Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Best Actor 2016: Ryan Gosling in La La Land

Ryan Gosling received his second Oscar nomination for portraying Sebastian in La La Land.

La La Land is a wonderful musical about the romance between a struggling actress, Mia (Emma Stone) and a struggling Jazz musician, Sebastian, in Hollywood.

Ryan Gosling after his career best work in Drive got into just a little bit of an acting rut. In that his subsequent roles were certain variations on the role of the stoic "hero". Although I will defend his work in A Place Beyond the Pines to a certain extent, I find it much harder to do so for his work in Only God Forgives. Nevertheless it felt like Ryan Gosling was capable of more and there was no reason for him to be pigeonholed in such roles. Gosling in 2016 offered a complete 180 turn from those roles first through his portrayal of a bumbling private detective in The Nice Guys then later in his performance here. A performance, that while frequently recognized, isn't actually talked about all that much in regards to the film, the focus performance wise being given far more to Stone than Gosling. This may seem a little shortsighted, though there is an identifiable reason why I'll get to later, since the film relies on both of them to make it all work. La La Land after all would be horribly disconnected if either of the central performances did not work since the film is so reliant on the leads given the minor nature of the supporting cast.

Both leads are more than eager to play and in terms of the two of them you'd be hard pressed to find better chemistry than there is between these two. Like Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night, Cary Grant with almost all of his female co-stars, or Audrey Hepburn with almost all of her male co-stars, there is just that something there between them, something that just seems so right. Part of is that they don't really even need to ever exactly show that they love each other that is really what makes this sort of chemistry so special. The ease of it all is what makes it work so well, the affection is shown so naturally just in just the way they interact and engage one another. Even the traditional slightly division phase at the beginning of their relationship is impeccably handled. The two just give it this grace that makes the two of them together something quite special, and the two of them deserve to be mentioned among the best onscreen romantic pairs. The two just have it which in itself elevates the film more than just a bit, as the two of them seem so perfect together which is essential in creating that movie magic feeling the film has.

To narrow in on Gosling, what he does give here is technically a very traditional leading turn for a romantic/comedic musical, but doing this well should not be something overlooked. First of all it's such a nice thing to see Gosling in this form to begin with. No reason to brood because Gosling just has such an over abundance of charm in the role, that makes him appealing even when the character does a few things that aren't really. Gosling makes Sebastian such an endearing figure with just that breezy unassuming confidence he brings out in the right moments. Gosling though actually is careful though not to over do it in order for it to turn to smugness. Gosling isn't a Broadway singer, though my opinion on this point is always the same. Hey as long as you're not Pierce Brosnan in Mamma Mia, I care more about the acting around the singing, and the dancing for that matter. As with Richard Attenborough in Doctor Dolittle and James Cagney in Yankee Doodle Dandy, I love the way Gosling so effectively exudes the exuberance of the act. This honestly only gets amplified by Stone matching him every step of the way, and the two of them portray such sheer joy in the act that it in only results in sheer joy.

There is also the comedic with the romantic and musical though and Gosling excels at this as well. Gosling is a hoot here alone or playing off Stone. I think part of the reason he's so charming here is how good he is at being kind of a hapless dope when attempting to first play just a bit of jazz within a required playlist, or later attempting to keep his job by a terrible explanation. Gosling is, well, rather adorable in making Sebastian both rather smooth when he needs to be but also, well not so smooth, in kind of a smooth way still, if that makes any sense. Also special mention must be made to his hilarious exasperated glances when dealing with the random requirements of a weird photographer. Gosling just has such a good grasp on the material that no comedic line is wasted. He perhaps excels all the more when getting to trade a few with Stone. I have particular affection for his death stare when Mia requests "I Ran" while Sebastian is playing in a 80's tribute band, only topped at Gosling being enjoyably pathetic as Sebastian attempts to describe himself as a "serious musician". The two though again, with the comedic moments as well, just have that intangible spark.

As entertaining as this performance is that isn't all there is to it. The character's ambition to open a Jazz club, and for jazz just to be recognized in some way, defines much of his personality. Gosling captures the character's passion incredibly well because he makes it infectious. Listening to him is a bit like talking to Vincent from Collateral about Jazz, you know just without people getting shot in the head at the end of it, seriously though Gosling makes the enthusiasm so genuine that you can understand Sebastian's hesitation for the high paying music job that goes against his specific passion. On that point though Gosling carefully never overdoes the scenes where he has compromised his ambition. In that he doesn't portray this overt anguish or anything like that, just more of a lack of that passion as he goes along with a musical that just wasn't his dream. Now this is where it gets to the most dramatic elements of Gosling's performance, and to be fair this would be already be a great "light weight" turn anyways. I don't think Gosling quite gets the credit he deserves in this respect though.

Now, as I wrote, there is an identifiable reason for that in that Emma Stone technically gets the more exact dramatic focus particularly in the show stopping "Audition" number which is amazing and that's part of the reason why's she my lead actress win, but that does not mean there is nothing for Gosling. Gosling's most dramatic moments actually are particularly quiet ones. For example there is scene early on where Sebastian overhears Mia talking to her mother where she notes his lack of success. Gosling is very good in silently reflecting the way Sebastian takes this in and actually with that moment gives sense to his willingness to initially compromise his dream. This eventually leads though to their confrontation, after Sebastian has been away for a long time on tour, yet surprises Mia with a meal. During this time though she questions about his compromise. This is not dealing with the sort of harrowing tragedies we will find with his fellow nominees, nevertheless I found Gosling's work incredibly moving here. Gosling subtly reveals such vulnerability just as he defends himself, and in his eyes he gives this sense of a real heartbreak since Mia is questioning his compromise when he made the compromise for her. By doing this he makes Sebastian's ill advised remarks towards Mia natural because they come from that heartbreak. As good as they are together what I find most remarkable is how effectively the two end up dividing. The two of course have that unmistakable love yet just as naturally they reveal the problems that arise. They earn the ending and make it as bittersweet as it is. Both Gosling and Stone make it so those final glances say everything, the regret, the sadness, and still the love, without saying a single word. I have to admit the more I've written about this performance the more I've come to appreciate it all the more. You know I've made my argument, set up the evidence, but in summation I think I'll quote the terrible Akiva Goldsman and ask you all to close your eyes. Now imagine an actor that must rely on his charm, his chemistry with his co-star, a comedic ease and effortless grace, yet still with the right dramatic nuance. Can you see him? I want you to picture that actor. Now imagine he's Miles Teller. Doesn't seem quite the same now does it?

66 comments:

Luke Higham said...

Come On Denzel.

Matt Mustin said...

I love this performance, and you hit all the points I would have made. Really, I've seen this movie twice in as many weeks already, and now I just want to run out and see it again.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Have you watched Paterson. If not, could you let me know whenever you do.

Calvin Law said...

I think I might bump him up too, to be honest. You raise some great points about how hilarious he was and also appropriately moving in certain moments.

Robert MacFarlane said...

I liked him, but he at times sort of felt... adrift? Still, it's nice to see him use his movie star charisma again after the 2013 trio of wooden performances he gave.

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

I'm so glad you loved him!
I bumped Gosling up to a 5 a few days after watching the film for the first time. He is just so good here, and you even pointed out exactly why I liked him so much: a great, charming leading man performance, with comedic and dramatic moments handled equally well.
Ranking these nominees will be tough, I bet.
Also, I lol'd at the Miles Teller reference. While he was very good in Whiplash, I can't imagine him, or any other actor really, being as good as Gosling was.

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Also, his argument scene with Stone when he surprises her was one of the most heartbreaking scenes I've seen in 2016. Special points since this year had plenty of terrific, moving scenes.

Mitchell Murray said...

I was expecting a 3.5 or 4, which is what I gave him on my first viewing. Admittedly, I will need to re-watch the movie soon and revise my ratings. Still, another friggen 5.. At this point, these guys could top the 2013 best actor field. All I can say is I have faith in Mortensen, and Denzel better not screw this up.

I remember you giving a 5 to Stone, Louis, and indeed she gives the performance of her career in this movie. Right now, do you think she has the momentum to win best actress over Natalie Portman?

Louis Morgan said...

Tahmeed:

I have nothing against Teller in general, but he and Emma Watson being replaced by Gosling and Stone was a godsend.

Mitchell:

I would be extremely surprised if Stone did not win Best Actress to be honest.

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Louis: Would you call Silence Scorsese's best film? Because in terms of lasting emotional impact, it actually has surpassed Goodfellas for me.

Louis Morgan said...

Tahmeed:

I can't say yes, after all Goodfellas is one of my favorite films of all time but I can't just say no either. I have to give it more time.

94dfk1 said...

My predictions remain alive! :D

I feel like watching this movie again actually haha.

Charles Heiston said...

Another 5! My predictions aren't in the ditch yet! This is looking like the best year ever for the lead actor line-up. Mortensen is a certain 5. But i'm losing hope for Denzel.

Nguyễn Ngọc Toàn said...

Louis:

So finally you've picked Stone for the 1st spot. Could you tell me the rest of the top 5 (or 10 if possible) for leading actress this year?

Until now I may conclude this could be the best line-up for both best actor and actress so far (well I've not seen Streep's performance yet so that still a huge question mark for me)

94dfk1 said...

Louis: Your thoughts on Denis Villeneuve directing the Dune reboot?

Robert MacFarlane said...

It can't be worse than the Lynch version. Granted, I consider it unadaptable.

Mike Hannigan said...

Much too high, much too high... I think that in five years some of these 5-s will be revised, as it's always better to see things from a distance :P

RatedRStar said...

(starts dancing) Best year everrr, da da da =D.

Louis doesnt give 5 scores likely, I havent forgotten his destruction of Eddie Redmayne last year (still one of the funniest reviews ever)

Alex Marqués said...

Great review, you made some really good points. Glad you're taking so well to this year.

Mike Hannigan said...

BTW. Does anyone know why many reviewers tend to call Gosling's character "Sebastian Wilder"? While Mia's surname is clearly Dolan, I haven't heard his surname in a movie. Louis was smart to omit it.

L Rime said...

Honestly, Miles Teller would have been pretty good in the role. A 5? Not sure. But still pretty good regardless. Emma Watson on the other hand should have never even been considered.

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Mike: I bet most reviewers consult the Wikipedia page of the film, which does indeed state their surnames as such.
Louis: Since it's unlikely anyone will request or suggest these performances, could I have your ratings and thoughts on:
Gosling and Crowe in The Nice Guys
Hugh Grant in Florence Foster Jenkins

Mike Hannigan said...

... And Meryl Streep in FFJ. I know Louis hates it, but I wonder why exactly.

Alex Marqués said...

He gave his thoughts on Grant in Shannon's review, I think.

Luke Higham said...

Grant - 4(He's undoubtedly lead, but he is the best of that film. It's in his wheelhouse to be sure, but he plays well and alters enough to be period fitting so to speak. He keeps his Grantisms tempered in the right way, yet still is incredibly charming the role. He has just the right type of fun with particularly in his very particular reactions to when Florence's sings during the film. Grant also I feel managed to make his character's arrangement always seem honest, though it could be construed otherwise. Grant though makes his devotion to Florence always genuine as a very straight forward and heartfelt affection. It's a good performance, and I wouldn't minded if he had gotten in over Shannon.)

Streep - 3.5(She's full on Streeping it here, but that makes sense given that the woman actually sang that way. Also that style Frears establishes fits well with what Streep is doing. She's enough fun in the role, bringing the right passion to the woman who sings her heart out no matter how bad she sounds, while establishing just enough of a pathos there in the woman who never exactly got to fulfill her exact dreams)

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Ratings and thoughts on:
Alden Ehrenreich in Hail, Caesar!
Christopher Lloyd in I Am Not A Serial Killer
Jack Reynor in Sing Street

Calvin Law said...

Louis: meant to ask you this on the last review, but what do you think of biographies incorporating real-life footage of the people into the endings? Like Lion, and Hacksaw Ridge; I thought it worked extremely well for both films even though it technically breaks the suspension of disbelief since the real-life people don't look that much like their on-screen counterparts. It also worked in a more subtle way in Jackie too, I thought.

Luke Higham said...

Michael McCarthy: Your ratings for Adam Driver in Paterson and Michael Keaton in The Founder.

Michael McCarthy said...

Driver: 4
Keaton: 5

Luke Higham said...

Michael McCarthy: Who do you think should definitely be reviewed for Alternate Lead.

Mine are:
Garfield
Pine
Dano/Radcliffe
Keaton
Downey Jr.
Driver (Louis could like him more than you)
Hanks
Edgerton

Alex Marqués said...

I'm kind of curious about Downey Jr., I haven't seen praise for him outside of this blog (haven't seen the film).

Calvin Law said...

I'd say:

Garfield (Silence)
Pine
Edgerton
Keaton
Dano/Radcliffe

Are the ones I'd really want to see reviews for. I'd recommend Driver, Dennison, Gyllenhaal (Demolition), Downey Jr. and Yelchin for the other spots, but I'd rather let Louis choose himself.

Luke Higham said...

The remaining contenders are:
Gyllenhaal in Demolition
Hawke in Born To Be Blue
Dennison in Hunt For The Wilderpeople
Yelchin in Green Room

Luke Higham said...

Calvin: I agree. Though I hope there won't be any requests made.

Luke Higham said...

Calvin: Dennison and Yelchin for the final two spots. Gyllenhaal's work has become less effective to me as time goes on.

Alex Marqués said...

I saw Loving today. Not a fan of the film, but Edgerton's performance is so beautifully understated.

Mike Hannigan said...

Perhaps it's too early, but what are your shots for next year's Oscars?

I think, Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill in "Darkest Hour" looks like an early frontrunner.

Luke Higham said...

With Hanks and Edgerton, I'm rather curious as to what effect they may've had on the nominated lineup.

Luke Higham said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Luke Higham said...

Mike: I don't really mind, though Robert got slightly peeved at me for doing something similar last year.

If it's Oldman Vs. Day-Lewis, the former will win based on the iconic nature of the role.

Mike Hannigan said...

Luke: Oldman versus Day-Lewis sounds orgasmic.

Luke Higham said...

Mike: All I hope for next year is Nolan finally getting a Directing nomination.

Charles Heiston said...

Luke: Here's who i want to see reviewed.

Garfield
Pine
Keaton
Hanks
Edgerton
Bale
Driver
I don't know who else i'd like.

Luke Higham said...

Charles: Thank goodness, we have a bonus round, so Bale and Cheadle in Miles Ahead could be saved until then.

Michael McCarthy said...

Should definitely be reviewed?

Garfield
Pine
Keaton
Downey

Though if Louis is doing 10, I'd also be interested in seeing Radcliffe & Dano, Edgerton, Yelchin, Nate Parker, and maybe Gosling & Crowe. I suppose I wouldn't mind a Driver review either since it was an interesting example of an actor narrating a film that's almost absent of drama.

Alex Marqués said...

I'd like to see Crowe and Gosling reviewed.

Calvin Law said...

Lead this year is quite odd for me, I feel very strongly about my top 6 or so but after that I don't mind who else is covered. Helps that half of my top 10 are Oscar nominees.

RatedRStar said...

I think everybody that people expect to get in will get in, keep in mind alternate and bonus so I think everyone will appear one way or another.

L Rime said...

Luke:

What films do you think Nolan should have gotten a directing nomination for? Because the only one I can think of that maybe should have been considered is Memento.

Luke Higham said...

RatedRStar: Any performance that Louis' seen so far will be on the ranking after the alternates, so he should refrain from watching Knight Of Cups, Miles Ahead and Birth Of A Nation until a later date. I do want Louis to watch whatever Fassbender was in last year.

Luke Higham said...

L Rime: Speaking for Louis and myself, That and The Dark Knight.

Luke Higham said...

L Rime: Maybe Inception as well. I've excluded The Prestige because it wasn't a massive hit with critics when first released.

Mitchell Murray said...

Here are my suggestions for alternate lead:

Tom Hanks (Sully)
Joel Edgerton (Loving)
Ryan Gosling (The Nice Guys)
Russell Crowe (The Nice Guys)
Ethan Hawke (Born To Be Blue)
Adam Driver (Paterson)
Andrew Garfield (Silence)
Colin Farrell (The Lobster)
Chris Pine (Hell Or High Water)
Ben Foster (Hell Or High Water)

Charles Heiston said...

I think Nolan should have been nominated for The Dark Knight (2008 was a weak year) and Memento.

Luke Higham said...

Mitchell: Colin Farrell is on the 2015 Lead Actor ranking and is a 4.

Mitchell Murray said...

my mistake

Anonymous said...

Louis: Rank the biggest flaws of Batman TAS and X-Men TAS.

Robert MacFarlane said...

My persona suggestions for 2016 Alternate Lead:

Joel Edgerton in Loving
Andrew Garfield in Silence
Tom Hanks in Sully
Logan Lerman in Indignation (not a great film, but he's vry strong)
Chris Pine in Hell or High Water (Unpopular opinion: He's my favorite of the cast)

Anonymous said...

Luke:
My suggestions for lead are:
Andrew Garfield in Silence
Michael Keaton in The Founder
Joel Edgerton in Loving
Chris Pine in Hell or High Water
Paul Dano in Swiss Army Man

Michael McCarthy said...

Robert: Bridges, Pine and Foster are pretty much all on the same level of excellent for me.

Robert MacFarlane said...

@Michael: I really didn't get the praise for Foster. Nothing wrong with his performance, but I just didn't see anything special.

Michael McCarthy said...

It's a great recreation/modernization of the archetypical lovable western outlaw. He's got the same psychopathic intensity of his work in Yuma, but with a nice endearing humor undercutting it. He's also genuine in his care for his brother, but he manages to suggest that he's using his affection for Toby as an excuse for doing things he already can't help himself from.

Robert MacFarlane said...

I guess that's why I wasn't that impressed: It felt too similar to his performance in 3:10 to Yuma. I don't know, outside of that movie I'm not big on him in psychopath mode.

Anonymous said...

Louis: How would you rank the Monty Python films you've seen.

Louis Morgan said...

On the thoughts, I say just wait a bit still.

Mike:

To be honest Mike I usually get more positive as time goes in most cases. I actually find a lot of people are at their most negative when the Oscars come out, due to something they loved missing out on a nomination or losing the win.

I love the three performances I've reviewed so far, I don't mind saying it.

Nyugen:

1. Stone
2. Portman
3. Huppert - Elle
4. Adams - Arrival
5. Steinfeld

94dk1:

Not all that well versed in Dune to be honest, having seen Lynch's take (which I hear is at the very least, something else). However Villeneuve's visual sense seems like a fit for fantasy sci-fi, considering how that Blade Runner trailer looks, and how Arrival turned out.

Calvin:

I prefer when they don't, even though I'm someone who always goes to research the true story after seeing the film, unless they find a really natural way to include it. I loved Jackie use of it for example, but I personally did not feel Hacksaw needed it, as much as the real Doss is a guy who deserves his due.

Louis Morgan said...

Anonymous:

Batman TAS:

Downgrade in animation later on.
A lot of the redesigns of season 4 were weak.
The show is top heavy, the great episodes are great but there are a lot of weak ones in there.

X-Men:

Could get a bit melodramatic.
Could have used a bit more humor.
Inconsistent animation.
The entire final season.

Anonymous:

Not much of a ranking.

Life of Brian
Holy Grail