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Face-Off: La La Land vs. Moulin Rouge!

Welcome back, cinema freaks! Last week's battle was certainly beyond epic, so this week we're gonna take things down a notch. In honor of THE GREATEST SHOWMAN hitting theaters, we're going to take a look back at two of the most loved modern movie musicals in what will surely be our most toe-tapping Face-Off ever(It is. I checked). That's right, it's LA LA LAND vs. MOULIN ROUGE!

The first film was one of the breakout hits of 2016, dominating the conversation for all of awards season, and then going to win six Academy Awards including for Best Director, Damien Chazelle. Even in losing Best Picture it still made headlines, after it was accidentally announced as the winner instead of the real winner, MOONLIGHT. In the other, the more elaborately decorated corner is the Baz Luhrmann classic, MOULIN ROUGE! Sporting show-stopping performances and extravagancies out the wazoo, this movie is the epitome of Baz Luhrmann being the most Baz Luhrmann he can be.

Both will get you dancing and then crying your eyes out, but which puts on the better show? Well put on your best shoes and sharpen your switch blades, because the battle of the musicials is on.

THE ENSEMBLE
Ryan Gosling as Sebastian
Emma Stone as Mia
John Legend as Keith
Rosemarie DeWitt as Laura
J.K. Simmons as Bill
Nicole Kidman as Satine
Ewan McGregor as Christian
Jim Broadbent as Harold Zidler
John Leguizamo as Toulouse-Lautrec
Richard Roxburgh as Duke of Monroth
Jacek Koman as Unconscious Argentinian
DIRECTOR
Chazelle has only two major movies under his belt, but already he such a distinct, forceful, articulate and preciseness behind the camera. All the dance numbers and musical moments are shot and staged with such raw kinetic energy, and the smaller moments between Mia and Sebastian are done intimately and sweetly. Clearly, Chazelle doesn't seem to care about working with a big cast and would prefer to work closely with two, key actors (as was the same with WHIPLASH), and tailor the whole movie to their relationship. This tight focus allows him to make everything around them so intoxicating, from the music, choreography, and sets, creating an entire, enrapturing experience.
Luhrmann certainly has a signature style, one drenched in quick cuts, lush costumes, bright colors and all manner of extravagance. Right out of the gate you know what to expect with one of his movies, and you know if you'll love it or hate. He throws you head first into this vibrant, decadent world, and if you don't buy into it (or admire the little gems in the madness) it will swallow you whole. It is, for this reason, MOULIN ROUGE! remains so unlike any other musical of the 21st Century, or of all moviedom. Sure, it can be quite suffocating at times. Even small romantic moments can fall victim to Luhrmann's need to have everything be so over-the-top, but there's something admirable about it. This is a traditional, sweeping love story, and no one could've done it so boldly but Luhrmann. Funny thing is, you would think a guy with such vision and energy would have done more than two movies since ROUGE!
STORY/SCRIPT

Struggling artists Mia and Sebastian connect via their shared passions and dreams, and with their newly discovered love vow to take on Los Angeles with toe-tapping ambition and a song in their heart. Sadly, in order for dreams to come true, sacrifices must be made, and in that conflict and compromise sometimes we lose those closest to us.

The story is an ode to love and the fools who dream, and the script from Chazelle never wastes a moment. After a sprawling opening musical number, we're introduced to Mia and Seb, and all their current artistic woes. Chazelle makes their ambitions and personalities relatable and their journey worth watching. Funny and sweet, LA LA LAND will probably be the ultimate Chazelle movie for quite some time, as the story and characters were written with such clarity and passion. With it, he imbues his own love of music (through Seb), and wears his heart on his sleeve, creating a story and characters that get to the heart of anyone who has ever had a dream.

After coming to Paris to pursue the life of a Bohemian artist, former rich kid, and starry-eyed dreamboat Christian soon finds himself among a wide swath of colorful and colorfully dressed characters. But his life is completely changed when he lays his eyes on the beautiful bombshell, Satine, making his heart go pitter-patter (although that may just be the absinthe). Although he is just a penniless writer, and she a loved courtesan, the two sing their hearts out and fall in love, and must hide it so that the evil Duke does not find out and close the Moulin Rouge for good.

A lavish and grand love story if there ever was one, and simple down to its very core. They love each other because they are both passionate and attractive with big dreams, and they are put in a situation where greed could tear them apart. It's something people probably watch a lot while curled up on the couch or on their phone in the bathtub with a glass of wine. The movie is simple to a fault (though not without some memorable lines), and the overall Baz Luhrmann-ness can outshine much of the story and dialogue itself. Ultimately this is not a movie where you come to watch complex characters or three-dimensional storytelling, but rather all the pomp and thrills that make it such a trip.

NOTABLE BITS & LINES

Traffic Jam/"Another Day of Sun"

Struggling Actress

"Someone in the Crowd"

Struggling Musician

Sebastian Goes Rogue

Bill: "You're fired."

Sebastian: "It's Christmas."

Bill: "Yeah, I see the decorations."

Mia's Auditons

Mia: "No, Jamal. You be trippin'."

Sebastian's 80s Band

Sebastian and Mia's Nighttime Number

The Warner Bros. Lot

Sebastian: "They worship everything and they value nothing."

Jazz Lesson

Sebastian: "It's conflict and it's compromise, and it's very, very exciting!"

"City of Stars"

Love Birds

Keith: "How are you gonna be a revolutionary if you're such a traditionalist? You hold onto the past, but jazz is about the future."

"Start a Fire"/Growing Apart

The Big Arguement

Mia's Show

Mia Bares Her Soul

Mia: "Maybe I'm not good enough!"

One Last Audition

Mia: "I'm always gonna love you."

Sebastian: "I'm always gonna love you, too."

Five Year's Later

What Could've Been

One Last Look

A Broken Heart

An Unconsious Argentinian Man and a Dwarf Dressed as a Nun

Christians Bursts Into Song

The Moulin Rogue

Satine Arrives

Satine and Christian Alone

Christian: "You don't have to stand, I mean. It's sometimes that... It's quite long and I'd like you to be comfortable. It's quite modern what I do and it may feel a little strange at first, but I think, if you're open, then you might enjoy it."

Christian Sings "Your Song"

The Real Duke

Satine and Christian Sing "Elephant Love Medley"

"Like a Virigin" Number

Satine's Sacrfice

"Roxeanne" Number

Satine: "I don't need you anymore! All my life you made believe I was only worth what someone would pay for me! But Christian loves me. He loves me! He loves me, Harold. And that is worth everything! We're going away from you, away from the Duke, away from the Moulin Rouge!"

Zidler: "The show must go on, Satine. We're creatures of the underworld. We can't afford to love."

Satine Cuts Christian Loose

Christian: "This woman is yours now. I've paid my whore...I owe you nothing. And you are nothing to me. Thank you for curing me of my ridiculous obsession with love."

Big Final Number

Goodbye, Satine

Christian: "The greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return."

LOVE STORY
The romance in LA LA LAND is more subtle here than in MOULIN ROUGE! and no doubt much more modern and realistic. They have a shared desire to achieve their dream and to do so at any cost, supporting each other throughout the way. Of course, there's tension towards the end, and the feelings of inadequacy and that maybe your partner is not as supportive as you thought. For all the wondrous production design, flashy numbers and quick editing the love story is what ground this movie and makes it relatable, giving it that very bittersweet ending.
As I said before, the love story is as old as time. Two star-crossed lovers, one baddie who seeks to tear them apart. Betrayal, jealousy, singing, etc. Luhrmann has directed operas in the past and this is all very operatic. Knowing how it all plays out as soon as the movie starts just makes the romance all the more tragic (or cloying, depending on your view). Kidman and McGregor are great together and throw themselves into their relationship with zero hesitation. It's all passion and ballads and elegant costumes and the color red everywhere.
MUSICAL MASTERY
Justin Hurwitz worked magic with the jazzy, tap-dancing score, while songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul created both soulful and showstopping songs to match. A lot of popular movie musicals are based on Broadway shows (MAMMA MIA, LES MISERABLES, CHICAGO), but it seems like its been forever since an original movie, with entirely original songs (that was not filled with animated creatures) made such an impact. The music captures all the adrenaline-filled highs with energy and gravitas, and sensitive, introspective moments with grace and elegance. Like they did with WHIPLASH, Chazelle and his crew have made jazz popular again by pairing it with a crowd-pleasing flick, and both it and the music will be talked about long after we're all dead. Kind of depressing to think about, but it's the truth.
As I've delved into in past Face Off's with movies like BABY DRIVER and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, I don't often give the point to movies that use pop music and their main, dominant source of music. Exceptions have been made (GUARDIANS 2), and I always admire when using the music is done right and to thrilling effect. MOULIN ROUGE! is no different, using tons of iconic love songs (mostly from the 70s and 80s) to flesh out the film. Craig Armstrong does what he can to make it his own, using the popular songs to create a rich tapestry that makes the music seem fresh and unique. Sometimes it seems like there's a lot being thrown at you musically, with some songs layered on top of one another (much the movie itself), but smaller moments, like McGregor's "Your Song", is pure musical magic. "Come What May" is also a sweeping ballad, even that is not entirely an original song (it was written and meant to be used in Luhrmann's other movie, ROMEO AND JULIET, hence why it was not nominated for an Oscar).
PRODUCTION/ART DESIGN
LA LA LAND makes the most out of the city of L.A., using the highway for a massive opening number, and having Gosling and Stone dance across the Griffith Observatory and the hillsides of the town. There are some wonderful sets as well, especially the entire final "dream" sequence. All of it combined was enough to win the film an Oscar for its production design, and it was a well-earned award.
If Luhrmann knows how to do anything it's bring out all the costumes and set pieces and put on a goddamn show. You may not like the pace or editing of the movie but it's scientifically impossible not to walk away from the movie completely blown away by the period decor and extravagant costumes. There really is nothing else like it out there. It's like as if Luhrmann and the art and set decorators (Catherine Martin and Brigitte Broch) chugged a case of absinthe and were like, "Yes! All of it! Throw all of it together and make it look beautiful!"
TWO LEADS
Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone have done several movies together and their chemistry is so pure and effortless. They're both so relaxed and charming, and it seems odd to think of any other duo playing these parts (as Miles Teller and Emma Watson were supposed to). They aren't the best singers or dancers around, but they make up for it by giving rich performances and bringing complex yet relatable characters to life.
McGregor is perfect as the lovesick writer and Kidman is dynamite as the sensual courtesan. Together they just click, and while Stone and Gosling's chemistry brings out something deeper in their character's relationships McGregor and Kidman make up for it with sheer showmanship. They have big vocals that would fit right at home on the Broadway stage, projecting with such heart-stopping passion. Why don't these two sing more? I want answers!
AWARDS, PRAISE & MONEY
Oscars:
    Won:
    Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role: Emma Stone
    Best Achievement in Directing: Damien Chazelle
    Best Achievement in Cinematography
    Best Original Score
    Best Original Song: "City of Stars"
    Best Achievement in Production Design
    Nominated:
    Best Picture
    Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role: Ryan Gosling
    Best Original Screenplay
    Best Achievement in Film Editing
    Best Achievement in Costume Design
    Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
    Best Achievement in Sound Editing
    Best Original Song: "Audition"
Golden Globes:
    Won:
    Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy
    Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy: Ryan Gosling
    Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy: Emma Stone
    Best Director - Motion Picture: Damien Chazelle
    Best Screenplay - Motion Picture: Damien Chazelle
    Best Original Song:"City of Stars"
    Best Original Score
Golden Schmoes:
    Won:
    Best Director of the Year: Damien Chazelle
    Best Music in a Movie
    Nominated:
    Favorite Movie of the Year
    Best Screenplay of the Year: Damien Chazelle
    Most Overrated Movie of the Year
    Best Actress of the Year: Emma Stone
    Favorite Movie Poster of the Year
    Most Memorable Scene in a Movie: 'Ending dream sequence'
    Best Trailer of the Year
Praise
    IMDB: 8.1 (Top Rated Movie #185)
Money:
    $151 million domestic ($445 million global)
Oscars:
    Won:
    Best Art Direction
    Best Costume Design
    Nominated:
    Best Picture
    Best Actress in a Leading Role: Nicole Kidman
    Best Cinematography
    Best Film Editing
    Best Makeup
    Best Sound
Golden Globes:
    Won:
    Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy
    Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy: Nicole Kidman
    Best Original Score
    Nominated:
    Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical: Ewan McGregor
    Best Director - Motion Picture: Baz Luhrmann
    Best Original Song: "Come What May"
Golden Schmoes:
    Won:
    Best Actress of the Year: Nicole Kidman
    Best Music in a Movie: Craig Armstrong
    Nominated:
    Favorite Movie of the Year
    Trippiest Movie of the Year
    Best Actor of the Year: Ewan McGregor
    Favorite Movie Poster of the Year
    Best DVD of the Year
    Best Line of the Year: "The greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to love..."
Praise Money:
    $57 million domestic ($179 million global)
LA LA LAND

MOULIN ROGUE! is no doubt a stirring, emotional, visually stupendous musical that remains a classic for a litany of reasons. But if it gets the loss here its because something the extravagance is sometimes too much that it borders on insanity, and the story itself is almost too threadbare. LA LA LAND has much of that same showmanship and heart on top of winning, complex performances, a resonant story and undeniably inspiring sense of scope. The songs are perfect, Gosling and Stone rock it, Chazelle delivers masterful work behind the camera and with the pen and its all just so f**king perfect.

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