I saw this a few weeks back, but didn't want to interrupt the psychodrama here by opining. Especially since Sabin had already said most of what I had to offer. But, for posterity:
From the time I first heard about the movie, my response was Why?, and that was pretty much my reaction upon leaving the theatre. Which is not to say I didn't like things about it, because I did. Like most, I enjoyed the early courtship section. It had its fairytale elements (he heard her sing some verses of Shallow a capella, and by the next night he's got a full arrangement ready for her to step in and wow with?), but it also had a nice, cozy feel to it -- the interaction between the two primary actors was pleasing, and carried us past the fact the well-worn plot wasn't especially interesting. And the newer elements (esp. involving Sam Elliott) added compelling relationships beyond the central pairing.
I was a bit surprised to see the Streisand version referenced in the opening credits, but after a while I began to see why. This was, in fact, very much based on the Streisand version (right down to "they liked how I sang but thought my nose was too big"), only it's done much better this time, with a far stronger actor in the male lead and better dialogue a lot of the way.
Unfortunately, the second half of the film -- the all-too-familiar descent into degradation -- didn't compel me the way the first part did, partly because of the predictable rhythm, but also because the film failed to explore potentially interesting aspects. Was I supposed to hate Ally for the way she glitzed up her act (because I sure did)? Was I supposed to think on some level she knew Jack was holding her back and half-wished him gone? These were issues never raised in the earlier versions, but seemed hovering on the surface here -- why not go all in on them? This lack of exploration made the latter portions of the film a grind for me -- we were headed in any all-too-obvious direction with little of interest distracting us. I found myself actively waiting for Jack to do his deed and let us go home.
The film, by the way, seemed to tantalize us with multiple ways Jack might bring about his fate. Ally's comment about not wanting to ride the bike with him while he was drunk put that forward as possible method (the bike was even prominently featured in the garage shot where he came to his decision). There was always the classic Norman Maine stroll into the surf possibility. But, finally, the aborted childhood attempt was resurrected as method.
I must say, the alterations to Jack in this version are striking. Norman Maine was always the stronger character of the two -- Garland, by sheer dynamism, grabbed much of the '54 version, but in the other two versions, the self-destructive fading star was far more compelling than the saintly newcomer. But here, the balance gets tipped pretty dramatically -- first, Jack is given the 12-step-era absolution, being assured he has a disease; he's provided with a backstory of a horrible, unloving father AND a present-day career/life crisis (a singer/songwriter losing his hearing is the equivalent of the painter in The Light That Failed losing his eyesight); and Ally's evil manager is there to make it clear that putting himself out of the picture will not hurt Ally but be a blessing. The effect of all this is to make Jack both the menacing fulcrum of the story AND the character who most suffers. Cooper does a good job carrying all this off, but the fact that this is so clearly his project puts it pretty close to vanity vehicle territory.
As for awards discussion: I think Cooper could win for this (given that competition at the moment is light), but it would be largely "we want to give this guy a prize for consistent recent work" rather than specific achievement -- i.e., in the vein of DiCaprio/Oldman, rather than Affleck. I found Lady Gaga very likable throughout, and up to the acting demands (not, that is to say, another Jennifer Hudson, who sank in her non-singing moments), but I can't say I'd ever want to see her do anything else or expect her to have a serious acting career. I doubt she can win at the Oscars (well, for song, but not actress), but I expect she'll grab the nomination.
The film's extraordinary success I guess proves the durability of the concept. It's funny, how the version most revered by critics (Garland/Mason) is the only one that didn't really connect with audiences (Streisand's version was slaughtered by critics, but made a big hunk of money).