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Mace and Crown | May 24, 2018

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Road to the Oscars (Monarch Movie Minute): ‘Moonlight,’ ‘La La Land’ and ‘Manchester by the Sea’

Road to the Oscars (Monarch Movie Minute): ‘Moonlight,’ ‘La La Land’ and ‘Manchester by the Sea’

Tyler Passarge
Staff Writer

Moonlight (2016) | R | 111 min | My rating: 5

Courtesy Plan B Entertainment

Courtesy Plan B Entertainment

The awards circuit that surrounds the film industry yearly is something that many critics shrug off as nothing but politics. While every year has its fair share of films trying for the Oscar, this year has had an impressive amount of movies that push narrative and visual boundaries. One film that has served as a true standout within the award buzz is director Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight.”

Told in three chapters, “Moonlight” follows the character of Chiron from childhood to adulthood as he struggles with finding his identity. Wrestling with constant bullying from other children and his drug-addicted mother, Chiron eventually finds a father figure in the drug dealing Juan (Mahershala Ali). Juan’s guidance and words of wisdom set Chiron on a long journey to find happiness in himself and his place in the world.

If the plot summary seems a little vague, just note that as a benefit to the viewer. Much of what makes “Moonlight” so great is that the subject matter is presented in such a beautiful and striking way. Everything from the hauntingly beautiful script to the brilliant and methodical performances made this one of the strongest films of the year.

Nominated for eight Academy Awards, “Moonlight” is certainly much more than a prestige film, and proves that movies can still be considered true art. With every scene, Barry Jenkins finds the beauty and compassion within a world of pain and confusion. Even if it doesn’t win for Best Picture, it still stands that “Moonlight” is a film of significance.

Filled with moments of artful filmmaking, “Moonlight” is a visual and detailed masterpiece that stands apart from the crowd.

This film is now playing in theaters.

La La Land (2016) | PG-13 | 128 min | My rating: 5

Courtesy Black Label Media

Courtesy Black Label Media

The story of “La La Land” centers on the budding relationship of Mia and Sebastian (Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling). Mia is a struggling actress who is slowly growing discouraged from failed auditions and the weight of reality. Inspiration for Mia comes in the form of Sebastian, a diehard Jazz enthusiast who dreams of opening his own jazz club. The two strike up a romance for the Hollywood ages, but soon find that there is a price for succeeding in what they love.

Hailed as a revival of the Hollywood musical, “La La Land” features a score that marries the preciseness of stage musicals and the spontaneous spirit of jazz. Songs like “Another Day of Sun” and “Someone in the Crowd” sport tunes that reinvigorate hopeful spirits. When the Oscars do roll around, “La La Land” will be there to stake its claim for the music categories.

It truly does take more than a song and dance to earn the praise that “La La Land” has achieved. Fresh from the critical success of his previous film “Whiplash,” director Damien Chazelle breathes life into “La La Land” with its dazzling imagery. The film has a look that enthralls the audience with its use of color and the camera techniques that support it.

Nominated for a record 14 Oscars, many critics have undermined its success as nothing more than Hollywood loving itself. This is a film that is more than its Hollywood routine. “La La Land” is a moving love letter to dreamers that strive for more. It’s a film that sparks the flame of anyone with a dream that seems impossible.

It’s a song and dance that appeals to everyone, but “La La Land” dares to go beyond its love for Hollywood and be something more inspiring.

This film is now playing in theaters.

Manchester by the Sea (2016) | R | 137 min | My rating: 4

Courtesy Amazon Studios

Courtesy Amazon Studios

Crippled by an emotional trauma, Lee (Casey Affleck) has condemned himself to a life of misery and seclusion. Lee’s way of life is interrupted with the news of his brother’s death, which leaves him with the task of watching over his teenage nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Things only grow more complicated for Lee when it’s stated in his brother’s will that Lee is to be the legal guardian of Patrick. Due to his emotional unavailability, this is a responsibility that Lee refuses.

Tackling the subject of grief, writer/director Kenneth Lonergan shows great and meticulous understanding of its subject. This is a somber movie that hits right at the center of the viewer’s heart with moments of pure emotional shock. However, Lonergan does something interesting with his story, he injects bits of humor throughout which subverts the expectations of his film going audience.

One thing that might draw people away from “Manchester by the Sea” is its confident choice of keeping things unresolved. Important matters in the film bubble to the surface, but only for the audience to develop motivation understandings. The comedy and minimalism give the film a more realistic and immersive experience that creates an accurate portrayal of someone grieving.

Nominated for six awards, the main category that “Manchester by the Sea” has locked down is for best lead actor. Casey Affleck gives a heartbreaking performance that burrows into the viewer’s skin as the film progresses. Affleck’s choice to keep his character quiet and guarded creates a portrait that makes the film a must-see.

It’s somber and realistic nature might be a hard pill to swallow, but “Manchester by the Sea” is a masterful study in grief.

This film is now playing in theaters.

Rating System:

🎬 — Should’ve Been Snubbed
🎬🎬 — All Politics
🎬🎬🎬 — Just Happy to be Nominated
🎬🎬🎬🎬 — The Contender
🎬🎬🎬🎬🎬 — Taking Home the Gold