“Today, we declared war on La La Land,” Bill Maher joked on the most recent episode of HBO’s Real Time, referring to the actions of the world’s preeminent fake-news sleuth and his penchant for alienating entire nations in the span of 140 characters. Maher may or may not have been referencing Damien Chazelle’s La La Land, but even if he just meant the city, his reasoning isn’t incredibly off the mark, since few things currently rival Donald J. Trump in unchecked self-involvement so much as Sebastian and Mia’s vacuum-sealed romance set in the heart of a seemingly deserted Los Angeles.
Could the fact that so few Angelenos could see themselves on display throughout Chazelle’s thin alt-musical explain why the film, widely expected to steamroll through the precursors en route to all the Oscars, faltered at the ASC Awards? The cinematographers’ guild instead surprisingly handed their award to Lion’s Greig Fraser. While the Australian lenser has amassed an impressive portfolio of credits in the last decade (including some varied, visceral work in Let Me In, Killing Them Softly, and Zero Dark Thirty), he’s not exactly overdue, nor does Lion boast the sort of computer-enhanced trickery that’s increasingly come to dominate this category. (And even if cinematographers somehow decided to make some sort of statement on behalf of analog in the wake of Emmanuel Lubezki’s recent hat trick, Moonlight has more overt best-picture heat and identity politics on its side.)
While La La Land’s naysayers may be frothing the water at the merest drop of blood, it’s tough to believe that the film’s cinematographer, Linus Sandgren, doesn’t have this locked down. Especially as his CinemaScopic aspect ratio is truly among the only elements giving the film any scope.
Will Win: La La Land
Could Win: Moonlight
Should Win: Silence