By: Mark Di Stefano
Rating: 10 out of 10
With every passing year of film, I look back and divide up which movies go where in my head. These mental compartments have different categories and sub-categories (and, occasionally, some even have colored tags like on a Mac computer), but I won’t get into the nitty-gritty of what goes on in my head (we’ll be here all day). Generally, movies I watch go into one of three categories: Pass (“I’ll never see this again, except when I’m flipping channels and it’s on TNT”), Good (“I’ll go out of my way to watch it.”), and Masterful (“This needs to be shared and put in the Smithsonian, ASAP”). A lot of movies this year fell into that area between good and masterful, including a lot of this year’s Oscar contenders, but for one reason or another I found it hard to label any of them as “masterful.”
When I left the theater after seeing Moonlight, reeling over the experience I just had, it was clear that the only place I could put this film was on the top shelf. Moonlight is, without a doubt, masterful across the board.
Without giving too much away (for the few of you cinephiles who haven’t seen this before the Oscar telecast), Moonlight is about Chiron, a young black man who lives outside of Miami with his mom, and a look into three different, life-changing moments from his life from adolescence to adulthood.
One of the reasons why this film is brilliant is because it is the prime example of “show,” rather than “tell.” Nothing is being force-fed down the audience’s throat, if you will. Writer and director Barry Jenkins has crafted memorable characters, and their arch’s and how they intersect and affect one another is part of his genius. Another part is how each of these three parts look and feel different but are all part of the whole. What really got me was not what was on screen, but what’s not on screen where we don’t see Chiron, left wondering what happens between childhood and young adult, and between young adult and manhood. How the succeeding part fills in the gaps, we don’t need to see what happens because we know life wasn’t easy, and how Jenkins divides up Chiron’s life further drives home that the end of one part has direct consequences on the next. We see the man Chiron becomes, and how the audience connects the dots in their minds I believe is similar from one person to the next. Jenkins makes us reflect on Chiron’s life, and to show us his world and his influences, where an audience is going to be invested in from the vary start, shows the amount of care Jenkins has put into this film.
There are lots of films where different actors play a singular character throughout time, but the three actors that play Chiron (Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes, respectfully) will make him one of the most polarizing characters in cinema. They equally make up Chiron, with no one performance overshadowing the other. When I look at Chiron as an adult and where he ended up, I can see his younger self through his eyes and how he smiles. We see the depth of the choices he makes and the consequences that they have on him, and that’s a testament to how Jenkins and these actors crafted Chiron into someone that the audience will be emotionally affected by from the beginning, to long after the credits roll.
Mahershala Ali gives the performance of his career and will likely win the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. As Juan, the drug dealer who becomes a mentor to Chiron during his youth, we see the profound effect he has on Chiron, all throughout his life. I describe the Best Supporting Actor as one that doesn’t just give a truly memorable performance, but is a character that shapes and molds the main character into what he or she becomes. Juan is a character who, despite his own flaws, tries to teach him about life. Through Chiron’s progression, we see how Juan has become a part of who he is, for better or for worse. Ali is captivating, gripping, and gives one of the best performances by any actor this year.
If there’s one thing you could say about this year’s Oscar race, it’s that any nominee has a good fighting chance of winning, and Naomie Harris doesn’t make it any easier to determine a clear-cut winner in her category (Best Supporting Actress). From playing Calypso in Pirates of The Carribean, to being this generation’s Moneypenny in the Daniel Craig 007 era, Harris has been all over the map with recognizable characters, but Moonlight features a performance rarely seen from Harris. Harris brings to life Chiron’s mom, who spirals out of control due to problems with addiction as the film progresses. Harris turns in a heartbreaking performance, brining to life someone that at first you sympathize with,into someone you loathe, and into someone that just breaks your heart. Harris joins the ranks of greats with this role.
I wish I couldn’t be vague or evasive in describing how marvelously beautiful Moonlight is, but if I fumbled anymore words, I wouldn’t want to be the cause of anybody missing out on something special here. Experiencing the plot unfold is something I don’t want to take away from anyone. Besides, every other big-time reviewer has already beaten me to the punch so I couldn’t possibly say something that hasn’t already been said, but I will say this: No matter who you are, it will leave you breathless. From the cinematography to the music, and the supporting cast, all of this and more make’s Moonlight one of the great movies of 2016.
Many people are saying that Oscar glory will be found in the glitz, glamour and melancholy of La La Land, and it would make sense. It’d be the first movie-musical to win the top honor since 02’s Chicago, and is a testament to those fools who dare to dream. I won’t be unhappy if Best Picture goes to La La Land, it’s the motion picture of the moment, if you will. Where Moonlight differs is that it’s much more than a movie of the moment; it’s the movie of a lifetime. It’s both currently relevant, and timeless. It’s about those who affect us when we’re young and how that transcends time. It’s about connection. It’s about love and hope. It’s the movie that I think about more and more each day. It’s a film that I believe, should and could win Best picture. Will it? It’s evenly split between these two great movies based on accolades given to both so far. Even Arrival stands a great chance to pull an upset. Regardless how it goes, Moonlight will be put in the upper-echelon of films, where they’ll be studied, discussed, and beloved for all time.
The weather for Oscar Sunday? That depends on where you live but, for me, there will be a bright, beautiful moonlight.