I am starting this all of with some reviews of the Oscar nominated movies from 2016, most of which I saw early this year. By now, I assume everyone is aware of the drama that occurred at the end of this year’s Academy Awards, where the Moonlight team literally stole the award out from under La La Land. As a lover of drama and plot twists, this was basically the highlight of my 2017 already. But anyway, moving onto the actual movie.
When people ask me, “What was your favorite movie of the year?” I don’t say Moonlight. I won’t be popping this DVD in for multiple viewings. But as for the flat out best film of the year, it takes the cake. This is a dark, gritty story that felt like it wasn’t being told because anyone decided to tell it, but more like fate had been leading Barry Jenkins and company towards this their whole lives. The obvious comparison in recent history would be Boyhood, and it feels that grand in scope, but more relevant to the cultural climate. If you had told me that they filmed all of the iterations of the main character, Chiron, over a twenty year span with the same actor, I would have believed you.
The story carries such weight, reviewing it is intimidating, because nothing I can say will do the gravity of the plot justice. Naomi Harris excels as the brash mother to bullied Chiron, evoking disdain in every scene we see her in the first two thirds of the movie, then delivering one of the most emotional scenes of the movie in the third act. And how they managed to make the stunning beautiful Harris look so strung out, I will never know.
However, if there is one thing I will remember from Moonlight down the line, it will be Mahershala Ali. I loved Dev Patel in Lion, and in many ways that was a more athletic performance, but I would have turned off the Academy Awards after the first card had Ali not won. He was believable, compassionate, conflicted, and complex. In another universe, this character was the star of a reverse Breaking Bad, where he goes from dealing to mentoring youth. The scene at the dinner table could have been his only scene in the movie, and he would have earned that Oscar. That is all.