(Check out the list so far)
The Movie: Moonlight (2016)
One Sentence Plot Summary: Chiron struggles with an addict mom and his own masculinity at three distinct points in his life.
Why It’s on the List: This is not Barry Jenkins’s first film, but this certainly was his coming out party as this shocked the world when it won best picture. It certainly shocked Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. The shame of this being a best picture winner is it will always be thought of within the context of what happened at the 2017 Academy Awards. It’s easy to see Moonlight in terms of one awards show, but it really is something so special.
We don’t often get to see stories like this told through the sheen of art house production. It’s hard to process everything this film tries to put forth because the themes are dense and complicated. Chiron goes through a lot in this movie, and it’s implied he goes through even more off screen, especially between the jump from him going to a teenager into being an adult. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough movies about men dealing with their own masculinity and how that affects their behavior. This isn’t just a movie that grapples with these issues but puts them in the context of the Black American experience, something even more rare.
Chiron gets bullied throughout the first segments as a child and teenager. He’s referred to by terrible, horrible names. It’s not just that he gets called epithets but is even specifically asked about “changing his tampon.” By the time he’s an adult, he is clearly overcompensating for his mistreatment and has fallen into the patterns as his mentor Juan once did. This a well written, gorgeously directed, and sensitively performed movie. Jenkins really taps into untold parts of the Black experience. Maybe these are aspects we should be aware of, but Jenkins does a tremendous job of highlighting these themes and forcing us to see a different perspective on the typical narratives of Black people in America. Ultimately, Moonlight feels incredibly personal and focused on Chiron and Kevin to an extent. The movie does not offer bigger answers, and that’s okay.
To think we have three dynamic Black voices in Ryan Coogler, Jordan Peele, and Barry Jenkins is special. Coogler has probably experienced the clearest financial success while Peele has carved out a portion of the horror genre for himself. It’s still special that Jenkins was the first to have one of his movies win best picture (and also get his own award for Best Adapted Screenplay*)
*Someday, the academy will need to self-interrogate why Spike Lee, Jordan Peele, and Barry Jenkins can win for their screenplays but not for actually directing.
*Nothing to report.
MVP: Barry Jenkins does a tremendous job using colors and does some incredible POV shots. I’m as happy as anyone he won an Oscar for this movie, but I think his direction is easily the strongest aspect with all the great close-ups and really allowing us to see the perspective of his characters throughout the film.Jenkins gives this kind of story a much needed coat of paint and focuses on the ramifications and pain of the choices made by Chiron.
Best Performance: Look, no one likes to go against the grain more than me, but I can’t pick against the only actor win an Academy Award for his performance as Chiron’s mentor Juan. Mahershala Ali does fantastic work in about 20 minutes of actual screen time in the first part of Moonlight.The actors who played Chiron have not experienced as much stardom as the actors who’ve played Kevin. Ali went from someone who was a very solid supporting player on shows like House of Cards to becoming a movie star. He won a second Oscar for a movie we should never speak of again but continues to be one of the most magnetic actors of this generation.
Best Quote: “I wasn’t never worth shit. Never did anything I actually wanted to do, was all I could do to do what other folks thought I should do. I wasn’t never myself.” -Kevin
Is there a sequel? No.