La La Land is a wonderfully charming film. So much so that if it were a person you would end up being married to it and living in a picturesque Canadian suburb before your head stopped spinning and your feet touched the ground again. Nevertheless, if it beats Moonlight to the major gongs at the upcoming Academy Awards it will be daylight robbery.
The latest offering from director Barry Jenkins, is not simply the finest offering during the 2016/17 awards season, it may already be the finest film of the year and the decade.
What Jenkin’s delivers isn’t so much a motion picture as a full, sensory experience. One in which you are transported out of your seat in a screening room and become an ethereal observer into the world of our central character, Chiron. A character we meet at three stages of his life (Played by Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes respectively).
Going in you expect a fairly simple linear film of a boy growing into manhood in the tough streets of Liberty City in Miami, with a drug addicted mother and uncertain sexuality. One that is gritty and earthy as is so often done with the male, Black American experience. Jenkins instead gives us something that is seemingly from another world. One with gorgeous colour hues, non-linear flows of time and emotional tenderness.
Moonlight is a magnificent film. I understood the characters and empathised with their experiences immediately, despite it being entirely alien to my own. The use of an extremely vivid and contrasting colour palette by Jenkins and cinematographer James Laxton along with Nicholas Britell’s absorbing and fluid soundtrack draws you in and the performances and deft handling of touching subject matter packs the necessary punch to leave you emotionally tapped.
The performances right throughout the film are stellar. Mahershala Ali – as surrogate father figure to Chiron, Juan – and Naomie Harris as Chiron’s mother Paula, well earn their Oscar nods in the support categories. Andrew Holland as the adult incarnation of Chiron’s best friend and love-interest, Kevin, produces a stunning late supporting performance in the film too.
However, I question whether a joint nomination can be allowed for best actor? The three actors who portray Chiron are all superb, and genuinely believable as the same person, changing but remaining fixed like the water so often used as a metaphor in this film. What is so surprising is that the three performers never met each other until after filming had already ceased. Such a feat is far more worthy of a nod than a lovely but blatant Hollywood brown-nosing exercise.
Such strong performances throughout suggest not just great casting but excellent direction and writing, both done by Jenkins. The film is light on dialogue and thus much of the story and emotion is purveyed via the pauses, mannerisms and scenery, particularly water, the strongest re-occurring motif in the film. It also means when characters do speak it is meaningful and heart-wrenching.
Moonlight has been perceived by some critics to be too personal to be considered great. This is a nonsensical argument. You may as well argue Newton’s realisation on the basic workings of gravity weren’t that great because he was lounging around on his own at the time. Moreover because of the film’s stunning look and uses of non-linear time frames, it feels simultaneously epic and personal.
This is the kind of story we need to see more of in cinema and don’t see enough of. It is a monumentally striking achievement of cinema. Close the books on film of the year today, Moonlight has already walked away with the prize.