Every year the Academy Awards comes and it is met with joyous celebration or contentious wailing. With almost every ceremony, there is an unhappy audience, bemoaning that their favourite film, or the subjectively “best movie of the year,” hasn’t scooped up the Best Picture award. It happens more often than not. A Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) will win over Boyhood, a Crash will steer ahead over a Brokeback Mountain, and bewilderingly Citizen Kane will lose out to How Green Was My Valley.
Many are looking with bated breath at this year’s 89th Academy Award winners in a mixture of hype and despair. For one, there is a large diversity between the films. From Boston-based intimate drama Manchester by the Sea to the playing by numbers Hidden Figures, the nine films on display tick a lot of Academy boxes but also have different and strong voices. Eclipsing all of them, arguably, is Damien Chazelle’s colourful and modern musical La La Land which has pretty much bowled over most voters, audience members, and critics since it opened in January.
Granted, the film starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone has valid markers for scooping up the prestigious award. Chazelle’s pet project that has been lovingly crafted to soaring heights. With sublime original musical, great visceral acting, and a passion for the classic, Chazelle’s La La Land is a spectacle and it’s very, very good.
But Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight is the worthier winner.
The story of a man discovering his sexuality and identity in Miami is the true champion of independent filmmaking whilst also appeasing a grander audience with its relevant core story of discovering yourself in a world that wants you silenced.
Moonlight’s story of estranged love is arguably a generic tale, but Jenkins crafts an impossible moving story out of Tarrell Alvin McCraney’s superb autobiographical play. Re-building the tale for cinema, Jenkins has added a fresh beat to the film and, therefore, it comes across as wholly original. In fact, there isn’t an experience quiet like Moonlight out there at the moment. With a stripping of dialogue, Moonlight is an echo of its lead character: stoic yet emotional, quiet yet moving, and impossibly charming too.
On terms of acting, Moonlight promotes many different talents who all come together to piece the story. The three actors who tell Chiron’s story (Alex Hibbet, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes) as well as the three who encompass Kevin (Jaden Pinder, Jharrel Jarome, and Andre Holland,) all gift the screen these exalted performances that are vivid in their feeling that you move with them in mind and soul. Helming supporting roles the soon to be Academy winning Mahershala Ali, the unforgettable Naomi Harris, and dazzling Janelle Monae are crucial to breathing life to this movie.
So all the characters and stories hit a remarkable level in a mosaic of visceral emotions and an utterly compelling story.
There is an importance to letting Moonlight win the Best Picture instead of the comparatively momentous La La Land. As previously stated, having an independent low budget film scoop up the top prize is utterly vital for the future of filmmaking and filmmakers. What Jenkins has done with his smaller budget is incomparable to the whopping great dramas on display. Honest, earnest, emotive, Moonlight spectacularly showcases how Jenkins honed his craft to make his second feature a crucial and culturally defining piece. On this note alone, it would be spectacular to see Jenkins win Best Director too for his work here.
Not only this but Moonlight is a black film that conveys a gay storyline in its most purest of forms. Jenkins shapes the tale away from clichés and stereotypes, crafting a film that, despite the closeted nature of Chiron, is open and honest. In terms of history, LGBT dramas for Best Picture have been sorely snubbed. The likes of the poetic Carol and the memorable Brokeback Mountain missed out on the Best Picture award to Spotlight and Crash respectively. Characters and pictures based on LGBT tales are often pushed over for sappy schmaltzy dramas or Hollywood masturbatory films. If Moonlight scoops up the award, it wouldd be a major triumph for the LGBT community with a story that is relevant to millions across the globe.
Black movies don’t fair any better in the history of the Academy Awards. Just last year the ceremony caused upset because of the lack of POC nominees causing Academy president Carol Boone Isaacs to increase membership. This year the nominations are slightly better and will hopefully set a precedent for many more upcoming years. However, in the past few years, only 12 Years A Slave scooped up a win as a predominantly black story helmed by Steve McQueen. There have been nominations for John Singleton, Lee Daniels, Spike Lee, and more but, still, the Best Picture and Best Director categories have been overwhelmingly white for a very long time.
The impact of a Moonlight win is simply inimitable against the other nominees. One could push for the black female led Hidden Figures or Denzel Washington’s directorial triumph Fences but arguably, Moonlight is a different breed, utilising modern story-telling techniques with a classic spirit. From the mirrored editing by Nat Sanders and Joi McMillion, to James Laxton’s evocative cinematography, Jenkins opus is as every bit impeccable as it is important. There’s a majestic score by Nicolas Britten and impacting performances that’ll stay with you for years.
A Best Picture coup is not just crucial, but it is absolutely deserving. Moonlight is a movie that will be discussed, debated, and dissected by film fans for years, and, hopefully, it’ll be this year’s Best Picture.
The 89th Academy Awards screen at 26th February!