It’s the run up to awards season, and La La Land opened to glowing reviews at the Venice Film Festival, swept the board at the Critics Choice Awards, has been nominated for seven Golden Globes and is generating plenty of Oscar buzz.
The film follows Mia (Emma Stone), a barista by day and aspiring actress, and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) a jazz pianist, who meet and fall in love in 1940’s Los Angeles.
The film is a feel-good homage to the golden age of Hollywood and looks set to be popular with audiences, thanks in part to the popular Stone and Gosling pairing for the romantic leads. But it is also a sure-fire hit with critics and industry efficiandos. Why? Because it’s about Hollywood.
Films about the film industry itself are often critically acclaimed and always do well when it comes to awards season. Hollywood is an insular community and likes to lavish praise on itself and keep allure around the glamourous industry.
Films where Hollywood saves the day are even better. Look at the Oscar’s 2013 Best Picture winner, Argo. Ben Affleck’s film glorified the film industry, telling the true story of a CIA operation to bring home six American embassy workers from war-torn Iran by posing as a Canadian film crew scouting locations.
The win was a surprise to many as he was up against heavyweights including Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook and Ang Lee’s Life of Pi. But the underdog prevailed as this political thriller won over viewers and critics alike.
Star turns from Alan Arkin as the veteran Hollywood Producer and John Goodman as the makeup maestro helped to cement the ‘Hollywood good guys’ personas, especially when, SPOLIER ALERT, they help to save the hostages at the last minute by answering a phone call from the Iranian border patrol to confirm the (fake) film studio’s existence.”
Singin’ in the Rain
New film La La Land harks back to the golden age of Hollywood, with musical numbers being shot using 50s style, wide-screen CinemaScope and performed in a single take as an ode to Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. Indeed, that 50s style is still loved today: An American in Paris, Top Hat and Singin’ in the Rain are timeless classics. And Singin’ in the Rain is another film about Hollywood that played to the critics’ tastes.
The iconic film stars Gene Kelly as Don Lockwood, a silent film star whose world is turned upside down with the introduction of talking pictures as he falls for actress Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds) while trying to maintain the façade of a relationship with Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen).
While the film didn’t win any Oscars (it received a nod for Best Music and Jean Hagen was nominated for Best Actress in a Supporting Role) it has stood the test of time, ranking at number 1 in AFI’s ‘Greatest Movie Musicals’, and at number 5 in AFI’s ‘100 Years… 100 Movies’ list. It was among the first 25 films added to the National Film Registry for films deemed “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.”
Another award-winning film about Hollywood’s transition into the talkies is 2011’s The Artist. The black and white silent film about the romance between a silent film star and a rising ‘talkies’ star bagged plenty of awards. The film won Best Picture at the Oscars and BAFTAs and Best Comedy or Musical at the Golden Globes, Best Actor Oscar, BAFTA Golden Globe for Jean Dujardin, Best Director Oscar for Michel Hazanavicis, Best Costume Design Oscar and BAFTA and Best Score Oscar and Golden Globe. Impressive.
Some thought it was a gimmick to shoot the story as a silent film, but director Michel Hazanavicius saw the film as an opportunity to take some artistic license and visually play with the film. “People come to a silent black and white movie, they know it’s not going to be a realistic movie. It’s a transfiguration of the reality,” he told CinemaBlend. “I hoped that people will like the movie, but you never know. Yes, clearly silent movies are a universal language. Everybody can understand them.” And it worked: audiences around the world fell in love with the film.
Hollywood satires can also do very well. While Singin’ in the Rain is essentially a satirical look at old Hollywood, Tropic Thunder has a no holds barred approach to the film industry.
The film follows a cast of actors who are shooting a war film in Vietnam and unwittingly get caught up in real-life warfare, with Ben Stiller’s character being captured and taken to a POW camp and Robert Downey Jr and Jack Black’s characters stumbling across a drug ring. The results are surprisingly hilarious, although at times very close to the mark.
Ben Stiller’s Tugg Speedman reminisces about his role in film ‘Simple Jack’ and wonders why it bombed at the box office when he thought it would win him awards, but he’s informed it’s because he “went full retard” for the role of disabled Jack. Mentally impaired roles such as Dustin Hoffman in Rainman or Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump win awards, but “full retard” is too much. Then there’s Robert Downey Jr in black face makeup…
Downey Jr was nominated for numerous awards, including a Golden Globe, Critics Choise Award and an Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for his portrayal of “a white dude playing a black dude” in a satirical look at method actors where his character of Kirk Lazarus has undergone surgery to turn his skin black for this role.
The film wasn’t afraid to poke fun at actors and the industry’s thin line between what is deemed offensive and what is award-worthy. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth a watch for Downey Jr’s performance and a hilarious cameo from Tom Cruise in a bald cap and a fat suit dancing to FloRida and negotiating with terrorists.
If you fancy a flutter during awards season, La La Land is likely to be a safe bet. Past awards seasons have shown that films which show Hollywood in a good light, particularly those that croon for the golden age of the 40s and 50s in Los Angeles. Surely La La Land can’t fail?