My Favorite Movies – Moonlight (2016)

1 Jun

By Tanner Smith

Will anyone EVER forget the 2017 Oscars Best Picture controversy? No way. That was a total embarrassment for the Academy–they gave the presenters the wrong envelope for the biggest award of the night, the producers of La La Land had to surrender their trophies (which they did, with style and grace, thankfully), and the whole thing was a nightmare…but it was funny to watch!

Whatever. I think the Oscars are on their way out anyway…maybe.

Anyway, Moonlight won, instead of “La La Land.” And it made a lot of indie filmmakers very happy that the fancy-schmancy Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences decided to honor a small film in this way. Did it deserve it?

Well, yeah. Obviously I think it’s a great film. I’m talking about it like it’s one of my top 300-350 favorite movies, aren’t I?

“Moonlight,” directed by Barry Jenkins, is the story of the life of an African-American gay man named Chiron, told in three parts–from boy to teenager to adulthood. But what is it truly about? It’s not merely an exploration of a man coming to terms with his sexuality. It’s a film that shows how important it is to love yourself before you can love others, especially in a world where it’s hard to embrace who you are because it makes others uncomfortable. It’s often said in other sources that if you don’t love yourself, the insecurities get the better of you, which leads to unpleasant confrontations with the people in your life. That would help explain the behavior of Chiron’s mother Paula (Naomie Harris)–when I saw this film a second time, the scene in which she goes through mixed emotions while on crack, I couldn’t help but wonder what was on her mind, how she grew up, what brought her to this, and more. This is a person who doesn’t love herself and thus doesn’t treat her son with the love he deserves. And once I considered that, that made their reunion many years later all the more powerful. (That’s all I’ll say about that.) And so here you have Chiron, who is going through so many issues in life, doesn’t have many people to call his friends or family, is confused about himself, faces intolerance and poverty, and could easily go down the wrong path for the rest of his life (which is why it’s alarming when he commits a certain act in his teenage years). With confidence and love, he can overcome these things and turn it all around, which is what we hope will be the case when he reunites with his old school friend Kevin.

Barry Jenkins knows just how to tackle this subject by making the themes universal so that even audience members who aren’t gay or black or even male can find something big in this small film that they can completely relate with. But of course, it’s one thing to have a gripping script with a look/feel that seems genuine; it’s another if the right actors can pull off these roles. And boy, do they. The cast is across-the-board excellent, with all three main actors capturing all three sides of Chiron brilliantly. Naomie Harris is also brilliant showing the angry and bitter but also human and sad sides of a single mother with too many problems of her own to show love and affection to her son. And last but certainly not least, Mahershala Ali is outstanding as Juan. It’s not a big role, as he’s only present for the first segment, but to say he makes the most of it would be an understatement.

Now, I have a little story I want to share, and it’s my favorite scene too—I missed seeing this film in 2016 and only saw it after it won the Best Picture Oscar; Ali’s Best Supporting Actor Oscar clip convinced me I had to see it as soon as possible. It’s a scene in which little Chiron confides in Juan that he hates his mother. Juan’s response: “I hated my mom too…I miss her like hell now, though.”

Ali is one of those actors that always gets my attention these days, because I think he’s one of the best–I DARE you to look at his performance in “Moonlight” and then look at his performance in Green Book, and tell me he doesn’t have a wide range!

“Moonlight” is a film that is absorbing, rich, and more importantly, real. Much of it is bleak, but that’s what’s needed for the more uplifting, sobering aspects to take effect. The ending successfully shows that in life, there are no ways of going back (and no reason to either), the things you go through make you who you are, and where you go from here on out is ultimately up to you. That it all comes a film that is this well-acted and well-executed makes it all the more powerful and deserving of the Best Picture win.

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