TORONTO — Yes, “La La Land” really is all that.
If you’ve been reading reports out of Venice and Telluride, you know that critics are swooning over the latest musical masterpiece from Harvard alum Damien Chazelle (“Whiplash,” 2016). Now that it’s had its Toronto International Film Festival debut, we can confirm that it’s the real deal, and so, apparently, is Chazelle.
I’d like not to gush here, but — to borrow a lyric from “State Fair” — I’m as giddy as a baby on a swing. I confess that I watched the entire first half of “La La Land” surrendering to an uncontainable grin, and then I cried, more than once, over the boy-loses-girl and boy-gets-girl-back (sort of) parts of the formula.
The boy and girl in question are Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, who could not be more perfectly cast as a jazz pianist and an aspiring actress who meet un-cute on a Los Angeles freeway (the most memorable dance number ever staged on the 105) and somehow find their way back to each other. They sing and dance ably — though not too ably — and their chemistry has both an old soul and a contemporary edge. Chazelle and composer Justin Hurwitz, his creative collaborator all the way back to “Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench” (2009), balance a winking reverence for the genre with the kind of original artistry, if not the same level of brilliance, that fuels “Hamilton.”
A lofty comparison, I realize; “La La Land” earns it. If the future of the American musical is represented by artists like Chazelle and Lin-Manuel Miranda, we may be looking at a new Golden Age for both screen and stage. And speaking of golden, “La La Land” is going to be very hard to beat for Oscar’s top prize.
That’s not to slight or discount any other contenders. “Moonlight,” an extraordinary adaptation of playwright Tarell McCraney’s lyrical “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue,” is a poignant and powerful film for our times. “Loving” beautifully humanizes the 1967 Supreme Court verdict that not only struck down a pillar of racism, but paved the way for gay marriage as well. “Nocturnal Animals” is earning rave notices all over the place. “Hidden Figures,” 30 minutes of which was sneak-previewed at Toronto, suddenly has awards-season buzz. And then there are the highly anticipated movies coming later in the year: “Fences,” “Silence,” “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.”
But last year’s “Spotlight” victory is all the evidence you need that consensus is key when it comes to Oscar voting. And if there’s a stronger consensus pick than “La La Land,” the movie that proves Hollywood still has a beating heart worth singing about, I’d like to see it.