I recently fell under the spell of La La Land when I saw it in the theater. I had a lot of expectations as I enjoyed Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash immensely in 2014. I’ll admit the beginning didn’t really wow me, it reminded me of those GAP commercials from the late 90s that sold khakis using swing dancing and West Side Story numbers. However, as the film went on its charms hooked me completely thanks to Chazelle’s direction and its two leads. La La Land has become a critical darling and recently won 7 Golden Globe Awards, the most of any film in the history of the award. I’m sure you are feeling the La La Land hype or are over it yourself but channel that energy into a classic movie marathon! Here’s a watchlist of films to compliment this film.
Singin’ in the Rain (1952, Dir. Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen)
Let’s just start with the obvious, the one many call the greatest American musical ever, Singin’ in the Rain. This iconic film is the benchmark for what an enjoyable musical adventure should be. Not only does it have impressive numbers but the dialogue is hilarious and Jean Hagan as the silent screen star Lina Lamont steals the show. The film is being screened at participating AMC theaters nationwide on Wednesday, January 18th as part of TCM and Fathom Events’ screen classics series. For tickets and showtimes in your area, click here.
Sunset Boulevard (1950, Dir. Billy Wilder)
Switching gears to a much darker film, Sunset Boulevard is one of the definitive films about Hollywood and the film industry. While La La Land celebrates dreamers, Sunset Boulevard shows you what happens when those dreams die and paved the way for some of cinema’s most celebrated one-liners. It’s easy to simplify this film to a story about a hack screenwriter who works with a former silent screen star to put her dream project on the page but it’s also a tale of ageism and an exploration of the decay of the silent era. The film was William Holden’s breakthrough role but it’s Gloria Swanson who created an icon in the complex role of Norma Desmond, one of the most grotesque and compelling female characters in the history of film. Sunset Boulevard is available to stream on Netflix.
Rebel without a Cause (1955, Dir. Nicholas Ray)
Nicholas Ray’s classic film about teen angst spoke to an entire generation of confused, middle class youth in suburban Los Angeles. James Dean’s Jim Stark is sensitive, sweet, and desperate to be loved and understood by his parents. He connects with fellow classmates Judy (Natalie Wood) and Plato (Sal Mineo) who are also undergoing the same feelings of withdrawal and isolation. In La La Land, Griffith Observatory which is an important site in Rebel, is featured and Sebastian invites Mia to a screening of Rebel as “research” for a role she’s auditioning for. An added bonus is Gosling’s attempt at a James Dean impression when he utters the iconic line, “I got the bullets!” Rebel without a Cause is airing at 3:45 AM January 19th on Turner Classic Movies.
Notorious (1946, Dir. Alfred Hithcock)
There is a recurring character seen throughout La La Land but you never hear from her directly and that’s actress Ingrid Bergman. Emma Stone’s character Mia appears to be a big fan of the legendary Swedish actress. Mia’s room has a giant poster of one of Bergman’s films that features her face prominently in her bedroom, Mia makes reference to both Casablanca and Notorious and then you later see another poster of Bergman overlooking Los Angeles in the third act of the film. When Gosling’s character Sebastian asks Mia how she fell in love with acting and filmmaking, Notorious is one of the films she mentions that her aunt introduced her to when she was younger. Notorious is one of Bergman’s best. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, Bergman plays Alicia Huberman, the daughter of a convicted Nazi spy who is recruited by a U.S. agent to infiltrate the Nazis. Alicia is Hitchcock’s most feminist female character. When you listen to the way Mia talks about the projects she’s auditioning for in La La Land, you get the sense she’s yearning for strong, compelling characters like Huberman so it makes complete sense that Bergman would be one of her favorites especially when we learn more about her aunt who introduced her to this film. I appreciate that the screenwriter put this film in her list of films she grew up on versus the obvious choice of Casablanca because it shows a deep love for “golden age” classic films even if her character hasn’t seen Rebel without a Cause.
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964, Dir. Jacques Demy)
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg heavily inspired La La Land and has been brought up in almost every piece I’ve seen written about the film. This French musical film is known for using music throughout the film. The dialogue in this is sung during the entire production, even if that isn’t your thing, don’t let it deter you because this film is beautiful. Catherine Deneuve stars in this story about star crossed lovers who commit to loving each other until their final day but that is ultimately tested by war. The film is beautiful and vibrant but just like La La Land will break your heart. Unlike the schmaltzy Hollywood musicals of golden era, Demy challenges the traditional approach with a New Wave style that packs a gut punch. The film is airing on Turner Classic Movies January 18th at 10 PM as part of a selection of films handpicked by La La Land director Damien Chazelle. Click here to see the full lineup.