This Sunday, we are finally going to see what film will become the winner of the Best Picture category at the 89th Academy Awards. My favorite film of 2016 – La La Land – is the current favorite to win in the central category, and therefore I should be excited to see if it wins or not. But, to be honest with you, I can’t wait for Oscar season to end.
Film discussions are almost always great to participate in – unless the discussion is about the role of a review aggregator, or a critically panned superhero film – and these discussions should be even more exciting when they take place during Oscar season. This Oscar season has seen great think-pieces on what it could mean for a film like Moonlight to win Best Picture, considering the political climate in the United States.
While there can be no doubt that I love La La Land – it is my favorite film of 2016 – I still enjoy reading these think-pieces. As we all should be, I’m perfectly okay with people not liking what I like as much as I like it. Let’s take one of my favorite films of this decade – 50/50 – as an example. I doubt that anyone loves Jonathan Levine’s 50/50 as much as I do, but I’m perfectly fine with people disliking that film (even though I may not always understand your problem with that film).
Although I love La La Land – and sung its praises in my review of the film – I can still agree with – and laugh along with – the issues that Saturday Night Live brought up in their ‘La La Land Interrogation-sketch.’ But this Oscar season has made a critically acclaimed film look like an offensive and deeply flawed film that isn’t worth your time.
This isn’t unique to La La Land. It’s the same vicious, head-scratching, nit-picky, and, frankly, unfair treatment that The Force Awakens was met by after the vast majority of audiences and critics loved, or liked, the film. I still find it baffling that Forrest Gump is taken apart online like it’s nothing more than Simple Jack (a fake film from Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder). I also remember how a lot of people, surprisingly, turned on Boyhood after it had been the Best Picture frontrunner for months.
Look. I get it. Universal praise can be exhausting, and the La La Land backlash was inevitable after it broke records at the Golden Globes and received 14 nominations for the 89th Academy Awards. But I’m frankly disappointed in the way this particular backlash has become not just unfair, but vicious and embarrassing.
There are so many click-baity headlines and embarrassing hot takes online right now that seek to take the film, and its fans, down a peg or two. La La Land is currently being called a ‘fascist,’ ‘propaganda film,’ and a ‘disaster for Hollywood – and us.’
Don’t be fooled. Although the Academy is trying to respond to the #OscarSoWhite reaction to last year’s nominations, this year’s nominated films weren’t made because of that hashtag. Moonlight isn’t a response to #OscarSoWhite, and neither is La La Land.
La La Land has become the new Titanic, the new Forrest Gump, and, to an extent, the new The Force Awakens. But the backlash is much more vicious and damning than I think I’ve ever seen. La La Land is becoming the next victim of the particularly reactionary online pop culture environment that seeks to politicize every element of popular films.
It’s a pop culture process that I’m, frankly, sick and tired of. Exhausting hype – universal acclaim – harsh, unfair backlash. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Again, I don’t care if you like La La Land or not, but a film that has, seemingly, revitalized our collective love for a classic film genre doesn’t deserve, or warrant, the harsh backlash it’s getting.
Just because you love one thing, or person, more than another, doesn’t mean you have to hate that other thing. You can like both Star Wars and Star Trek. Marvel and DC. Scorsese and Spielberg. La La Land and Moonlight. Heck, even Moonlight director Barry Jenkins – in an interview with Esquire – seems to disagree with the backlash:
La La Land is an amazing film. […] I think there’s a very superficial read of La La Land that does injustice to what Damien’s doing in the film, and it’s convenient because these are tough times to make a superficial read of that film. But it’s like, no, this is America. This is what this shit is. You gain something; you sacrifice something else in the gaining of that thing. I mean, that’s dark stuff.
I think Jenkins hit the nail on the head here in describing one of the reasons why La La Land is a great film, and hopefully neither the ‘convenient’ and ‘superficial read’ of La La Land nor the intense and harsh backlash will have a significant impact on the way Chazelle’s Hollywood musical is remembered. Hopefully the current political climate in the United States won’t remove the joy of loving a film from online film discussion.
UPDATE: La La Land ended up winning 6 Oscars (Best Director; Best Actress; Best Original Score; Best Original Song; Best Production Design; Best Cinematography). Presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were given the wrong envelope and announced that La La Land had also won Best Picture.
But during the winning speeches it was revealed that there had been a mistake. Moonlight was the real Best Picture winner, and La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz respectfully said, on stage, that he was ‘proud’ to hand his award to his friends from Moonlight.
– Jeffrey Rex