My thoughts on the Golden Globes, La La Land, and the Musical/Comedy category

The Golden Globes turned into a big party for La La Land. I liked the movie, but not as much as most people did. As you probably already know, La La Land won seven awards, including Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy.

I loved the first part of La La Land. The opening song, Another Day of Sun, burst onto the Los Angeles freeway with one of the best ensemble dance numbers I’ve seen. And the Emma Stone/Ryan Gosling duet, A Lovely Night, was sweet, romantic, and beautiful, and very much a 21st-century Fred and Ginger. The wide framing and long takes assured us that Stone and Gosling were really dancing and knew what they were doing. The background – a perfect version of LA’s scenic Mulholland Dr. recreated on a sound stage – added its own sense of romance. I moved out of Los Angeles more than 40 years ago; this was the only film I’ve seen that made me nostalgic for the place.

But somewhere along the way, the filmmakers seemed to forget that this was a musical. After establishing in the first act that characters could break into song and dance because they felt like it, they stopped singing and dancing. The remainder was still a very good, semi-sweet love story, but the movie’s biggest attraction – song and dance – went missing.

As the film reached its climax, La La Land went into a fantasy ballet sequence reminiscent of An American in Paris – except without the dancing. A real disappointment.

Had La La Land remained a musical, or simply offered a great ballet sequence at the end, I would have given it an enthusiastic A. But as it stands, I can’t give it more than a B+ – still a very good grade.

La La Land didn’t have much competition in the musical genre, but what about comedy? To my mind, the two best comedies of 2016 came from Europe: The Brand New Testament and Toni Erdmann. But neither was in English, and few saw Testament (a real shame), so they weren’t even nominated.

I don’t care for the way the Golden Globes separates winners into two categories: Drama and Musical or Comedy. Not every worthy film fits neatly into one of those labels. Consider some recent Musical or Comedy winners and you can see the problem. The Martian
(2015) was a science fiction thriller with a witty protagonist, but certainly not a comedy. And Walk the Line (2005) was a serious, dramatic biopic. But since it’s about a singer (Johnny Cash), it could cound as a musical.

Perhaps the Golden Globes should follow the lead of the early Oscars. There was no Best Picture award back then. The Academy offered separate awards for Best Production and Best Artistic Achievement, won the first year respectively by Wings
and Sunrise. Both movies are now available on Blu-ray, in boxes that advertise them as Best Picture winners.

Okay, my thoughts on some other Golden Globe events and winners:

Meryl Streep: Like everyone else who is horrified about our president elect, I loved her speech. Although for me, the best part was her closing, where she quoted Carrie Fisher: “Turn your broken heart into art.”

Best Motion Picture – Drama: I’m utterly delighted by Moonlight‘s win. This really was the best new film I saw in 2016.

Elle’s two awards: I didn’t like Paul Verhoeven’s latest movie anywhere near as much as everyone else did. That it could win the Foreign Language award against Toni Erdmann and The Salesman is just absurd. If there’s any film last year as good as Moonlight, it’s The Salesman.

On the other hand, Isabelle Huppert’s performance in Elle is worthy of her Best Actress win. The film would have just fallen apart without her performance. And yet…

Viola Davis: Yes, Davis gave a great performance in Fences. But was it really a supporting
role? The film was as much about her character as it was about Denzel Washington’s. She should have competed with Huppert for Best Actress. I would have voted for her.

But then, award shows are always absurd. You can watch a foot race and be absolutely sure who was fastest. Art isn’t as simple.