The throwback musical hit starring cinema darlings Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling appears to be heading towards a triumphant night at the Academy Awards. With 14 nominations — a record shared with Titanic and All About Eve — La La Land could be the first musical since 2002’s Chicago to dominate the Oscars.
In some respects, La La Land is as classic as musicals get: the film is ripe with romantic tropes from Hollywood’s Golden Age. Gosling and Stone’s contentious courtship is reminiscent of Singin’ in the Rain. Gosling’s Sebastian is even a struggling jazz musician akin to Debbie Reynolds’ aspiring Shakespearean actress, Kathy Seldon. Just as Gene Kelly playfully mocks Debbie Reynolds for jumping out of a cake at a Hollywood party, Emma Stone’s Mia ridicules Sebastian for his part in a cheesy ‘80s cover band. The song and dance of “A Lovely Night” involves Mia and Sebastian all but imitating Fred Astaire’s and Ginger Rogers’ “Isn’t This a Lovely Day (to be Caught in the Rain)” from 1935’s Top Hat. The fantastical finale of La La Land even borrows a plot twist (and a stylized Parisian set) from An American in Paris.
There is just one hitch in La La Land’s nostalgic potential: Gosling and Stone are no Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. In 1978, The Post wrote of Astaire and Rogers, “They were together in 10 movies. They could take a line of Gershwin and put it into braille so you feel it in your soles.” Fans of old-time Hollywood will note this modern-day L.A. musical displays roughly half the raw talent of triple threat performers from the early days.
When describing his favorite role (Jerry Travers in Top Hat), Fred Astaire explained, “Nearly all the other screen musicals had dealt with the backstage problems of their characters. But in Top Hat I played the part of a successful professional dancer whose problems of love and romance came entirely from his private life” (1948). In La La Land, Mia and Sebastian are each aspiring performers, but there is never a sense that either is more or less than a regular person regardless of the success they achieve. Their love story takes place in mostly domestic settings, and Mia finds her “big break” by “playing herself” at an audition.
Many have praised Gosling’s and Stone’s performances as “charming” and “relatable.” The impact of the duo’s chemistry onscreen is unquestionable, and perhaps the song and dance is only supplementary. The two romantic leads will compete in the top acting categories, after all.
Much of the charm in La La Land can be attributed to director Damien Chazelle. The dreamy world of the musical is realized with long, sweeping shots and colorful sets. He has done his Hollywood homework, and it shows. Chazelle wrote and directed Whiplash in 2014, another jazz-centric film about a college drummer with an abusive teacher. The success of Whiplash allowed Chazelle the freedom to pursue an original musical in La La Land. A remake or Broadway transfer is generally a safer bet with studios nowadays given their pre-existing fanbases.
For all the cheery escapism La La Land offers, it will likely compete with two weighty dramas for Best Picture, Manchester by the Sea and Moonlight. The Academy’s pick will be anyone’s guess. Jimmy Kimmel will host the ceremony on Sunday, February 26th, and the night is sure to deliver old Hollywood magic even though Jimmy Kimmel isn’t exactly Bob Hope.
Three Movies You Should Watch
Yes, it’s December, and the holiday season has officially begun. We all know what the greatest Christmas movies are. They’re the ones we’ve all watched a million times and watch every year: It’s a Wonderful Life (my favorite movie of all time), Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Story, Holiday Inn, the 97 versions of A Christmas Carol, and all of those TV specials where noses glow red and grinches steal. But I’d like to point you to three Christmas movies that are pretty terrific that you might not be aware of:
- Christmas in Connecticut (1945). This film, like all of the films on this list, is starting to become more known and popular thanks to annual showings on Turner Classic Movies. It stars Barbara Stanwyck as a Martha Stewart-ish columnist who actually knows nothing about the home or cooking and is only pretending to be married with a child. When her boss (Sydney Greenstreet) and a war hero (Dennis Morgan) come to her home for Christmas, chaos ensues! A really fun film.
- Holiday Affair (1949). A Christmas movie with hard-boiled Robert Mitchum might not scream “festive” at first, but he’s actually quite good in this comedy-drama. He plays a department store salesman who falls in love with customer Connie (Janet Leigh), which is a problem because she’s engaged to someone else. (Gordon Gebert, who plays Leigh’s young son, talked about his role at a screening in 2014).
- It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947). Wouldn’t it be fun to break into a mansion owned by a millionaire who spends the holidays someplace else and have complete run of the place with your friends and your dog? That’s the premise of this comedy starring Don DeFore, Victor Moore, Ann Harding, and Alan Hale, Jr.
You can find out when these movies will be shown this month by checking out TCM’s schedule.
In This Corner …
I’ve been keeping you up to date on what’s going on with former America’s Test Kitchen host Christopher Kimball and his new venture, Milk Street Kitchen. The latest news is a plot twist to say the least.
The company that owns America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Illustrated has filed a lawsuit accusing Kimball of many things since he left to form the new company, including the poaching of employees and transferring to himself relationships with vendors. Now, lawsuits happen every single day, and it’s not really surprising. What is surprising, however, is that ATK has created an entire website devoted to the lawsuit! It explains why they’re suing, has the text of the complaint, and even has a chronology of what transpired, with copies of Kimball’s emails that supposedly show he did something illegal. This is all pretty stunning (I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it before), and like a lot of people I’m curious about how the site will affect the legal proceedings. It must be doubly odd because Kimball still hosts the weekly ATK radio show.
By the way, if you noticed, the URL of the lawsuit’s site is WhyWeAreSuingChristopherKimball.com. It can’t be a good feeling to see a website address that has your name and the word suing in it.
RIP Ron Glass, Fritz Weaver, Ralph Branca, Grant Tinker, and Jim Delligatti
Ron Glass had a lot of roles over the years but is probably best known for playing nattily dressed Detective Ron Harris on Barney Miller. He also had roles on Firefly, All Grown Up, Mr. Rhodes, Amen, and an ’80s reboot of The Odd Couple. He also guest-starred on shows like Murder, She Wrote, Friends, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Glass passed away last week at the age of 71.
Fritz Weaver was an acclaimed actor on the stage, in film, and on television. He appeared in such stage plays as Baker Street (playing Sherlock Holmes), Child’s Play, The Chalk Garden, and Angels Fall. He made his film debut in 1964’s Fail-Safe and also appeared in Marathon Man, Black Sunday, Creepshow, and the Pierce Brosnan remake of The Thomas Crown Affair, along with TV shows like Armstrong Circle Theatre, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Mission: Impossible, The Twilight Zone, Gunsmoke, Mannix, The X-Files, Law & Order, and the miniseries Holocaust. He passed away last weekend at the age of 90.
Bobby Thompson hit “The Shot Heard ’Round the World” in the final game of the 1951 National League championship series in which the New York Giants beat the Brooklyn Dodgers. The pitcher who gave up that famous home run, Ralph Branca, passed away last week. He was 90.
Grant Tinker was the head of MTM Enterprises in the 1970s. MTM stands for Mary Tyler Moore, whom Tinker was married to for several years. As head of the production company, he was responsible for shows like The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show, Rhoda, and Phyllis.
As if that wasn’t enough, in the 1980s he helped save NBC by bringing us The Cosby Show, Cheers, Family Ties, The Golden Girls, Miami Vice, Remington Steele, and Night Court. He was also in charge of the TV department of the advertising agency McCann Erickson (which you might remember from Mad Men) in the ’50s and later was an executive with Benton and Bowles, where he got a sponsorship for his client Procter & Gamble on The Dick Van Dyke Show, where he met Moore. I should add that over the last five decades, he also had a hand in shows like Marcus Welby, M.D., I Spy, It Takes a Thief, Dr. Kildare, and Get Smart. That’s quite a track record.
Tinker passed away Wednesday at the age of 90.
Jim Delligatti? He invented the Big Mac! He passed away this week at the age of 98.
What Does Your Smartphone Say about You?
Do you use an iPhone? You might be a liar.
That’s one of the findings of this study from England’s Lancaster University. Researchers concluded that iPhone users tend to be female, younger, and extroverted, while Android users tend to be male, older, more honest, and more agreeable.
In related news, an ex-Google exec says that we’re all addicted to our phones and it might be time to kick the habit. If any of these cartoons look like a scene from your life, you might have a problem. Another good way to check if you’re addicted: Do you keep your phone with you all the time, even when you’re eating holiday dinner with your family? There you go.
La La Land
Sometimes a film comes along and people say, “They don’t make movies like this anymore.” But it’s usually not true. Whatever movie they’re talking about has probably been done a dozen times recently.
La La Land, the new film starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, can really be described that way, though. He plays a pianist who falls in love with an aspiring actress in Los Angeles. That makes the film sound rather dull, so here’s a trailer that shows what the movie is all about. It seems to be a modern-day homage to the musicals of the ’40s and ’50s. I can imagine this being shown on Turner Classic Movies in 40 years.
I’m looking forward to this more than I am any Star Wars or Marvel movie. It opens in selected cities on December 9 and elsewhere later in the month.
This Week in History
Samuel Clemens Born (November 30, 1835)
Was the young Clemens — a.k.a. Mark Twain — an amusing scoundrel, a storytelling genius, or both?
Rosa Parks Arrested (December 1, 1955)
The National Archives has a fascinating record of the arrest of the civil rights icon after she refused to move to the back of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama.
Senate Votes to Censure Joseph McCarthy (December 2, 1954)
The senator’s attack on the U.S. Army was too much for his Congressional colleagues.
National Comfort Food Day
Comfort food is a form of nostalgia. It’s the food that reminds us of our childhoods or a good time in our lives. It’s a memory that figuratively warms us and foods that may literally warm us (even if those foods happen to be cold). Music and movies and TV shows and relationships can take us back to certain times in our lives, and so can food.
This Monday is National Comfort Food Day, and since it’s the holiday season, it’s a food holiday whose placement on the calendar actually makes sense. I don’t know what your personal favorite comfort foods are, but maybe they could include this Cowboy Beef and Black Bean Chili or this Rich Roasted Tomato Soup. Or maybe it’s a Red Velvet dessert that warms your heart. Or maybe a Classic Chicken Soup is all you need.
I like all those things. Which probably says a lot more about me than any smartphone could.
Next Week’s Holidays and Events
Pearl Harbor Day (December 7)
It’s the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Here’s an excerpt from a feature that ran in The Saturday Evening Post in October 1942, part of our Pearl Harbor special edition available in bookstores now.
Christmas Card Day (December 9)
Facebook may be hurting Christmas card sales, but maybe it’s something you should start doing again. I still send them out every year. So go out and buy some real cards and actually mail them to those you love, instead of sending a text or social media post to wish someone happy holidays.