The Academy Awards are happening this weekend and it is a foregone conclusion that La La Land is going to sweep the award show. A critical darling and modest box office hit, #LaLaLand has been hailed as a marvelous achievement for its distinctive take on the musical genre, gorgeous and intricate dance sequences, as well as its hopeful but sincere depiction of romance. La La Land is, for all intents and purposes, a great film, but I wholeheartedly disagree with all the awards love it has been receiving.
I know some will say that awards shows don’t matter so why bother complaining? While I agree that such awards are quite superficial and self-congratulatory, my counter-argument has always been that there is value in awards because they have the power to recognize and validate human experience. My distaste for the #Oscars in particular stems from the fact that, for them, it is always the white experience (and all of its facets) that gets recognized, while the black, latino, and asian experience only receive recognition when it is framed within the context of absolute tragedy and misery. In most cases not even that is enough and your film is even less likely to be recognized if it dares to paint those experiences without all that misery, or if it dares to address growing social problems.
The Oscar Influence And Reluctance To Change
The Oscars have the power to change the film landscape, open it up to represent the real human experience, which by its very definition includes the multicultural world we live in. Unfortunately, the Oscars, like many other awards shows, seem content in following tradition and making the same mistakes over and over again. The simple fact that La La Land is poised to win the most at the Oscars this year is a sign of the awards show’s ever-growing ignorance or outright refusal to change. It frustrates me beyond measure and with every year my hope for them dies a little bit. Before I discuss the films that I believe should win, I’d like to examine why La La Land is the frontrunner.
Impressions And Critiques Of 'La La Land'
I must admit that for a long time I refused to watch La La Land. Musicals are not my thing and nothing about the trailers for this one caught my attention, which is odd since I adore Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. Perhaps it was the trailers’ barrage of quotes from reviews hailing the film as a must-see masterpiece and the reason why cinema exists, that turned me off. Over-hype sometimes has the opposite effect, and that was the case here. Anyway, someone I respect told me about how much he liked La La Land and that it would be beneficial for me, as a writer and film lover, to see it. So, I did, and as I expected, I did not like it at all. While I’ll admit that there is a degree of bias influencing my opinion, writing this now is my attempt at being objectively critical of the film.
Like I said before, La La Land is a great film. I may have disliked it, but I cannot deny that the film works. From a technical standpoint La La Land is excellent. Its use of long takes is impressive, like in its opening musical number or the first time the two main characters dance on the streets with the sunrise/sunset behind them. The use of color is awe-inspiring, its narrative structure is interesting with flashbacks and what-if scenarios, and above all the music is infectious.
As a musical it is different, focusing more on instrumental songs than people actually singing. It is a film for the dreamers, its two protagonists have a chemistry that is undeniable, and it celebrates Hollywood and the magic of cinema. La La Land is a beautiful film but it is erroneous to call it a masterpiece or an achievement in cinema, because it simple isn’t. The film is good, but let’s not over-egg the pudding here.
The truth of the matter is that La La Land is a film made by Hollywood exclusively for Hollywood. It is a film for the LA crowd and for those who are in the entertainment industry. Watching this film I couldn’t help but shake my head every time the film would reference classical Hollywood films, which by the way are references that you won’t understand unless you have a in-depth knowledge of old-school Hollywood. Hollywood itself is painted in a wholly positive light, and yes, the film shows the struggles of getting into the business, but in the end your dreams do come true. La La Land is basically Hollywood jerking itself off. That is why it’s winning all the awards — because Hollywood is a narcissist who cannot pass up a chance to self-congratulate itself and show the world that the magic and dream of making it in their industry is not only alive and well, but also achievable.
Another key factor enhancing the apparent effectiveness of La La Land is the cast. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, in particular, are very likable actors, and if that wasn’t the case, their performances would be seen for what they truly are: OK performances. Neither of them do anything extraordinary. Their characters aren’t unique nor do the actors attempt to turn them into original individuals. To me, Emma Stone was doing what she does most of the time and Ryan Gosling was doing a toned-down version of his character from Crazy Stupid Love.
Their performances are effective, but why should they be rewarded for doing something they’ve done before, when others need to fully embody and create a unique performance in order to receive some recognition? I’m not just referencing black actors, even Leonardo DiCaprio had to dance with death to finally win an Oscar for The Revenant.
This one is 100 personal personal, but after watching La La Land I am even more pissed off that Emily Blunt and Amy Adams were snubbed for their incredible and distinctive performances in The Girl On The Train and Arrival. Their omission is a travesty. Also, Meryl Streep shouldn’t have been nominated for Best Actress, but the Oscars can’t resist throwing the three-time winner and 10-plus nominated actress another bone. Why give the nomination to somebody new? Why break from the norm?
La La Land may be a cheerful and engaging film, but it stands more as the glaring problem of the awards’ season than anything else. The film not only showcases Hollywood’s ever-constricting bubble, but also their almost clinical disregard for any experience that isn’t white. I firmly believe that La La Land will become like The Artist: a film that celebrates the “golden age” of cinema, wins the major awards, and is swiftly forgotten the following week.
How 2017 Could Change Cinema History
Perhaps I’m being naive, but in 2017 there is a chance for the Oscars to take action and actually prove what they preach. If they say they stand for artistic expression, the recognition of the human experience and actually want to connect with the public, then there are only two films that should win the major awards: Hidden Figures or #Moonlight. Either film winning would be the first time a non-slavery, black-centric film wins Best Picture. Think about it, think about what it would mean for these films to win?
Hidden Figures shine a light on a real-life story that has been ignored for decades. It is a historically important film that inspires not only the black community, but also black women. It crushes stereotypes and reveals a hidden truth that the United States at large seemed happy to keep in the shadows. Hidden Figures is an incredible achievement and the most commercially successful film of all the films nominated for Best Picture this year. Here is a film that has and continues to resonate with the public, which, contrary to popular belief is in and of itself an anomaly when it comes to Best Picture nominees and winners.
Then we have Moonlight, which is my favorite film of 2016. Similarly to Hidden Figures, Moonlight ruptures stereotypes and brings us a story unlike we’ve seen before. From a narrative-perspective, the film does something different by breaking things into three chapters of the life of a black gay man. We go from his childhood days being bullied and finding two individuals who accept him for who he is even though they aren’t blood-related, to his teenage years of sexual self-discovery and the crushing oppression of reality, to his adult years that demonstrate the bittersweet consequences of his past experiences.
Moonlight is important, Moonlight is unique, Moonlight is a film that is so real and subtle in its emotions that it makes you uncomfortable. This is a daring, intimate, sincere and stylistically evocative film that conveys not just the talent in the black community, but also the inherent value and worth within it.
If Moonlight or Hidden Figures win the major awards it would signal a step in the right direction, especially in the case of Moonlight’s director Barry Jenkins, who would become the first black man to win for Best Director. This, of course, would not solve the problem with the Oscars or Hollywood. While a Moonlight or Hidden Figures win would be more than welcome, I do not want their wins to be tokens. The Oscars give a black-centric film a major award one year then go full-white for the following years as if that justifies their practices. The change must be constant, it must be active and the more such a change becomes true the more the Oscars will achieve what they want: a true connection with the public. Right now, why would the public care about the Oscars when the Oscars disregard the public year after year?
A change in perspective must occur if the Oscars wish to have a genuine impact on the public. They need to open up the playing field and start seeing the worth in films other than the arthouse fare. For example: this year, Deadpool should've been nominated. A critical and commercial success, Deadpool is absolutely outstanding, but because of its very nature it is considered beneath the Oscars.
Never mind its intricate narrative, its perfect balance between humor and tragedy, its badass action, its progressive representation of women, and I could keep going. There is great filmmaking happening in other genres and the Oscars' active refusal of them is detrimental and self-destructing. Their closed-minded attitude will render them irrelevant if they don't change.
I loathe the argument most people give me when I complain about the lack of representation in film and in award shows: "That's just the way it is." You know what? No, I refuse to accept that. Just because things have been a certain way for years doesn't mean the status quo is OK. This is a poor and lazy excuse, because keeping things the same is utterly damaging, especially when doing so continually gives sexism and racism a pass. I don't accept this state of events.
For all the progressive ideals Hollywood likes to spew out, they really need to prove without a shadow of doubt that they actually care about representation. That you don’t need to be white to receive recognition, that your experience as a latino or as a black woman is worthy. Only then will we see the real range of the human experience they say they like to award. Only then will they demonstrate the real vastness of artistic expression within the diverse community that lives on Earth. The Oscars has the power to achieve such a thing, to establish real change in what we see at the movies. Will it start this year? What do you think?