thoughts//THE CASE FOR 'MOONLIGHT'

AWARDS COVERAGE




The awards season has been nice to Barry Jenkins' enriching and emotional Moonlight, the story of self-discovery as told through the life of a young black man, from childhood to adulthood, navigating the waters of disparage, identity, and acceptance.

The early throws of awards season saw the film pick up quite a few Best Film accolades, especially from critics group nationwide. Deservedly so, the film's beautiful cinematography is only beat by the inspired performances of the entire cast, which includes Mahershala Ali, Naomi Harris, Janelle Monae, and Andre Holland.

Director Jenkins, who also wrote the screenplay, gives such care to each aspect of the young man's discovery. The circumstances around him, including a drug-riddled mother and the slums of Miami, only add to the internal struggle our main character wrestles with as he learns how to accept the multi-faceted depths of who he really is.

The film is nominated for 8 Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Let's dissect its chances at winning each award.

Tune in to the 89th Academy Awards on Sunday, February 26, 2017, to see how well it does!

BEST PICTURE

Should It Win:
Going in to awards season, Moonlight was a critically-touted darling already tasked with a few hurdles, most blatantly its box office chances. Not only was it a film from a seemingly unknown director, it featured a majority black cast, and was about a subject that isn't necessarily blockbuster fodder. It opened in limited release, earning decent per-screen averages, but never quite hooked with broader audiences.

When this would normally severely injure a film's chances (see Birth of a Nation), Moonlight persevered, staying in the forefront of the conversation, mostly thanks to prominent critics' praise.

While it may not be as big or flashy as its top competitor, La La Land, Moolight is the type of groundbreaking film that deserves as much, if not more, attention it's getting. It's beautifully filmed, features some of the year's best performances, and contains a story that is not only important, but imperative to our times. But, in terms of filmmaking and Oscar worthiness, does Moonlight contain the elements to truly say it is deserving? In short, yes.

Will It Win:
Of all of the other nominees, Moonlight has the best chance of an upset win, serving as the clear underdog to La La Land. With the current political climate in which we find ourselves, it wouldn't be a shock to see it end Oscars Sunday with a win.

But, as has been the conversation all season long, this award is La La Land's to lose...which it probably will not.

BEST DIRECTOR

Should Barry Jenkins Win:
Jenkins is basically the only "newcomer" in the bunch, which gives him less clout on which to depend. But, his film is up for 8 awards. The magic in Moonlight isn't just in the characters or the eye-opening story, but in Jenkins' molding of the three separate, but equal, chapters that make up Chiron's life.

There is something that feels both intrinsic and groundbreaking in the way Jenkins presents this tale. Plus, the fact that it's such a powerful film for being so "small," gives Jenkins even more of a boost.

Will Barry Jenkins Win:
It depends. While Damien Chazelle and his musical are expected to clean up on Oscar Sunday, Jenkins could win here, giving a sort-of nod to Moonlight's masterpiece status. It'd be almost as if the Academy were splitting the vote between the two, giving La La Land the big award, but wanted Moonlight to still feel the love.

Those sentiments, however, will be hard to meet. This, like La La Land, is Chazelle's prize to lose.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Should Mahershala Ali Win:
If Moonlight has been an awards season darling, Mahershala Ali has been riding the wave with it. Featured in the first chapter of Chiron's story, Ali's performance is gripping. His tough guy-turned-mentor gives Chiron his first glimpse at what acceptance looks like. But, upon finding out Ali's Juan is invested in the same world as Chiron's mother, Chiron also experiences, perhaps, his biggest disappointment in his young life.

Ali plays Juan so quiet, it's super affecting. And, while it is a highlight in the film's list of great performances, it doesn't quite linger long enough to stand out as the one supporting performance worthy of praise. Plus, among the other nominees, Manchester by the Sea's Lucas Hedges gives that overwhelming and natural supporting performance for which these awards are created.

Will Mahershala Ali Win:
Yes. His only true competition is Jeff Bridges for Hell or High Water. But, like most categories, La La Land is going to finish the night with a big haul. Moonlight should sneak in a win where it can, which gives Ali even more of a chance, as there are no La La Land nominees here. This will probably, in fact, be one of Moonlight's for-sure wins among its limited chances.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Should Naomie Harris Win:
Where Ali's performance is fantastic, but limited, Harris's enraging performance as Chiron's awful mother carries throughout all three chapters. In fact, it's that relationship between mother and son that leads to much of Chiron's personal grief.

It's a role that is so vital to each and every fiber of the film and Harris delivers it with such power and passion. It's easy to hate her actions, but revel in her intensity. The scene where the adult Chiron meets with her is heart-wrenching, mostly due to Harris's commitment. It's unmistakably one of the year's best.

Will Naomie Harris Win:
Nope. This is all Viola Davis's prize. Even before anyone had seen a single frame of Fences, the prize had already been declared her's.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Should Moonlight Win:
Some may consider this category fraud, for the sake of giving Moonlight a chance in a separate category than La La Land, it makes sense to find it here, as the screenplay is based on an un-produced play by Tarell Alvin McCraney, who earns co-writing and co-nominating status with Jenkins.

In that regard, it is totally worthy of winning. It's more captivating than Fences, which has deceased playwrighting legend August Wilson behind it. It's more involved than the inspiring Hidden Figures. But, Arrival's poignant and clever delivery stands out. The entire picture is about language and relationship, disguised as a science fiction drama.

Arrival should get the prize here.

Will Moonlight Win:
Not that it isn't deserving, but it will definitely win for the sake of not having to compete with La La Land. That reasoning is a shame, but it's where the race stands.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Should Moonlight Win:
One of the film's strongest components is the beautiful lighting, colors, and choices found in the rich cinematography. The stark blues and harsh pinks and purples make the slums of Miami look like a hidden paradise.

In fact, in a year with incredible films, the visuals found in Moonlight are easily some of the stand out images. It's up against some fantastic nominees, with La La Land's genius choices, Arrival's sweeping epic shots, and Silence's very Oscar-friendly frames fighting for the win here. But, Moonlight's visuals are the ones that sell the story. From the close up of hands on the beach, to a mother screaming in the shadow of neon pink light, you can't argue here.

Will It Win:
It'll be close here, but La La Land should prevail. The shot of Emma Stone and her friends dancing down and L.A. street or the entire opening number offer some of the decade's best visual treats. Plus, it's La La Land.

BEST FILM EDITING

Should It Win:
Piecing together a story that is, essentially, three separate pieces, isn't as easy as it sounds. It has to have some follow through, which Moonlight's editors cleverly pull off.

It's a complete package of transitions that feel subtle, which is the point.

Plus, editor Joi McMillon has already made history as the first black female editor to ever receive a nomination. A much-deserved win would be even more exciting.

Will It Win:
La La Land's tight editing, especially in regard to its massive size and scope, will deservedly edge out Moonlight here.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

Should It Win:
Every element of Moonlight seems to stick with you well after the credits roll...except for the score. While it serves the film well, there isn't necessarily much about it that separates it as one of the year's best.

Fellow nominee Jackie's bombastic score almost acted as another character, carrying pieces of the film on its own. La La Land's score is, equally, a very vital piece to that film's structure.

Moonlight's is rides below the surface too much.

Will It Win:
Um, no. It's up against La La Land here, again.

SUMMARY
Depending how our current political culture shapes things once voting begins, Moonlight should easily bring home 2 wins, with Director and Picture as possibilities.

La La Land is definitely a beast this season. Earning a record-tying number of nominations means the film is loved across the board. But, will that love lead some voters to spread the wealth? If so, Jenkins' drama will reap those benefits.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below!

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