With the Venice and Telluride Film Festivals underway, it's fair to say that Oscar season has officially begun. For the next six months, prepare for an endless amount of predictions, campaigns, and award shows as Hollywood picks the best of 2016. Last week, I unveiled my early pre-festival picks for the 2016 Oscars, and in the Best Picture category, I placed Kenneth Lonergan's Manchester by the Sea at the top of the list. After the abrupt fall of Nate Parker's The Birth of a Nation, Lonergan's critically acclaimed Sundance hit became the leader by default. With so many critics praising it as a haunting, heartbreaking masterpiece, I almost felt like I had to put it in the #1 slot. However, my prediction came with one caveat- if Damien Chazelle's La La Land hit all of the right Oscar notes, it had a chance to win Best Picture easily. Chazelle's Whiplash is one of my favorite movies of the last few years, so as his follow-up effort premiered at Venice, I waited with bated breath for the word to break. And it did not disappoint.
La La Land is the new front-runner for Best Picture. In fact, I'm almost ready to proclaim it as the winner right now. This is the kind of movie that hits Academy voters in a vulnerable sweet spot, and I'm fairly certain that they will go crazy for this. Best Picture winners tend to fall into two categories- artsy, important, and topical films (12 Years a Slave, Spotlight, The Hurt Locker), or lightweight, enjoyable, well-made pieces of entertainment, often with a Hollywood bend (think Argo, The Artist, or even The King's Speech). Sometimes there are a few exceptions, like Birdman, No Country for Old Men, and The Departed, but for the most part, that rule stands true. La La Land is being praised as the kind of movie that Hollywood just doesn't make anymore, a throwback to the musical genre that is both dreamlike and thoroughly optimistic. That gives it credibility with both younger and older voters, which is incredibly important. For some context, here are some quotes from critics who saw Chazelle's film.
"La La Land is a film you simply never want to stop watching."- Jessica Kiang, The Playlist
"It winds up swimming in melancholy, yet its most convincing pleasures are the moments when it lifts the audience into a state of old-movie exaltation, leading us to think, "What a glorious feeling, I'm happy again."- Owen Gleiberman, Variety
"Chazelle's film has now screeched into pole position for next February's Best Picture Oscar."- Robbie Collin, The Telegraph
"La La Land is one for this age- and the ages."- Pete Hammond, Deadline
At this point, La La Land is my most anticipated for the rest of the year, and the fact that I'm missing it in Toronto is killing me. Nonetheless, we'll all get the chance to see it soon enough. And judging by this early buzz, it sounds like it'll be worth the wait.
On another note, in the last couple days, Venice also saw the premieres of Arrival and Nocturnal Animals, both of which received a strong reception from critics. Arrival is playing Telluride later this weekend. Speaking of that small Colorado fest, Miles Teller's Bleed for This just had its world premiere there, and judging by the early tweets, it isn't looking so hot. The Guardian's Henry Barnes was not a fan, and Indiewire critic David Ehrlich expressed his disappointment on Twitter as well. The boxing pic is heading to Toronto next. With Moonlight, Sully, Una, and more about to drop at Telluride, it's safe to say that this is an incredibly overwhelming time for awards movies. But without a doubt, this week's big winner is La La Land. It's the movie to beat.
Directed by Damien Chazelle, La La Land stars Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, J.K. Simmons, John Legend, Finn Wittrock, and Rosemarie DeWitt, and will hit a limited amount of theaters on December 2 before going wide on December 16.
Images courtesy of Lionsgate