The Oscar frontrunner has its fair share of loathers AND supporters, but who’s really right? Matt, Jared, and Justin talk it out.
Most years in Oscar history has always had a a front-runner, the kind of film that everyone assumes will win the Best Picture award come Oscar night. 2016 is no different, with the clear lead for the award being Damien Chazelle’s throwback musical La La Land. At this point the La Land Land think pieces are pretty much impossible to avoid, with everyone and their blogging mother eager to share their thoughts on the most talked about Oscar nominee. Opinions are all varied about whether or not the film actually deserves the win its about to get, or if it’s just another example of the Academy being behind the times about what people actually respond to.
In an effort to truly understand what makes all these different viewpoints tick, we here at Freshly Popped Culture have gotten together to present three different viewpoints about the film: one that thinks the film is vastly overrated, one that thinks the film does indeed deserve to win, and one that is (more likely to the consensus) somewhere in the middle. So, let’s debate, shall we? Does La La Land deserve to win Best Picture? Jared Russo, Justin Powell, and Matthew Legarreta talk it out, starting with…
Jared, a.k.a. The Stick In the Mud:
Are you fucking kidding me? Do we even need to have this discussion?
Every single god damn year we do this song and dance about the Oscars and almost every year it ends the same way: a group of people see a movie at a festival, and suddenly it is decided among the brain trust that there needs to be a winner, that winner being a movie that is either the true story based on a social issue or historical figure OR is about artists and entertainers making art either on the screen or TV or radio or on the stage. Nobody has a say in this, there is no room for discussion, it simply becomes fact. It doesn’t become about who should win or who will win, but how many this front runner will pick up.
Let’s cynically and reductively look at the list of recent winners to justify my thesis and my case:
- La La Land — Actors in LA suck their own dicks
- Spotlight — The true story of child abuse and how fucked up Catholicism is
- Birdman — Actors in NY suck their own dicks
- 12 Years a Slave — The true story of slavery and how fucked up the South is
- Argo — The true story of writers in LA sucking their own dicks
- The Artist — Directors in LA suck their own dicks, silently
- The King’s Speech — The true story of how fucked up the Nazis are
- The Hurt Locker — The true story of how fucked up the Middle East is
- Slumdog Millionaire — The TV industry sucks their own dick, with a killer dance number at the end
Now, this isn’t against the actual quality of the films themselves, in fact most of the movies in that list are quite good! A few are beyond terrific! I love some of those movies! That is not the issue at hand here, simply due to the fact that the best movies never win, the most experimental movies never win, the most bold and daring get punished and the safest picks are rewarded based on a mixture of a ridiculous voting system and lots of money being pumped behind the scenes. It is what it is; as long as nobody is breaking the law I could care less.
But come the fuck on, really? Did you people not see the other contenders? This is one of the strongest lists of nominees for Best Picture in quite some time, and they’re going with La La Land? I like that movie, it’s fine. Tons of problems, everyone agrees, you can nitpick it to death, but it’s forgettable and not nearly as impressive as Whiplash. But that is a much longer discussion for another day.
Am I an asshole for writing this column? My tongue is in my cheek, although that’s harder to get across in written form, I admit. This is mostly a rebuke to my friends and their arguments, I’m sure what they wrote is fine. I’m okay being the resident negative nancy.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and unfortunately the history of Hollywood is filled with way too many winners that in retrospect look short-sighted and awful. The academy’s batting average is horrendous and you can make up a canon’s worth of all-timers with what didn’t win. Did nobody see Moonlight? Or OJ: Made in America and I Am Not Your Negro? Why weren’t they included in the main list? I fucking LOVE Arrival and Manchester by the Sea to death, but come on, this is so stupid. I get the fervor, I get the backlash, I get the backlash to the backlash, and I approve of all the nominations tying the record, but at the end of the day it isn’t about La La Land being a mediocre musical or not, it’s about the strength of the competition and this year it’s way too good to award to Damien Chazelle’s latest.
Maybe in another year I wouldn’t be so irked. But god damn do I love Whiplash and I will see everything Chazelle makes going forward. Enjoy the gold coming your way buddy, I’m proud. And silver lining: at least Mel Gibson won’t win anything.
Justin, a.k.a. The Middle Ground
There’s a few levels to consider when thinking about La La Land. First, do I , Justin, think La La Land is the best picture of 2016? The answer is no, I believe Moonlight to be the best film of 2016. But I do think La La Land is a good film. I distinctly remember saying that La La Land was going to win Best Picture at the Oscars to the family member I saw it with, but I think that’s more about the Academy Awards than the film itself.
La La Land is designed to rack up awards in a lot of ways. Everyone knows Hollywood loves Hollywood, so a musical that equally odes to Singing In The Rain as it does to The Umbrella Of Cherbourg is something that is right up their alley. Mix in the indie cred of Damien Chazelle and that fact this isn’t from a major studio, and you sate any arguments this typical studio awards bait, you say that this film is risky in 2016, “people don’t like original musicals” and all.
But after the enthralling experience of watching La La Land in the theaters, you return to your home, and on the way, you begin to consider certain things.
Like that Gosling and Stone can’t really sing, though that’s not unprecedented. The previously mentioned The Umbrella Of Cherbourg doesn’t feature the best singers, but the problem is, that film came out 50 years ago. What people think about musicals has changed, and no better understanding of this can be seen than with Hamilton, a.k.a. the biggest drawing musical in the world.
Then you consider the narrative that this is a film about how Ryan Gosling is going to “save” jazz. Although this is problematic (especially when it’s paired with John Legend being the evil sellout), I tend to think Damien Chazelle is actually the problem here. If you have seen any of his other three films, Chazelle has a tendency toromanticize jazz, but what he also does make films about awful men. Guy, Andrew, and Sebastian are terrible people, possible sociopaths if you consider their lack of regard of other people and their only desire to indulge their wants. So the idea of this being a film about a white man saving a traditional black music kind of falls apart with that, especially since Chazelle’s first male lead was black but still: come on man, we could fixed a serious issue with this film in casting.
Lastly, this is a conversation we’re having because I’m pretty sure that we all agree that there’s a clearly superior film in Moonlight. But unlike previous years, Moonlight has had a lot of acclaim during award season. In fact, Moonlight has won the most awards, so when it comes to the grand daddy of awards (and I can make the argument that no award holds more in acclaim in an Oscar relative to it’s field,) why are we having this conversation?
Ultimately yes, La La Land does deserve some awards, but why does it deserve all the awards? Why can’t the Oscars just get out of its own way for once? Imagine the story it will be if the Academy Awards actually awarded something that WASN’T Moonlight? And its important that it does: people often greenlight projects that they know won’t be huge financial windfalls if they think they can get awards. If Moonlight wins, if Hidden Figures wins, you effectively change the narrative of American cinema, because studios will take more risks on telling different stories. And that’s probably more important than anything else.
Matthew, a.k.a. The La La Lover
It’s not easy being in this position, arguing for a film that has (somehow) become a bit of a pariah as far as Oscar candidates go. I don’t know what really happened to cause such a backlash against La La Land, although I have my personal suspicions (the awards cycle is a cruel beast, let’s just put it that way.) But despite what the internet tells me, I KNOW there’s a ton of people that love this film. I know that I’m not the only person who believes La La land is indeed the “Best Picture” of 2016. But, even if I was…
Or in Simpsons terms…
Because, look: I loved La Land Land. It was my favorite movie of the year, and gave me an experience unlike any other in 2016. I thought it was technically marvelous, emotionally complex, and thematically rich. I personally believe that a lot of the “hot takes” that are coming out about the film (including the “Ryan Gosling wants to save jazz=racism” thing) are not giving the movie a fair shot, and I think I’ve come to realize that the movie I saw is apparently not the same one others did.
And you know what? That’s okay. It’s also okay for people to hate (or more likely, moderately dislike) the film, even if it does sadden me a bit that people can be so cynical about something that’s so wondrous and hopeful. I really did wish that more people loved the film, even if I can’t begrudge them for their hatred. And here’s another fun trick: though I loved La La Land, I ALSO loved Moonlight, and Manchester by the Sea, and even Fences for that matter.
It’s easy to get lost in the Oscar race, and to start turning on these (mostly great) pieces of art as the competition intensifies. But this isn’t sports, or even politics for that matter: you can love all these films without feeling like you have to dump on them because they are the frontrunner for the “big” win. I’m okay with people disliking La La Land, but in a world in which it wasn’t dubbed the Best Picture choice for the Oscars (and the predominately white film going against the minority led other choice, a conversation for a whole other article), I’m curious what the overall consensus on the film would be. Which is weird to say about a movie that has 93% on Rotten Tomatoes and a strong 8.5 on IMDB, but once again, that’s what this stupid competition ends up doing.
I understand where Jared is coming from, and see a lot of what Justin is saying too. But I don’t understand why all these factors have to change what I (and I imagine many others) feel about this film, and why we should just change our pick for the best film of the year because Moonlight being it would better contribute the industry. All I can do is talk honestly about my own experience, and in that sense, I am not going to stop loving La La Land, or be absolutely thrilled when it most likely wins Best Picture come Sunday.
But, hey, I was in this same exact position back in 2014 with Birdman, so I’m no stranger to having my opinion about the best film of the year going from widely accepted to culturally derided. I don’t want to harp too much about how persecuted I feel about all this, but all I’m saying is that Martin Scorsese is probably going to make a movie about me in a few years that stars an eternally tortured Andrew Garfield. And then when it becomes an Oscar front-runner, we can proceed to hate it too! The cycle continues.
So there you have: three very different viewpoints on what La La Land’s very likely Best Picture win really means. After listening to all three of us rant, where do you align? And be sure to tune into the Oscars this Sunday to see what ultimately gets the prize.
Although, come on now, it’s totally going to be La la Land. Let’s not kid ourselves.
EDIT FROM THE FUTURE: Well, color us surprised.