The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) isn’t the official start of the awards season, but the fest routinely gives the spotlight to films that will eventually be in on the tongues of many Hollywood insiders and listed in sealed envelopes to be revealed to mass audiences once the Awards Season gets underway. Films such as Slumdog Millionaire, The King’s Speech, Gravity and Spotlight have all had their profiles raised while being showcase above the 49th parallel.
And now it seems we can add La La Land to the list of potential year end’s best. Directed by Damien Chazelle who made a splash with 2014’s Whiplash which won J.K. Simmons some overdue hardware, La La Land stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in an incredibly ambition and energized musical that ripped through Venice and now Toronto with praise aplenty.
Stone plays Mia who desperately wants to become an actress opposite Gosling’s Sebastian who is a struggling jazz musician. The two are hardworking dreamers who fall in love and fight to maintain their bond while the obstacles around their dreams work in contrast to their relationship. Over the course of four seasons we watch the ups and downs of a couple that were meant to meet each other.
Sure, the basic idea sounds like just about every Hollywood movie ever made, but Chazelle makes magic here strutting Gosling and Stone around the screen in song and dance numbers that have to be seem to be fully appreciated. An opening sequence on the LA freeway is film and choreographed in a single shot and sets the stage for what really becomes a 126-minute cinematic treat.
The colors pop. The songs sizzle. And the pacing is so brilliant that La La Land becomes one of the few films that you wish would go on for another hour.
Gosling and Stone have appeared together on screen before. Twice before actually. In both Crazy, Stupid Love and Gangster Squad. But never before have the two had such steamy chemistry that works even when they are just ogling in each other’s general direction. Stone is particularly brilliant. Mesmerizing on screen, Stone is a clear front-runner for Best Actress awards. The young actress has always been good, but in La La Land, she is fantastic. Not since Charlize Theron in Monster have we watched a female on screen and just been completely in awe of the acting talent on screen.
So much of La La Land is just simple storytelling with flare. Cinematographer Linus Sandgren perfectly glides the camera with the ease and fluidity of an Astaire dance number that only further hypnotizes audiences while contributing to our love of both the characters and the movie making process.
In a summer of sequels, retreads and reboots, La La Land stands out from the crowd. You haven’t seen anything like this before and you might not see anything like it again. It is sure to win over audiences and may be copied, but La La Land will stand alone as a unique and wonderful cinematic experience. It was not only the best film of the Festival (so far) but it’s the best film of the year.