As the Gold Dust Settles, Moonlight is Stellar

5 Mar

So, this year’s Oscars included a hiccup or two, a couple of easy calls, and a few surprises. You know what surprised me the most? Not that Moonlight won Best Picture necessarily, but that its director (and Oscar winning co-screenwriter) Barry Jenkins DID NOT win in his category. As it goes, Damien Chazzell, at all of 32 years old, scores as the youngest ever Best Director winner for his original musical romance, La La Land. Well, good for him. I guess.

Barry Jenkins (l) and Tarell Alvin McCRaney (r) accept their Oscars for co-writing Moonlight, which Jenkins also directed. Their victory serves as hope to young people of color, and young people who do not necessarily conform to the gender binary, that their stories are not to be ignored any longer.

Barry Jenkins (l) and Tarell Alvin McCraney (r) accept their Oscars for co-writing Moonlight, which Jenkins also directed. Their victory serves as a message of hope to young people of color, and young people who do not necessarily conform to the gender binary, that their stories are not to be ignored any longer. Hopefully we’ll one day arrive at a point in which films such as Moonlight are no longer unique exceptions to the norm…but we’re not there yet; after all, no black person has won Best Director…yet, and we still only have one female Best Director winner–and no female nominees since Kathryn Bigelow won for 2009’s The Hurt Locker, only the fourth female so nominated.

As I wrote last week, Chazzell clearly had a vision and the fortitude to make that vision a reality; however, my previous thought was that the Academy would have likely surprised us all by honoring La La Land, the safe and easy crowd pleaser, with the top award while singling out Jenkins for his work in the less overtly commercial, and arguably more challenging, endeavor. After all, Jenkins was, reportedly, working with one of the lowest budgets ever recorded for a Best Picture winner, and he had the daunting task of directing three actors, two of whom are juveniles, portraying a single character at pivotal moments in his life. How is that possible? Not magic, that’s for sure, but beyond that Jenkins also, as previously noted, directed yet another trio of actors playing a secondary character who steps in and out of lead Chiron’s life over the course of the movie’s dozen-plus years; moreover, what about this? Moonlight’s Best Supporting Actress nominee Naomi Harris, as Chiron’s mother, shot all her scenes on a tight three-day schedule. Again, a remarkable feat considering her character’s huge arc , including the aging process AND the fact that the native Brit learned an American accent.

I think that’s pretty stellar, definitely worthy of Best Director AND Best Picture accolades.  That Moonlight even got made, let alone made well, while also landing distribution, registers as nothing less than a miracle.

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Now out on DVD and Blu-Ray, Best Picture winner Moonlight.

Moonlight‘s Best Picture Oscar signals a number of Academy milestones.

  • For example, this is the first LGBTQ entry on the Academy’s Best Picture roster–11 years AFTER the allegedly groundbreaking Brokeback Mountain. And good for Moonlight for its role in cinematic history!
  • Furthermore, Moonlight is the first Best Picture winner directed by an African-American. And good for Barry Jenkins! Also, what about Jenkins’ award winning screenplay collaborator, Tarell Alvin  McCraney? Good for Tarell too!

Wait a second. You’re probably thinking, “Hey, wait a second, what about 12 Years a Slave? Didn’t that win in 2013?” Well, yes, but even though 12 Years was indeed directed by a black man, Steve McQueen, he hails from England. Not the same thing. But good for him, anyway. Even so, McQueen lost that year to Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity).

  • the-men-of-moonlight

    The leading men of Moonlight (l-r): Former Texas resident Trevante Rhodes, Alex R. Hibbert, and Ashton Sanders.

    Moreover, Moonlight is not only the first Best Picture winner to be directed by an African-American, it is also the first Best Picture winner to star a an all-black cast unlike, say, 12 Years a Slave or even Best Picture nominee Hidden Figures, which, yes, spotlights high profile black actresses (Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae) as groundbreaking real-life NASA “computers” but still features the likes of white cast members Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons, and Kirsten Dunst in secondary roles.  Not so, Moonlight. And good for Moonlight and its wow of a cast for breaking the Academy’s color barrier!

  • Best Supporting Actor Mahershala Ali is also the first Muslim actor to win an Academy award. And good for him!
In his acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actor, Moonlight's Mahershala Ali revealed that he and his wife welcomed a daughter into their family only four days earlier. Congratulations!

In his acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actor, Moonlight’s Mahershala Ali revealed that he and his wife welcomed a daughter into their family only four days earlier. Congratulations!

I’m as happy as I’ve ever been following an Oscar ceremony. And good for me. Of course, this year’s landmark victories do not necessarily mean that the Academy or the Hollywood moviemaking machine is suddenly colorblind, meaning parity and/or equal opportunities for one and all; after all, 15 years after Halle Berry made history as the first ever African-American to earn the Academy’s Best Actress statuette (for Monster’s Ball), her triumph seems…isolated, for lack of a better term. In other words, not only has Berry struggled to find another role of equal award worthy caliber, the number of African-American Best Actress nominees in her wake is paltry, a walloping three, to be precise (Gabourey Sidibe, Precious, 2009; Viola Davis, The Help, 2011, and Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild, 2012). Of course, this year also saw the nomination of Ruth Nega, born in Ethopia and raised in Ireland, as African-American Mildred in Loving, based on the historic Supreme Court case that paved the way for interracial marriage in the United States…but I digress…

And, of course, blacks are not the only people of color who still fight for better representation in white-dominated mainstream media; moreover, even though the first decade of the 21st century saw a trio of African American Best Actor winners, beginning with Denzel Washington (Training Day, 2001), followed by Jamie Foxx (Ray, 2004), and Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland, 2006), well, those victories are starting to look…somewhat distant; after all, Whitaker’s victory was 10 years ago. And he was so very good in 2013’s The Butler (rather, Lee Daniels’ The Butler), for which he earned a SAG nod, but nada from the Academy.

Of course, speaking of Denzel Washington, many of us thought he was bound for his second Best Actor Oscar for Best Picture nominee Fences, which he also directed. My thought was that Washington’s work both in front of and behind the camera warranted the Academy’s full consideration as the more significant achievement among his fellow nominees; however, I guess I under-estimated the difficulty of convincing the Academy that third Oscars are a good thing; after all, Washington already has,  as noted, a Best Actor Oscar, but he also won Best Supporting Actor for his supporting turn in 1989’s Glory.  Maybe the Academy doesn’t want to appear too hasty? Look how long it took Meryl Streep to finally earn a third Oscar after winning two in something akin to rapid succession early in her career–and snatching up more than a dozen nominations in the decades long interim (that is, between Sophie’s Choice in 1982 and The Iron Lady in 2011). Furthermore, look how Tom Hanks, a back-to-back Best Actor winner for Philadelphia (1993) and Forrest Gump (1994), has had difficulty scoring a nomination in recent years in spite of Academy-friendly fare such as Captain Phillips, Bridge of Spies (both Best Picture nominees) and 2016’s Sully, for which he seemed an early shoo-in, at least for a nomination. Third Oscars are a rarity unless one is Daniel Day-Lewis who won his second and third statuettes in something like five years (and I’m not complaining), but I digress*. So, no third Oscar for Washington, but I think he still has additional nominations, additional chances, in his future.

So, even without the hurdle of a third Oscar for Washington, I’m still surprised that the Academy rallied in favor of Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea),  considering well-documented allegations of sexual assault leveled against the actor. Obviously, members of the Academy were moved by his performance in the widely hailed if downbeat offering. Indeed, writer-director Kenneth Lonergan netted his own statuette for his screenplay. Even so, I half-expected either Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic) or Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge) to emerge victorious in the absence of a Washington triumph. Meanwhile, I’m sure nobody missed the frosty reception last year’s Best Actress winner Brie Larson accorded Affleck as he accepted his award. I would say good for her for sticking to her principles in light of Affleck’s rap, but maybe he knows something the rest of us do not. Larson, if you’ll recall, played a survivor of such assault in her award winner, 2015’s Room.

After the hullabaloo over Moonlight, my next favorite win has to be the Best Animated Feature Film award for Zootopia. Even after basking in the greatness of both Moonlight and Hidden Figures, and a few others, including La La Land, Zootopia still rates very high on my non-existent list of favorite movies from 2016. I don’t actually, physically, make a list, but I know what I like, and I keep a running list in my head. Even so, I would have loved for Zootopia‘s “Try Everything,” performed on the soundtrack by Shakira, to have been recognized as a Best Song nominee. No matter. Best Animated Feature is the biggie. I actually enjoyed “City of Stars,” the Best Song winner from La La Land though I’m a bit surprised that the Academy didn’t take the bait and cap Lin-Manuel Miranda’s historic year (winning the Pulitzer and multiple Tonys, among others, for Broadway blockbuster Hamilton) for his contribution to the Moana score. When the gold dust settled, btw, La La Land claimed victories, including Best Cinematography and Best Production Design, and Best Original Score, among its record-tying 14 nominations. And Good for La La Land.

Also, what an amazing evening for sound mixer Kevin O’Connell!  After earning 21 nominations over more than three decades, he finally won an Oscar–for Best Picture nominee Hacksaw Ridge;  to clarify, he was one of four recipients on the winning team, but, clearly, his hard earned victory captured viewers’ imagination. His first nod, btw, was for 1983’s Best Picture winner Terms of Endearment, and his other nominated efforts include Top Gun (1986), Twister (1996, starring the late Texas native Bill Paxton, who died last weekend shortly before the Oscar telecast), and the first Spiderman reboot.

Per the Wikipedia, btw, O’Connell’s mother worked in the sound department of 20th Century Fox once upon a time and helped him secure a job as a projectionist when he was a mere 18 years old. He holds an Emmy for his work on Lonesome Dove.

No doubt, Best Supporting Actress winner Viola Davis (Fences) gave the acceptance speech of the evening. Davis endears herself to audiences because she is seemingly incapable of being anything less than her genuine authentic self. Her performance in Fences is also no less than a master class in acting, in storytelling. She is an inspiration to anyone who has had to fight, to work hard, to make a name for herself, coming from a background steeped in poverty and oppression. Now, she has steered the heights to glorious success. And good for her.  She is also now the first African-American actress to win an Oscar,  an Emmy, and a Tony in performance categories. Make that two Tony awards. One for the revival of Fences and another for Best Featured Actress in King Hedley, written by the late August Wilson who also penned Fences. That’s huge. Good for Viola. (To clarify, Whoopi Goldberg has also won an Oscar, an Emmy, and Tony, but she won her Tony not for performance but as one of the producers of  Best Musical winner, Throughly Modern Millie–and Good for Whoopi!)

In addition to her Oscar, Emmy, and two Tonys, Viola Davis has earned an incredible 5 Screen Actors Guild awards. And good for her!

In addition to her Oscar, Emmy, and two Tonys, Viola Davis has earned an incredible 5 Screen Actors Guild awards. And good for her!

Yes, Davis’s Oscar victory is the stuff that dreams and legends are made of, but I still think, Halle Berry’s Best Actress award would be less lonely at the top, today, if Davis and the powers that be had pushed harder to have the actress’ performance recognized in the Best Actress rather than Best Supporting Actress category. Maybe I shouldn’t be so puzzled, all things considered, and maybe I should just let it go….and maybe Emma Stone should have REALLY THANKED Davis in her Best Actress acceptance speech because I think Davis had as much to do with Stone’s victory as anyone involved in the making of La La Land, and I DON’T mean because Stone and Davis once shared the screen in The Help. Think about it.

Thanks for your consideration…

The fashion gallery will follow shortly. Thanks for your patience.

Enough said.

Enough said.

*Besides Meryl Streep and Daniel Day Lewis, the only other three-time performance winners are Walter Brennan, Ingrid Bergman, Jack Nicholson, and Katherine Hepburn, the latter of whom actually won four times. Brennan snared a trio of Best Supporting Actor awards in a five year period in the late 1930s and early 1940s, including, to clarify, the very first Best Supporting Actor award (for 1936’s Come and Get It, starring Edward Arnold and Frances Farmer). Incredibly, Brennan’s record is 3-1, losing only in his fourth bid for 1941’s Sergeant York.  Next, Bergman’s first Oscar was for 1944’s costume melodrama Gaslight. After a tumultuous period in which her love life became scandalous news, she made a comeback with 1956’s Anastasia, and the Academy responded in kind. Her third Oscar, almost 20 years later, was for a supporting turn in the deluxe adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. Jack Nicholson’s second Oscar, for Best Supporting Actor (Terms of Endearment, 1983) came 8 years after winning Best Actor for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. His Best Actor trophy (As Good as It Gets) followed in 1997. Finally, Hepburn’s second and third Best Actress Oscars arrived back to back in light of such triumphs as Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967) and The Lion in Winter (1968) though, technically she tied for the latter with the one and only Barbra Streisand in her film debut, Funny Girl. Just over a dozen years later, Hepburn reigned once again for 1981’s On Golden Pond, opposite Best Actor winner Henry Fonda. Whew!

 

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2 Responses to “As the Gold Dust Settles, Moonlight is Stellar”

  1. listen2uraunt 05 March 2017 at 12:40 pm #

    Always a pleasure!

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