I hated cliques in high school. I hated the idea that you had to be or act a certain way in order to be accepted. I hated the feeling of isolation I experienced, both externally and internally, because I didn’t fit the norm. Hated the drama when two sets of cliques start shit and expecting some sort of retaliation. I hated it when I went to Otay Ranch, and I mostly despise it when it permeates the Oscar season; in particular, when a front-runner or a perceived front-runner gets chopped down simply for being “in the lead,” a dubious honor which now belongs to the musical/romantic comedy-drama La La Land.
I’ve seen writer-director Damien Chazelle’s followup twice now, and while I absolutely admire the filmmaker’s love letter to the city, to Hollywood and to the musical & performing arts, I do feel that this is a film that isn’t above criticism, regardless of the film being a terrific piece of entertainment, especially as it pertains to a problem with the narrative I noticed on the second viewing – mainly, the separation of Ryan Gosling’s Sebastian and Emma Stone’s Mia at the beginning of the final act of the film, where the couple have an argument about Sebastian digging into a gig he can’t stand in order to pay the bills and supporting his dream of opening a jazz nightclub. I’d also refer to Vulture’s take on Sebastian’s – and Chazelle’s, explicit snobbery on where jazz music has gone and why they think it’s “dying on the vine” and why this mentality on the genre is a detriment to the lead character’s crusade to save pure jazz music, because I feel the author makes a solid case to what the writer sees as a major flaw of the film, from the perspective of a jazz enthusiast.
Unfortunately, for every engaging think-piece from a Seve Chambers or an Ira Madison detailing the whitesplaining element he believes is at the center of La La Land, I’ve come across empty and near-infuriating crap, like this take down piece from The Guardian on why La La Land winning big on Oscar night is both a disaster for Hollywood and highlights the self-absorbed narcissism of today’s generation; or this article from Paste Magazine comparing the film’s nostalgia-bent to, of all things, the 2016 presidential campaign, the rise of Donald Trump and white nationalism. Oh, how I wish I were kidding about that, and yes, it’s every bit as ludicrous as it sounds. Both of these pieces, from my perspective, highlight a consensus: that La La Land is unworthy for Best Picture, and that something like Barry Jenkins’ urban drama Moonlight, should be the film that takes its place as the winner.
For the record: I loved Moonlight. I think it’s a profound and quietly heartbreaking look at the nature of identity, the toxicity of uber-masculinity, and the plight of gay youth in America. It features terrific writing, near-perfect direction by Jenkins, a beautiful and haunting score, amazing cinematography and brilliant acting by everyone involved. If I had a vote in the Academy, I’d probably end up giving it to Moonlight. I do have a problem with the way Oscar favorites are almost always taken down several pegs by insiders doing whisper campaigns and hit jobs screeds which only lowers the discourse when we discuss film and which of the nominees is worthy of being called Best Picture of the Year.
Richard Linklater’s coming-of-age drama, Boyhood was the critics’ darling during its run, then came the think-pieces that slammed the movie for being a gimmick, a one-trick pony, and never recovered. Ava DuVernay’s civil rights film, Selma, infamously was derailed by an article in the Washington Post, claiming the treatment of then-President Lyndon B. Johnson as someone who sat on his ass during the battle of securing the rights of African-Americans to vote was unfair. The military drama Zero Dark Thirty was lambasted for director Kathryn Bigelow’s and screenwriter Mark Boal’s supposed pro-torture stance. And on and on it goes; an endless cycle of perceived slights against personal favorites and self-righteous indignation that should be saved for something like the lack of people of color and women getting the same opportunities as their white, male colleagues writing screenplays and directing films, or discussing racial & gender stereotypes in film.
Instead of enjoying the best of what cinema had to offer in any particular year, stuff like this feels something akin to an endurance test, rather than a celebration of the best in the medium I have come to love. Instead of feeling like a communal group of film junkies and cinephiles, each year has begun to resemble cliques – Team Moonlight is in a turf war with Team La La Land, and everyone else has to pick a side, and start sniping away on social media, on award guru sites and on blogs, confirming their allegiance and taking down the opposition.
I had to deal with this type of meaningless shit in high school. Let’s not carry this toxic mentality with us in the next Awards cycle.