Ed. Note: I’ve decided the best way to juggle the new 1001 films along with the current Best Picture odyssey, remembering that I’d need to keep each Best Picture year relatively fresh in my head for the Judging Oscar segments, is to not juggle; I’m gonna put Best Picture on hold until I’ve finished with the new additions. I technically haven’t started 1939 yet, so I’m gonna hold off on doing so until I’m done with 1001 again, and hopefully the influx of newer, (hopefully) worthwhile films will reinvigorate my odyssey once I get back to it.
I’m sure anybody reading this is aware of the hilarity that occurred at the Academy Awards this past year, when the wrong envelope was given out for the final award, resulting in the wrong film being announced as the winner of Best Picture; the producers of that film, La La Land, even fully gave their speeches before the mistake was finally made known, and the real winner was able to be recognized: Moonlight. Now, most of the shock that occurred when Moonlight’s win was uncovered was justified; La La Land went into the ceremony the overwhelming favorite to win, especially having tied the record for the most Oscar nominations for a single film, and the two other films it tied with eventually went on to win Best Picture themselves, so really it was the upset win of the night, especially with how it went down. So, did Moonlight actually deserve the win? Is it really a better overall film than La La Land? Now, having seen both films, I feel I can say: Yes, it is. It’s by a smaller margin than I was expecting going into the film, but I feel the Academy made the right decision, at least between the two films.
The film is a three-part tale of one young man, who goes by a different name or nickname in each section, growing up as a black adolescent in a drug-dealing neighborhood of Miami (the location isn’t as important as the rest, though). His mother, a drug addict herself, is hardly a positive influence on his life, and indeed he is basically without such people until a chance encounter with Juan, a drug dealer himself, who becomes the young man’s de facto role model in a much more beneficial way than you would think a drug dealer would be. Each of the three stages of the young man’s life, from childhood to adolescence to adulthood, is a different story, but each shares thematic elements among the entire film. What separates Moonlight from most of the other coming-of-age dramas in recent memory is two things: the protagonist, Chiron, is both a black youth in America, as well as a gay youth in America, and it’s these two things combined that provide most of the dramatic characterization in Chiron’s story; him trying to figure out what kind of person he is, with all the conflicting influences and obstacles in his life. Despite the film’s setting and narrative, which would seem to make the story rife with conflict, there is surprisingly little of it in Moonlight, though it is there at the film’s key junctions. What there is instead in Moonlight is mood; the film treats its material with a soft touch, a quiet reverence, that amplifies the effect of the film’s importance in regards to Chiron and his growing up, but not enough so as to be inflating the story to heights it otherwise has no business being in. The cinematography is slight, but effective; the acting is muted, but with enough knowhow to flare up when it needs to to make things happen; everything about the film was perfectly paced and controlled, but not in an ostentatious way like other films (like The Revenant, which has everything amped to eleven).
I was impressed as hell that this was director Barry Jenkins’s second ever feature; it had a finesse and a control to it that most features, even of today, seemed to lack. Most of all, though, what I liked about it was how pure a film it was; how simple it was, which only seemed to enhance its effect. I can absolutely see how many people are regarding it as the best overall film of 2016; I don’t know if my opinion of it got to that level, but I certainly appreciated the heck out of this. More than anything, it was exactly what it needed to be, and it was thanks that what it needed to be was at such a high standard that it’s ending up as critically lauded as it is, I think. Kudos to Jenkins, and kudos to the Academy for recognizing this one; it was definitely worth seeing.
Arbitrary Rating: 9/10