2016 Best Picture
Rating: 16/20 (Jen: 20/20)
Plot: A look at three stages of the life of Little/Chiron/Black as he grows up in a home with a drug-addicted, mostly absent mother; deals with bullies and developing romantic feelings; and starts a career.
It seems like the regular viewing public is a lot more mixed on this one than critics or the Oscar people, and I think that's probably because most Americans don't have any interest in bleakness, especially involving characters who are gay, black, or gay and black. This is a quietly-presented, fragmented, impressionistic glimpse at a kid who is the product of his environment, and it's very effective at painting a picture of this still-life that is constantly in motion, a kid you just want to reach into the screen to pick up and put somewhere else. Aurally and visually, director Barry Jenkins forces us to feel what's going on even if we're not entirely understanding everything that's going on. There aren't solutions to any of the problems displayed in Moonlight, only hints or shadows of solutions at best, but the movie is about perfect when it comes to attaching human faces to those problems. This is a movie, more than any I've seen in a while, that I felt like I watched more with my bones than with my heart or mind or eyes or whatever I normally watch a movie with.
A lot of the credit has to go to the three actors who played the protagonist. Young Alex Hibbert gives the best child performance I've seen in a long time in the "Little" chapter, Ashton Sanders matches that performance as the adolescent version in the "Chiron" chapter, and Trevante Rhodes brings some muscles to the character in the final "Black" chapter. Most remarkably, they manage to make it seem like the character is played by the same actor in a 13-year period, just like Linklater did with Boyhood. And even more remarkably, not only is that not the case at all but the performers didn't even meet each other or see any scenes where the other two were playing the character. Maybe I just made the connections myself, paying attention to physical quirks or speech patterns that weren't really there, but for me, the three performances just worked so well to create this one character at different stages of his young life.
I never even paid attention to that poster up there. That has all three actors on it. I'm sure a more perceptive blogger would have noticed that before right now.
The supporting cast is also really good, despite not being featured on the poster. Janelle Monae has physically been in only two movies (a voiced, I'm assuming, a colorful bird in Rio 2), but both of them were Best Picture nominees. She's good as a character named Teresa here. Mahershala Ali was just as good as Juan but got more recognition with the Oscar win. Ali was also in Hidden Figures, by the way. I was most impressed with Naomie Harris, the mother, in a role that kind of wore me out and seemed like the kind of thing that would be emotionally draining as an actress. She filmed all her parts in three days, and one of the reasons the performance is so good is because it seems like she filmed them over several years. All involved work to make this something that you don't see in a lot of modern movies--something honest or truthful.
This deals with life in parts of town that most white people wouldn't want to drive through and sexuality without being at all preachy. Jenkins does it so artistically, and he does it on a shoestring budget that never shows. There's an effortless experimental quality to the whole thing that doesn't feel experimental, and none of the camera tricks or weird sounds ever get in the way, instead just contributing to an experience. It's a beautiful movie about some ugly things. It is a little bleak, and some will be frustrated at the lack of resolution or answers.