Chazelle. Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash and La La Land combination in 2014 and 2016 made him one of artform’s most accomplished directors at such an age (both before the age of 32). Indeed, he’s the youngest ever winner of the best director Oscar (and if you don’t think that award means anything the directors directly before him wining were Cuaron, Iñárritu, Iñárritu… and the three after him were del Toro, Cuaron again and Bong Joon-Ho). There’s certainly a thematic consistency in his work—and as far as the visuals- he does seem like the once-in-a-generation-level talent that can truly do it all.
Best film: La La Land
- Peter Travers said it best- Chazelle’s La La Land has a “passion for cinema that radiates every frame”. It’s a major achievement, one of the best films of the decade—Chazelle is throwing fastballs here and they’re all landing
- There’s hints of Jacques Demy with the primary colors and the genre- with obvious indications of realism (perhaps not as down as Demy in some areas but it’s a story of unrequited love—which is unique for a musical)
- There’s I Am Cuba (or PT’s Boogie Nights) with the camera tracking through the party and going into the pool- a stunning sequence and shot
- There’s 8 ½ with the opening in the traffic jam and surrealism break
- There’s Singin’ in the Rain, Mulholland Drive (with the “audition” song/scene with Emma Stone), Rebel Without a Cause, Manhattan from Woody (the conservatory)
- Gloriously shot in CinemaScope
- The opening shot, the traffic jam—the tracking shot that also introduces the two characters- it has ambition, scope, humor (“winter” ironic)—it’s a sonic boom of cinematic style- the announcement of a major auteur- cinematography (camera movement) and choreography with detail in the décor and set design that leaves no stone unturned (every outfit and car color is careful chosen)
- Intentional! Green straws at the coffee shop where Stone works. Blue parka she wears, yellow umbrellas, purple trash cans outside her apartment, red light in the corner of their bed
- Whip pans galore
- The song again- “someone in the crowd”- camera is flying through their house in perfect rhythm. Scorsese shooting Singin’ in the Rain
- at Lipton’s place- after the beautiful drawings on the wall of the old Hollywood legends—there are red lights where Stone pauses—gorgeous lighting—cuts to his backstory after that
- Gosling and his chops playing piano—unreal—dedication—believably and suspending our disbelief- I like the Chet Baker voice
- Detail in the décor- Christmas lights at Lipton’s
- The comedic talents of the two actors is readily apparent—as is their chemistry- this is their third time working together already in their young careers— retro, nostalgic, 80’s- piano guitar and “I Ran”- comedic chops
- Ambitious and personal drive—auteuristic mark from Chazelle’s narratives— fate, compromise, determination
- The purple sky- magic hour in long takes—again later with “City of Stars” song at the magic hour- pier at dusk- stunningly beautiful picture frame on a wall décor
- Color tinting
- Their apartment together- the Vertigo-like “green light”
- Their fight during “fall” season- no long takes or shared mise-en-scene between the actors- it’s cliché maybe with the editing but it’s exemplary. The execution is perfect.
- “audition” scene is the arrival of Emma Stone- actually it’s Birdman in 2014 but this performance, in this masterpiece, cements it
- Expressionistic flashback at the end
- It blows my mind that Chazelle and cast/crew did this in two years after Whiplash in 2014—
- Gosling is absolutely perfect for the silent finale where his heart is just about removed- he’s stoic, an actor that underplays almost everything- and there’s no better actor to just do the Steve McQueen thing and “say it with your face”. Stone may give the better performance but Gosling wins the last moment
total archiveable films: 3
top 100 films: 0
top 500 films: 0
top 100 films of the decade: 2 (Whiplash, La La Land)
most overrated: Chazelle does not have an overrated film to date.
most underrated : Take your pick here of the three. His work is too recent for the TSPDT top 1000 list for the most part but both Whiplash and La La Land show up on the TSPDT consensus list for the 21st century. Whiplash sits at #10 for 2014 (and that’s underrated), La La Land is #3 (underrated again) and First Man isn’t one of the 35 films mentioned from 2018 on the TSPDT list. I’d have it on the top 25 of 2018.
gem I want to spotlight : Whiplash
- I’ve tried Chazelle debut, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, several times and it isn’t quite up to snuff for the archives—so this here- seems to be arrival of a true artist- everything is studied and intentional- a whooping achievement for any director- let alone one 29 years old
- Gorgeous tracking shot in the opening with Miles Teller practicing with the open door framing him
- It’s the role of a lifetime for JK Simmons- long-time solid character actor from Juno to Burn After Reading– he’s phenomenal here- a great battle with Teller (who is even stronger)- sorcerer and apprentice, cat and mouse with an ending and ambiguous ending
- Like many great films from Raging Bull to Citizen Kane it’s a character study- Teller’s Andrew gets his self-worth from Simmons’ Fletcher- when he is chosen he has the confidence to ask out his girlfriend
- The lighting is fascinating- again- very intentional to spice up a film that is largely contained with no sun in dark rooms—there’s a yellow/green hue to much of it
- Early in the film Teller is late for a practice and falls as he’s rushing- it foreshadows the crash
- Clearly you could draw a directly line from Whiplash to Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket with Simmons as R. Lee Ermey’s Sgt. Hartman and Teller as D’Onofrio as the Pvt. Pyle
- The performance is on point by Simmons—but there’s great iconography and characterizations in the screenplay and direction- he’s got the closed fist for “stop” and the “not my tempo”
- There are certainly scenes where it’s the performances that keep it from being repetitive. There are 3-4 long scenes of him lambasting Teller and the other kids. But you almost need the duration in order to survive it and empathize. I believe it to be a necessity for the impact of the film, performance
- It’s absurd that there was no Oscar nom for Miles Teller (Simmons won for best supporting—as did the editing which is well deserved)
- Chazelle through two films seems to be obsessed with driven characters- here and La La Land. Great auteur markings and reoccurring themes
- Again- characterizations- with Simmons’ Fletcher—he hints at it being an act- or at least something he can turn off and on—Cries when former protégé dies in a crash (which turns out to be a lie)’ he’s cutthroat of course- be he can joke with a young girl and be kind. He gives a nice pep up speech to Teller
- Blood is a reoccurring visual theme- several times in the film
- Some great dialogue “Turn my pages, Johnny Utah” and “No two words are more harmful in the English language than good job”- skilled writing
- The editing is a behemoth- whip pans, cutting on the music and then the final act, sabotage and solo- the lighting is inspired but the work by Chazelle and his editor Tom Cross- sublime
- Thematic consistency in Chazelle’s oeuvre – First Man’s Neil Armstrong is like Miles Teller’s Andrew in Whiplash who has an unhealthy obsession with greatness- driven–and like La La Land’s dueling leads– throws much of the personal relationship overboard for it
- Largely a long take artist who can also give you one of the great recent montage scenes of the decade — (the final performance ending of Whiplash)—talk about a pitcher with a lights out fastball and who can also throw the curve. Basically with these two films he proves himself as one of the best directors with the camera (cinematography), in front of the camera (mise-en-scene), and between shots (editing) of the 2010’s. This is where the comparisons to Scorsese and PTA come from – there’s almost too much to list here- we have the camera diving into the pool (I Am Cuba/Boogie Nights), great work in primary colors (Demy), color tinting (Hitchcock)
- La La Land
- First Man
By year and grades
|2016- La La Land||MP|
|2018- First Man||R|
*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film
MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film
HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film
R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives
He’s definitely my favorite director of the ones born in the 80s. I can’t wait for Babylon. Apparently the script is really good and can’t wait to see him work with Brad Pitt.
Chazelle. Movie about Hollywood. Pitt. Stone. Who said masterpiece ? Haha.
The trailer for Babylon finally dropped
@Matthew- I saw this- looks fantastic
I know, right?
Also, might be a dumb question but… This releases in select theatres on Christmas but it doesn’t release everywhere until January 6th of 2023. Does that mean it will count towards the archives this year or next year?
@Matthew – Not a dumb question at all. So I’m sure there are a few errors sprinkled throughout the site- but the goal is always to use the premiere date (IMDB is almost always my source). So this would be a 2022 film as long as it is released somewhere before Jan 1, 2023.
I just watched Babylon and it’s the best of the year for me. I don’t know what some critics are smoking, to be honest. Apparently Letterboxd also loves it so there’s that. Brad Pitt gives one of his best performances to date.
Drake, did you catch it yet?
@George- I have my ticket purchased for later this week. This is exciting to hear – thank you for sharing.
I thought Babylon was great too. A lot of the comments and reviews I see online focus on all the debauchery and excess displayed in the film. Sure, there’s a lot of merry vulgarity (some people dig it, some people don’t), but I don’t see many commenting on how it’s also an ode to technological innovation in film, and how cinematic, formal, innovation is what creates the emotions and feelings audiences feel in cinema. Usually self-referential cinema is catnip for critics, but many seem bogged down in the debaucherous depths of the film to notice anything other than the (beautifully shot) excess.
I don’t actually know whether popular audiences dislike the sex and puke and violence and excrement. The theater I was in laughed during the elephant scene and others. They sat through as the film (I’m thinking of the scenes with Tobey Maguire here) went from Anderson’s Boogie Nights to the beginning scenes of Noe’s Irreversible in the blink of the eye. It was during the experimental film sequence in the end of Babylon when entire rows of people starting leaving the theater early. Of course, when but one frame of Persona shows up, THAT’S when people leave. Hm.
@Snow Frog- Thanks for sharing this!
Babylon is a MP for me and maybe his best film.
@KidCharlemagne98 – It is certainly ambitious. It is one of the 3-4 films I have circled that I would like a second viewing of before finalizing a top 10 of the year for 2022.
@Drake – I’m dying to see what gets graded HR/MS or higher for 2022 haha.
I’m with drake. It’s A LOT. Too much for a single viewing that’s for sure