It should’ve surprised no one that Hollywood was interested in remaking the Oscar-nominated Toni Erdmann with Jack Nicholson and Kristen Wiig, and certainly not for the same reasons that catapulted the film to the top of our list of the best films of 2016. Spending the last month grimly assessing the chances of La La Land to not only tie but potentially surpass the all-time record for Oscar wins, we couldn’t seem to get the hallmark moment from writer-director Maren Ade’s masterpiece out of the back of our heads.
Sandra Hüller’s Ines Conradi, a marginalized and harried cog in the machine of global capitalism, reaches a crisis point in her father’s deprogramming campaign. Staring down the option of assessing her personal responsibility or picking up the musical cue that her Yamaha DX7-tinkling father, Winfried (played by Peter Simonischek), is throwing her way, she submits, howling through the all-time song-of-myself anthem: “Because the greatest love of all is happening to me/The greatest love of all is easy to achieve/Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all!” If ever a foreign film somehow lucked into a temperature read of Hollywood’s state of mind, this one did.
You don’t need us to tell you that Tinseltown already cemented a full cycle of self-love in giving best picture to The Artist, Argo, and Birdman—respectively covering the movie business’s ancient past, its recent past, and its uncertain future. Whatever their copious flaws, and as we’re feeling suddenly charitable in the face of other oncoming disasters, at least Argo and Birdman felt conversant with the pitfalls of the entertainment industry’s influence on all facets of life, political and social. And now that we’ve come to see just how devastating that influence can be, wouldn’t it be heartening if the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences—freshly stocked with rising young talent and purged of those who were already halfway out to pasture back when Tony Mendez was taking notes from them—threw a bone to the real world?
Instead, the newly Botox’d AMPAS stands to confirm the institution’s current era as one of endless iterations of Choose Our Own Adventure, this year representing perhaps the most unashamedly self-regarding turn of the page to date. The outrageously keen reception of Damien Chazelle’s La La Land may even, in fact, be a symptom of that influx of new blood, for whom watching Emma Stone belt her way through a song every bit as artistically self-fulfilling as Whitney Houston’s aforementioned power ballad must register as the wokest movie moment of the year. In a franchise- and sequel-dependent industry that feels an understandable need to keep reminding itself of the merits of artistic ambition over lasting achievement, La La Land perversely materializes as every bit as representational as Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea, and Fences. Only in Hollywood.
Will Win: La La Land
Could Win: Moonlight
Should Win: Manchester by the Sea