Saturday, November 5, 2016

'Moonlight' Gains Foothold by Being Out the Gate (Relatively) Early

The biggest Supermoon in 70 years may have astronomers flocking to their telecscopes this weekend, but a far more luminous object has cinephiles flocking to their arthouses as Moonlight continue its expansion in its 3rd week of release.
Barry Jenkins' soulful sophomore feature is every bit as exquisite as you've read, but I can understand its cautious release strategy; A triptych character study about a young gay black man struggling with his singular and fluid sense of self is, admittedly, a tough sell. But those willing to believe that crises of identity are universal to all people -- as Jenkins clearly does ("In the moonlight, all boys look blue...") -- will find themselves hard pressed not to be moved by the poignant and painful discoveries of Chiron's childhood, youth and adulthood.

A24 was wise to ensure this much-buzzed festival darling got distributed to the public sooner rather than later. The mid-to-late October window may not have turned out to be such a good bet for Searchlight's Birth of a Nation (half a year was obviously too long for that film to sit without the worm turning), but it was perfect timing for a small film that needs time to ferment in viewers' minds before they become overwhelmed by the November-to-January rush.
Moonlight is a film of lingering introspection rather than bold dramatic statements, which are sparingly included for maximum effect. Jenkins cuts elegantly between James Laxton's smooth objective camerawork and his more intimate handheld shots to accentuate formative moments of Chiron's character. Many scenes take on a quasi-dreamlike quality through Jenkins' manipulation of sound and focus.

This is to say nothing of the stunning performances. All three versions we see of Chiron (Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders & Trevante Rhodes) are beautifully interpreted, while special mention go to Naomie Harris as his drug/guilt-addled mother and Mahershala Ali as the closest thing to a father figure in his childhood. Nominations for those two seem likely at this stage.
So have we finally gotten to set eyes on the first Best Picture nominee of 2016? It's possible we may already have, actually, as some wise prophets have pointed out the appeal that titles like Florence Foster Jenkins and Sully might have to older voters, especially as once-presumed heavies like Birth of a Nation and Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk fall by the wayside. I think I'll wait for the guilds to verify those suspicions, but at least we can certainly count on Moonlight to represent the pre-November crop.

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