If you’re a fan of writer/director Damien Chazelle’s love letter to Los Angeles, La La Land, there are whole host of influential films you should probably check out too.
One of the joys of La La Land is spotting these references. Some of the films are obvious, others are similar – but so similar in either tone and/or plot that the link is overt.
Here are six films that I think any fan of La La Land should watch – not least because if you like that movie, you’ll probably love these too.
Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
It’s glorious. What more is there to say about this movie? This is the most obvious movie on the list – the finest example of the Hollywood musical, and also set in LA and the movie business.
Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, and Donald O’Connor are on career best form in this MGM classic, using mostly existing songs from the twenties and thirties.
As well as the Hollywood setting, the tap dancing routines of La La Land – and the effortless way they switch between musical numbers and dialogue – owe a lot to Singin’ In The Rain.
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)
This – as writer/director Damien Chazelle has stated – is the key influence on La La Land. Part of the French New Wave, Jacques Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is entirely sung (in French) with no dialogue at all, with memorable and haunting music from Michel Legrand. It has wonderful production design, with beautiful vibrant pastels.
A defining bittersweet romance, Catherine Deneuve’s shop assistant falls in love with a local mechanic. But after a brief but intense romance, he heads off to fight in Algeria, and she is left home – and pregnant.
The style, tone, and resolution of La La Land owe a clear debt to this wonderful movie. If you haven’t seen it yet, you really need to treat yourself.
The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967)
Jacque Demy’s slightly lesser known follow-up to The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is this exuberant musical that once again features Deneuve, alongside her sister Françoise Dorléac (who passed away soon afterwards).
Perhaps even closer in tone to La La Land than its more melancholic predecessor, this is also as much of a tribute to the Hollywood musical, given that it also features George Chakiris (West Side Story) and none other than Gene Kelly.
An American in Paris (1951)
The third film in this list to feature Gene Kelly, here he stars alongside Lesley Caron in this musical inspired by George Gershwin’s famed composition of the same name. It is also specifically used as the score for the 17 minute ballet sequence that concludes this movie, in a way that will be familiar to fans of La La Land.
Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
A specific movie reference in La La Land, Rebel Without A Cause – with mismatched lovers James Dean and Natalie Wood – is the movie that Mia and Seb go to see on their first ‘date’, which also leads to the magical dance number in the planetarium location from that movie.
The Griffith Park Observatory is a classic LA landmark, that was certainly on my list of places to see when I first visited LA, and it has been used in numerous films and TV shows over the years.
New York, New York (1977)
La La Land reminded me most specifically of this often overlooked Martin Scorsese movie. New York, New York (yes, this is the movie where THAT song came from) was made in the middle of the golden age of Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro’s collaboration.
Set in the decades following VE day, it shows (this may sound familiar) the relationship of a jazz musician and an ambitious actress as they struggle to balance their personal lives with the demands of their artistic pursuits. And let’s just say things don’t go all that well…
Like La La Land, New York, New York is as much of a tribute to classic musicals as an attempt to modernise them. It can be no accident that Scorsese cast Liza Minnelli – daughter of Judy Garland and American in Paris director Vincent Minnelli – as the female lead.
This was a costly critical and commercial flop at the time (1977 – the same year that Star Wars came out), but the success of La La Land – which shares a similar plot, characters, and bittersweet ending – perhaps means this film is ripe for reappraisal? While it’s no Taxi Driver, this film is head and shoulders above anything Scorsese has made since Goodfellas.
What do you think of this list? Anything else that should be on here?