Monday, January 16, 2017

2016 Awards Circuit: Moonlight Review

2016 Awards Circuit: Moonlight Review
The 2016 Award Circuit will be a collection of reviews of films that are in some kind of award runnings within the months of January through March. Not only will this prepare me for the big night (AKA Oscar Night), but it will also allow me to catch up with some of the critically acclaimed films I missed out on in 2016. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy watching and writing them.

Every year this happens. No matter what I do, no matter how hard I try, no matter how many movies I cram into one year, I never see everything. I try my darnedest, but I always come up short, especially towards awards season. There is always one big movie that I really want to see that I end up missing, I end up catching it in January or February, and then I realize that its a movie I would have definitely put on my end-of-the-year list. Every year there is one movie that would have changed my Best of List had I just seen it in its regular. Its a curse, being a movie addict and not living in New York or Los Angeles and having to wait longer than usual to see some of the big, award hopefuls. But when I see that one, special movie, I think to myself, that would have made my top ten of last year. 2017's special mention goes to "Moonlight."

"Moonlight" just won Best Movie-Drama at the Golden Globes two weeks ago, and after seeing the movie, its pretty clear why. "Moonlight" is a sprawling motion picture, bustling with life. There isn't a single movie that came out in 2016 that's anything like it. A movie about confusion and identity and release. Handling it all with nurture and care, with sound ease. Its a movie that's not even two hours long, but feels like it delivers a lifetime of experience from the characters. A movie that is easy to get lost in. A movie that will force conversation about what certain character beats mean, what certain motivations mean and just question life itself.

"Moonlight" is the lifetime journey of Chirone, and his life is told in three chapters in the movie. Chirone will go by "Little" when he's a young boy growing up in the projects of Miami, he will also go by "Black" as a kid in high school. When Chirone goes by Little (Alex Hibbert), he is discovered in an abandoned apartment room by Juan (Mahershala Ali) who takes the kid under his wing. Juan is a drug dealer, but he doesn't groom Little to be a dealer, he simply takes care of the boy. Little's mother, Paula (Naomi Harris) is a crack-addict who sells herself for drugs, Little's father is clearly not in the picture. Little is a quiet boy, barely says two words at a time, and has not many friends. Juan teaches the boy to be himself, to grow up being whomever he wants. When Little gets to high school, his best friend Kevin (Jharrell Jerome) calls him "Black." Black (Ashton Sanders) is picked on by other kids, Juan is dead now, and there is no father-figure in Black's life. But Black has Kevin, and there comes a moment when everything changes for both of them, that one moment eventually tears a whole in their relationship, because it brutally confuses both boys. In the last chapter, Chirone (now Trevante Rhodes) by Chirone and he is now a drug dealer in Atlanta, he's been out of Miami for decade, and he eventually gets a call from Kevin (now Andre Holland), and he goes back to Miami to confront both his mother and Kevin about their past.

Now, I know what you're thinking, fatherless men growing up, inner city drugs and gang life, sexual orientation may think that "Moonlight" is a Social Justice Warrior's wet dream, a big laundry list of easy targets. What makes "Moonlight" so special is that its not simply a publicity stunt. There is a good, well-drawn story being told here and director Barry Jenkins tells it very well. There is a sense of mood and atmosphere here that is undeniable. Its amazing how he constructs an entire lifetime of story in a very small timeframe, you may think that not very much happens in this movie, and perhaps it looks like that from a surface value, but there is so much on display in every corner of this film that its sort of brilliant.

Its amazing that Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes all look like the same person, because there is a kind of crazy "Boyhood" conceit here that I found mesmerizing. Each actor does an incredible job of creating one man, who matures and changes as he gets older. It always feels like the same person, just affected by circumstance and I got to give each actor credit for adding something original depth-defying in each chapter of Chirone's life. I could say the exact same thing about the work done by Jharrell Jerome, Andre Holland and Jaden Piner, who all play Kevin at a certain point in his life. Mahershala Ali is not in this movie nearly long enough, and I believe 2016 was a big year for him, if you've seen him in the 140th TV show or movie in the future, just remember it all started last year for him, in a big way, even though he's been working for a long time. Naomi Harris does excellent work here as well. But a big discovery for me was Janelle Monae, who plays Juan's girlfriend Teresa. I only knew Janelle Monae from her vocal work on Fun.'s first album. She's a major discovery here, doing the very best acting work of the entire ensemble. She's got attitude, but she's beautiful, inside and out. It never feels like one actor really dominates the screen in this movie, sense time is constantly shifting, but these actors speak volumes in the limited time they are given.

I expect "Moonlight" will be nominated for best picture for the Oscars next month. Will any of the actors get nominated? Its hard to tell, but we will see, any one of these actors would deserve it. "Moonlight" is a brilliant little story, a movie that's small, but feels big. Asking big questions and displaying big emotions. A fantastic motion picture experience. Now, I have to go re-work my top ten of last year, great!


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