, facial expressions, and design elements.)

This movie’s lackluster script is weakened by its lack of memorable lines. The best line in the whole movie (“That’s LA. They worship everything and they value nothing”) wasn’t even written in the film. This line was added by Gosling himself after he heard his girlfriend, Eva Mendes, mention it as a joke.

This movie chooses to illustrate its plot through other mediums that aren’t dialogue. That’s perfectly fine but it shouldn’t win the award for best original screenplay.

Directing (Damien Chazelle)

Damien Chazelle dreamed of making this movie in his college days and only recently did he have the opportunity to bring his dreams to life. Chazelle’s Technicolor imagination dotes on the films of the past while still managing to produce a fresh, contemporary movie.

In his artistic magma opus, he manages to stretch his low budget to achieve the perfection he so desired which is why he is deserving of this award.