A few days ago I did an official review for “La La Land” since it’s the favorite to win the Oscar for Best Picture, along with a plethora of other awards, today. I think there are many positives to say about “La La Land,” but it won’t go down as one of my all time favorites from last year. I understand why it is getting the Oscar attention, but I think there were a handful of other better films this past year. Most namely, the Barry Jenkins emotional drama “Moonlight.”
If “Moonlight” slipped under your radar last year then shame on you because it is by far the best film that was released in 2016. It revolves around the life of a young African-American man in Miami growing up surrounded by poverty, violence, and drug addiction. Add on top that he has to deal with being homosexual in this environment and you have a truly gripping character-study drama about a topic that hasn’t been addressed in detail before. Over the course of three decades, and three different actors, we see Chiron (or “Little”/“Black” as he is referred to throughout the film) deal with drug addition, the destruction of his family, and coming to terms with his sexuality.
This film resonates on an emotional level that “La La Land” could never achieve, or any other film this year quite frankly except for maybe “Manchester by the Sea.” Unlike “La La Land,” “Moonlight” is subtle, slow moving, and meticulous in all the right ways. The attention to detail in this film shouldn’t go unappreciated. It’s this attention to detail and care with crafting Chiron as a character that allows the emotional resonance last weeks after seeing the movie.
“Moonliight” isn’t emotionally impactful in the way that “Room” was last year. “Room” was immediate in it’s emotional power as you felt it while watching the events unfold. “Moonlight” on the other hand, continues to grow and grow with you after the movie has finished, which is a much harder task to accomplish.
The film is beautifully shot, with wonderful storytelling and some fantastic actors across the board. Mahershala Ali should win an Oscar for his supporting role and Naomi Harris did a painfully good job at portraying Chiron’s drug addicted mother. Sadly, there’s no way she can compete with Viola Davis in “Fences.”
In my article about “La La Land” I talked about how it did a good job of restoring the old magic of Hollywood to modern cinema, but “Moonlight” creates a new sense of magic. The magic that, not dissimilar from “Fruitvale Station,” creates a world unknown to most audiences and carefully crafts characters that audiences can’t help but care for. Even after Chiron becomes a drug dealer, you still want the best for him and have an unconditional desire for him to find true happiness within himself, which is more than we can say for our own self-valuations sometimes.
“Moonlight” isn’t preachy, it isn’t overly self-confident, and it isn’t focused on being showy (all pitfalls that “La La Land” succumbs to in one way or another) yet still manages to be a near masterpiece. I will adore this film for years to come and even though it probably won’t win “Best Picture,” it is undoubtedly the best film from last year.
Moonlight (2016): 4/4 stars