If you can’t decide which one to see first, you could have a dilemma-induced nervous breakdown, or you could just read these two reviews and come to a sensible conclusion.
La La Land (out now)The opening scene of La La Land sets a fantastical precedent for things to come. Random members of the public have a bit of a song and dance in the health and safety-friendly environment of a highway bridge. All the while we're reminded that it's permanently sunny in Hollywood. This stunning sequence introduces us to a world where people suddenly break into song, like you do when you’re having a shower or frying an egg. Actually, it’s quite realistic in that sense.
This scene is also the precursor to the meet cute between Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, who have already picked up Golden Globes for their triple threat performances. They’re also likely to have their annoying amount of talent acknowledged at the Oscars. Mia (Stone) is an aspiring actress and Sebastian (Gosling) is a pianist who wants to open his own Jazz club. Their dreams are far-fetched, but in a land where happiness can literally cause you to float, nothing seems impossible – especially falling in love.
It might sound sickly sweet, but Chazelle never allows you to forget the reality of the situation. Much like his one other film, Whiplash, the characters have to suffer to achieve their goals. They might spontaneously break into song, but they also discover that life isn't like a Hollywood film at all. It's more like a dance routine without choreography.
See it for...
The cinematic spectacle; it’s like nothing else you’ll see this year.
Manchester by the Sea (out now)Speaking of reality, the emotional blows in Kenneth Lonergan's drama are so heavy, they practically manifest themselves in the form of punches to your gut. Casey Affleck poignantly portrays the emptiness of a broken man in a snowy setting that makes those hits sting just that little bit more.
He plays Lee Chandler, a dead-eyed Boston janitor who can barely muster the energy to tell his customers what's wrong with their plumbing. When his brother (Kyle Chandler) suddenly passes away, he's called back to his hometown of Manchester, Massachusetts, the scene of a traumatic event in his past. Unexpectedly finding himself named the guardian of his nephew (Lucas Hedges), Lee struggles with his past while trying to deal with an uncertain future.
Lee’s moments of agony and desperation are juxtaposed with flashbacks of his previous, happier life, which are cleverly woven into the narrative. Seeing that balance is what makes him such a believable character – even when he's venting his emotions by drunkenly punching people in bars. Affleck's ability to appear calm on the surface while clearly screaming inside is largely responsible for his Best Actor win at the Golden Globes, and it's undoubtedly left him in good stead for the Oscars.
See it for…
The wrenching realism of Lonergan’s script – and its surprising moments of wry humour.