There are few times, even when I give an A+ rating, when I think a movie is truly perfect. The first half of Garth Davis’ based-on-a-true-story Lion is as close to perfect as we’re likely to see for a while.
It begins with young Saroo (Sunny Pawar), a small boy in India trying to outrun pernicious adults and avoid becoming a street urchin. After almost an hour of screen time being lost and on the run, he is finally taken in by an adoption agency, which eventually finds him a home in Australia. His new parents appear to be the warmest and most inviting people he’s met since being separated from his biological mother and brother.
Played as an adult by Dev Patel, Saroo’s memory is jogged while at an event with his girlfriend (Rooney Mara), and his old life begins to flood his mind. This flood becomes a tidal wave as he begins to piece together his forgotten steps away from his mother.
This really is the weeper of the year, but I mean that as a compliment because the film earns every tear. Pawar and Patel are somehow both in sync with Saroo’s unfailing passion, inquisitiveness, and grace. Nicole Kidman as Saroo’s adopted mother continues to impress us with her chameleon candor. And cinematographer Grieg Fraser (who also shot Rogue One) crafts a beautiful visual language from which we infer Saroo’s pain, loss, and confusion. Lion is one of the best films of the year.
Lion = A+
As the title of one of the film’s songs suggests, La La Land is nothing if not a lovely night at the movies. Damien Chazelle put the world on notice with Whiplash in 2014. Here, he takes that same passion for music and translates it into a whipped cream delight which threatens to take over the world.
Emma Stone simply shines as Mia, a down-on-her-luck actress in Los Angeles whose spirits pick up when she meets Sebastian (Ryan Gosling). There is immediate winking-and-teasing chemistry, and after a few musical numbers (all the musical numbers in this are breathtaking, by the way) they are living together.
Sebastian wants to bring a purity back to jazz by starting his own club. Mia wants to become the next big thing in the movie business. Their dreams coincide for a lavish, luxurious while, but eventually fade. The film then bounces back with an incredible finish, showing a remarkable spirit and a true affection for the dazzling musicals of the 40s and early 50s.
I’ve heard and read criticisms that say that the film hands everything to its main characters too neatly. That’s true to a certain degree, but it was also true of the movies La La Land is paying tribute to. You’d have to be a total cynic to not at least smile at the opening number and almost every subsequent one.
La La Land = A-
Please go support these movies on and after their release on Christmas day! I promise you won’t be disappointed.