La La Land by Damien Chazelle was certainly one of the most beloved and successful films of this past cinematic seasons. Having won a number of Academy Awards, this song-and-dance journey through the life-changing romance between an idealistic jazz pianist (Ryan Gosling) and a hopeful young actress against captured the hearts of an international audience.
Although the film has also had its fair share of detractors, its popularity provides us with the perfect opportunity to inspire people to watch other movies. So here is a list of titles that, for one reason or another, you may be interested in watching if you liked La La Land!
WHIPLASH (Damien Chazelle, 2014)
Before La La Land, there was Whiplash. Chazelle’s previous effort was based on his own experiences of learning jazz drumming while in high school. It was also the film that awakened everyone to American cinema’s hottest new filmmaker…and features what will certainly go down in history as the greatest drumming solo ending of any movie ever made.
KING OF JAZZ (John Murray Anderson, 1930)
Cinema and jazz have been linked from the very beginning, and even shared similar histories, emerging from the same time frame. Yet, in cinema, its representation has been primarily informed from a white perspective. While this is a sad fact that speaks a larger truth (which we will not get into now), it is also undeniable that these works have also been sometimes spectacular. This recently restored revue is an interesting collection of lavish musical numbers, predating the music video, of performances by Paul Whiteman, who led the most popular (and whitest…!) jazz band at the time. A treat for the eye and the ears best remembered for its inclusion of Whiteman’s reading of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.”
THE YOUNG GIRLS OF ROCHEFORT (Jacques Demy, 1967)
Before we get into the American musical influences, it is fair to say that a share of European influences is also evident throughout La La Land. Of these, we must spotlight the works of French filmmaker Jacques Demy and, especially, his most joyous and sunny film: The Young Girls of Rochefort. This film, which co-starred real-life sisters Catherine Deneuve and Francoise Dorleac also featured Gene Kelly in a French-speaking role!
A STAR IS BORN (George Cukor, 1954)
Show-biz romance and ambition are at the core of La La Land. A Star is Born is perhaps the most traditionally heartbreaking romantic melodrama to ever have been set in Hollywood. Its formula has been replicated time and time again and directly remade a number of times since it debuted in 193. (A new version is currently in production and scheduled for release in 2018.) It’s only fair that we should highlight the 1954 musical version, for which Judy Garland should really have won the Best Actress Oscar…
NEW YORK, NEW YORK (Martin Scorsese, 1977)
Scorsese’s tribute to the “Golden Age of Hollywood” ended up being a rather bleak affair, rather than a celebration. New York, New York has even clearer links to La La Land‘s story than A Star is Born through its character development and its overall examination of themes of the impossibility of love in the face of creative and professional jealousy and ambition. Never really mention among Marty’s finest works, the film has rightfully been re-evaluated over the years (much like The King of Comedy).
MANHATTAN (Woody Allen, 1979)
Much like New York, New York and La La Land, Manhattan made excellent use of its titular setting, directly linking its image to a specific American canvas. One of Woody Allen’s masterworks, Manhattan owes a lot to the work of its cinematographer Gordon Willis, whose black and white photography contributed not only to the film’s long-lasting legacy but also redesigned the setting of Manhattan as an ideal romantic backdrop.
TOP HAT (Mark Sandrich, 1935)
It’s only natural, almost obligatory, to refer to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers when discussing solo musical numbers shared by a man and a woman. A particular dance sequence highlighting the blossoming of the romance between Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone’s characters in La La Land seems to refer openly and directly to their immortal and legendary chemistry. What better way to celebrate it than by watching what is perhaps their best work: Top Hat!
SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN (Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, 1952)
In a much wider context, and more than any other musical, Singin’ in the Rain truly set a standard for Hollywood musicals that has hardly, if ever, been surpassed. The vitality and excitement of the musical numbers were matched by the ambition and inventiveness of its narrative, which also somewhat unprecedentedly spoke a lot of truths about the film industry and the proliferation of “talking pictures,” which in turn facilitated (and was facilitated by) the popularity of musicals. Gene Kelly is spectacular.
THE ARTIST (Michel Hazanavicius, 2011)
While La La Land is set in contemporary times, it also clearly pays homage to classic cinema. This is a trend that has re-occurred over the years in such American features as The Purple Rose of Cairo, Nickelodeon and Silent Movie. None, however, were arguably more ambitious and successful that Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist. Much like La La Land, the film has its fair share of detractors. Nonetheless, who would have thought that a silent feature film would have become so successful and captured the hearts of international audiences in the 21st century?
DANCER IN THE DARK (Lars von Trier, 2000)
As a wildcard entry on this list, we counter the sheer joy and traditional emotive charge of Chazelle’s La La Land with Lars on Trier’s very personal take on the musical genre: Dancer in the Dark. Starring the one-of-a-kind Bjork in its lead role, this is one musical that is sad to the point of being ferociously depressing. The overall bleakness of the work is underlined by its Dogma 95 style of cinematography. On the other hand, is amazing and there is nothing experimental and non-linear about the story itself. Just don’t expect to experience any type of happiness while watching it.