There is a lot to love about Damien Chazelle's enchanting La La Land, from its gorgeous production design to the electric chemistry between its two leads, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, as aspiring actress Mia and jazz pianist Sebastian. So let's rank the La La Land songs, from simple ditties to elaborate production numbers, shall we? Because, at the end of the day, La La Land is a musical, and its success in that regard will ride or die on the strength of its songs. The movie's two-hour runtime isn't absolutely jam-packed with tunes — there's plenty of breathing room for non-musical intrigue in between the softshoeing — but every time Mia and Sebastian slip into another song-and-dance routine, it's absolutely infectious.
Although the songs all have a jazz sensibility to them — not surprising, coming from Chazelle, whose two previous films are Whiplash (about a jazz drummer) and Guy And Madeline On A Park Bench (about a jazz trumpeter) — they really run the gamut from splashy toe-tappers to gut-wrenchingly intimate solos, from massive ensembles to wordless sequences, from old-school throwbacks to contemporary crowd-pleasers. The music takes full advantage of Stone's and Gosling's talents; he as a former Mousketeer and she as a Broadway vet from the 2014 revival of Cabaret.
Let's take a look:
9"City Of Stars"
"City Of Stars" is one of La La Land's more well-known songs, featured heavily in promotional materials for the film and recently receiving a Critics Choice Award for Best Song. But the first time we hear it in the film, it's just a brief introduction to the full theme we'll hear again later. And as charming as Ryan Gosling is dancing with a stranger on a moonlit pier, ultimately this is the film's most disposable tune.
One of two musical numbers in the film performed entirely in dance, the planetarium sequence is utterly magical in the moment, as Mia and Sebastian give in to the gravity-defying nature of their budding romance and literally float off into the stars, waltzing between galaxies in silhouette. But the lack of lyrics make the number a bit forgettable after the fact and not the most fun to revisit on the soundtrack.
7"A Lovely Night"
This is probably La La Land's most purely and unabashedly old-fashioned song, a classic softshoe overlooking the sunset from the peak of the Hollywood hills. Gosling and Stone may not be Astaire and Rogers, but this is the first time they perform together in the film, and their palpable chemistry helps elevate the relatively simple choreography into a lively, undeniable flirtation.
6"Start A Fire"
It's hard to know exactly how to feel about John Legend's big number. Is Sebastian selling out by joining pop-jazz group The Messengers? Or is he staying true to the progressive nature of jazz music with this updated take on the genre? Whichever way you fall on Sebastian's moral dilemma, there's no denying that the tune itself is pretty catchy.
5"Someone In The Crowd"
The second song in the film, this production number has a great arc, crescendoing from a playful quartet between Mia and her roommates into a full-blown spectacle at a lavish party they attend. Everything about it is eye-catching, from the slowly falling snow to the frozen couples scattered around the room; and the way the camera follows bodies plunging into the pool and then bobs on the surface of the water as dancers cavort around the pool's edges is a breathtakingly clever trick.
4"City Of Stars (Duet)"
Halfway through the film, we finally get the full, finished version of the song Sebastian was writing earlier — and it's worth the wait. Simultaneously melancholy and hopeful, bittersweet and romantic, this musical love letter to Los Angeles is brought to vivid life by the vocal stylings of Gosling and Stone, who really allow their personalities to shine through here.
3"Another Day Of Sun"
The opening sequence of La La Land is a tour-de-force, functioning as both a mission statement for the kind of film we're about to see and a terrific musical number in its own right. The noise emanating from various car radios stuck in a traffic jam on an LA freeway coalesce into a sunny celebration of the city itself, as drivers exit their cars, dancing and belting around, through, and on top of the stalled vehicles. It's pure movie magic, made even more impressive by the fact that it wasn't filmed in a studio with a green screen; the production team actually shut down a busy L.A. on-ramp for two whole days to capture the authentic feel of the city's streets.
2"Audition (The Fools Who Dream)"
This, the emotional linchpin of the film, was filmed in one long take; so everyone had to get it just right, including Stone's on-camera performance and Hurwitz's off-camera, real-time accompaniment. What begins as a spoken monologue almost imperceptibly transitions into a musical ode to artists and dreamers everywhere. Stunning in both its specificity (Mia's memory of her departed aunt) and its universality ("Here's to the mess we make"), this would undoubtedly be La La Land's best musical number… if it weren't for what follows.
Like Whiplash before it, La La Land ends with a prolonged, wordless musical sequence that leaves the audience breathless as the credits start to roll. Every moment has clearly been leading up to this one stunning sequence, as the plot of the entire film is revisited — with some remarkable adjustments — in a seven-minute "dream ballet" in the vein of Oklahoma!. It's cathartic, it's triumphant, it's bittersweet… and if it doesn't leave you in tears, then you probably have no soul. No matter what you may have thought of the two hours that preceded it, "Epilogue" is probably the greatest ending of any film this year.
Now go ahead and listen to the La La Land soundtrack all over again. It's so worth it.