La La Land
Let’s get one thing out of the way immediately: La La Land is a damn fine movie.
Damien Chazelle’s whimsical yet achingly realistic story about love (as opposed to a “love story”) might have been worthy of a Best Picture Oscar in another year when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences wanted to celebrate itself. Say, 2013 (Argo) or 2011 (The Artist). Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) won in 2015, but La La Land ain’t better than that gem.
La La Land has earned 14 Oscar nominations, tying the record set by All About Eve (1950) and Titanic (1997). If La La Land wins Best Picture, as appears to be the likely outcome, it will be the fourth time in six years the Academy has bestowed their top prize on a film featuring protagonists from the world of performing arts.
While La La Land is unexpectedly melancholic — poignant even — it’s escapist filmmaking. And as tempting as it may be, and as necessary as it may feel, in 2017 it’s important we don’t indulge in escapism to the point where we’re ignoring what’s happening around us. Misguided populism, incessant racial tension and a potential decrease in globalization is leading to more and more individual crises of identity. Our world (while still deserving of a song and dance) is a little ill, and that’s making us as people unwell.
Instead of turning a blind eye to the current world vibe, Hollywood can admit that everything isn’t okay by crowning Arrival or Moonlight as the year’s best film. A win for either would be worthy, and hopefully a facilitator of vital conversation.
Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival demands respect. It’s sublime, pure allegorical science fiction, giving us a fantastic scenario to help understand what’s happening in our world.
The time for the correct form of communication has never been more important than now, when our channels of communication are instantaneous and infinite; when our social-media driven minds only see in our news feeds what we agree with, limiting opportunity to develop fully formed opinions over reactionary and uneducated rants. The complexity of language is at the heart of Villeneuve’s film at a time when it’s never been more important to listen to each other.
We live in a divided world today, one with many factions believing those with opposing views to be stupid, dangerous, ignorant, unworthy or a combination of all four. We’re not hearing one another, instead assuming the worst of those we don’t agree with, a practice that almost universally does more harm than good. It’s human nature to be reactionary, but the incredibly fast pace at which the world moves in 2017, together with events such as Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump, are forcing even the most rational person to forget to stop and think for a second; to correctly convey what they mean to say and to ensure that they fully understand their potential adversary.
This is what makes Amy Adams’ race against time to understand why 12 alien ships have placed themselves across Earth in Arrival so timely and vital. As she endeavours to decipher the heptapods’ language, we as an impatient race fill the space of silence with conjecture and negative speculation. As someone states early on, “We’re in a world with no single leader. It’s impossible to just deal with one of us.” Meaning global co-operation comes with differing fears and agendas, with everyone believing they are doing the right thing, that they are the heroes with humanity’s best interests at stake. It’s a sobering depiction of our ability to do what’s necessary, but also a crucial one.
This theme of communication can result in problems with identity, as our self-esteem and sense of belonging is affected. Issues of identity are nothing new, but the aforementioned social-media communication problem is causing a new bent on the struggle. When you’re constantly being told what to think, and when that message is constantly being reinforced without question, there is little room for growth. Some are gradually being compartmentalized without realizing — or worse, without caring.
Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight is a deeply personal portrait of three developmental periods in the life of a black, gay male. Chiron (played as a prepubescent by Alex Hibbert, a teenager by Ashton Sanders and an adult by Trevante Rhodes). Ultimately, this film is about a human being attempting to discover themselves and then reconcile with that discovery. “At some point you gotta decide for yourself who you gonna be. Can’t let nobody make that decision for you,” Chiron is told by Juan (Mahershala Ali), the male role-model he so desperately needs. That decision — one we all must make — needs to be made based upon all available information and thoughts, opinions and ideas from all angles. That takes time, and is almost unacceptable in this climate of instant gratification.
Moonlight also beautifully depicts racial and social situations not seen enough in cinema, and Chiron’s are particularly unenviable. But it’s a journey shared by us all, in different forms. Pain and conflict are conducive to becoming a more well-rounded person. We shouldn’t necessarily seek them out, but we should be open to both when we encounter them. Listening to each other can be confrontational. It can be painful. But it’s necessary on both collective and individual scales. One can only feel empathy when watching Chiron’s growth, and that empathy deserves encouragement. It’s another step toward a remedy.
A win for Arrival or Moonlight would not be awarding a middling nomination just to make a statement. Both sit atop the field of nine nominees in terms of quality. The number of flaws in both films combined are still less than in La La Land alone.
For all its problems, people still listen to Hollywood. On Feb. 26, the Academy has a huge opportunity to deliver something worth hearing. ■