The Venice Film Festival reviewers were not wrong — Damian Chazelle‘s La La Land (Summit, 12.2) is a winning, audacious, often delightful Jacques Demy-styled musical for the 21st Century. Some of them added that it’s not quite a fall-on-the-floor great, and they were right about that too. Most of it, in my book, is an 8 or an 8.5. But hold on.

Because the opening song-and-dance-on-the-freeway sequence is a 9.5. And the last 15 minutes are an absolute 10 — they deliver, no exaggeration, one of the best-written and well rendered finales of any non-comedic musical ever. Sad, dazzling, wise and just right. So that makes La La Land better than an 8 or 8.5. Call it a 9.

And Emma Stone‘s performance as a struggling actress, trust me, is an absolute grand-slammer. A Best Actress nomination is 100% locked. Gosling is very good also but she dominates him. A friend who knows this racket thinks the Best Actress race will probably come down to Stone and Viola Davis in Fences.

Take away the songs and the dancing and Chazelle’s bravura direction…a silly thing to say, right? But take those away and La La Land, story- and acting-wise, would be an appealing, well-written, nicely done Los Angeles love story between two aspiring artist-performers in their late 20s — Ryan Gosling‘s Sebastian, a jazz pianist whose passion is too pure to pay the rent with, and Stone’s Mia, an actress who has the goods but has been bombing out at auditions for years, and she’s starting to wither.

But add the songs, dancing and bravura direction and you have…well, a helluva lot more.

The only speed bump, for me, is that Stone has a pleasing but fairly tiny voice (non-problematic but maybe a little above the level of Diane Keaton‘s singing in Annie Hall) and Gosling is no skilled croooner either so you have to accept these limitations. And I did. Speed bumps are finessable, negotiable.

A friend says that the fact that they can’t sing all that wonderfully works for the film — these are real people singing their feelings with real-people voices. I get that, a good point. But I still wanted to better pipes. Just a little.

It’s now 7:55 pm. I have to catch Moonlight, which starts at 8 pm. Did I state that La La Land is a definite Best Picture nominee? It has to be. The thing that gives it character and cojones is that it’s not a “happy” musical. It has the character to end…well, not joyously.