It has been a long year; one in which the arbitrary divisions between people have been exploited, growing stronger, manipulated by the powerful few. At this moment in a movie, there would be some superhero to save the day, some miraculous event that saves us all, some kind of ‘deus ex machina’. Unfortunately this is the real world. However, we can find solitude, solidarity and unification through film. It is convenient then that we are entering awards season, an awards season that has bestowed upon us not one, but two, of these unifying films – films which speak the language of humanity, and act as beacons around which we find warmth and community.
Like many awards season races, it comes down to two movies. This year it is between Moonlight and La La Land; both being equally qualified (although in entirely different ways) for the top award, ‘Best Picture’ at the Oscars. But the reason they are “beacons”? They both explore and bring forward various themes that are currently at play in modern America.
Moonlight is a coming-of-age story set apart by its oft forgotten subject matter, as well as its deft use of realism. In the film, we see 3 separate chapters in the life of a black man growing up in rough neighbourhoods of Miami. He struggles through many things, one being his battle to accept his own sexuality as a gay man. It is part romance, part coming-of-age story, part many things, but if you had to pin Moonlight down into a single genre, it would be social-realism.
The film explores masculinity, in particular black masculinity, as well as the gay sub-culture in the inner cities of America. The way this film lays bear a reality we often forget (or ignore) is vitally important, especially in a year when #blacklivesmatter and “Oscars so white”. The film challenges our empathy and has a clear purpose: both the fair and just exposure of a forgotten demographic, and the challenge to our prejudice, and to our humanity – just the kind of film we desperately need right now.
One of my favourite comments I’ve read said, “Moonlight is a meditation. It isn’t a sermon. It doesn’t preach. It breathes. And invites the viewer to breathe with it” – and I think that perfectly summarises it.
Trailer for Moonlight:
On the other end of the spectrum is La La Land, a musical – probably the best musical since Chicago even. With its vibrant colours, and its glorious marriage of pastiche and innovation, the film tells the story of an aspiring actress and a jazz pianist, as they chase the Hollywood dream, and fall in love doing so. In many ways this film is about the age-old struggle to achieve “The American Dream”, but I believe it also has a dimension to it which accounts for the increasing tendency we all have to compare ourselves to others. This is amplified in the LA, Hollywood setting, where you’re surrounded by people who have perfect lives, “stars”, whilst you work tirelessly to make it in the industry. In the end La La Land is about overcoming this struggle, amongst over things; it is incredible filmmaking, and the kind of ballsy direction that doesn’t normally come out of Hollywood. As opposite to the meditation of Moonlight, La La Land is a sermon, it is wonderfully joyous and rousing, it is uplifting and has direction – just the kind of film we desperately need right now.
La La Land Trailer:
Who will win this race? I cannot say. Although like many years, and many awards seasons, it is 1 very good piece of entertainment vs. 1 very good piece of social commentary. The last few years in particular have had a similar trend:
1 showy big budget, collaborative piece vs. 1 smaller budget film, more understated, and with a more prominent social meaning.
The Revenant vs. Spotlight
Birdman vs. Boyhood
Gravity vs. 12 Years a Slave
It really just depends on which way the Oscar voters swing this year – though I personally hope Moonlight gets it.