The Oscars: Watching Every Best Picture Nominee (Pt. 3)

Tuesday: Moonlight

Wow.

Presented in three acts, Moonlight’s narrative chronicles pivotal moments in the life of its main character, Chiron. It does so in such a poetic, meditative way that it left me breathless throughout most of the film. It’s a script that chooses to show rather than tell. Chiron is a boy — and later a man — of few words, yet his navigation through the world that surrounds him speaks volumes. His struggles with identity and sexuality are the core of the story, but are never explicitly talked about by Chiron until late in the final act. Instead we witness a number of experiences that go on to shape his life. While the effects are not immediately apparent to Chiron or the viewer, they reveal themselves over time. It’s a coming of age tale, but one that unfolds in a stunningly naturalistic way.

Three different actors play Chiron at different stages in his life. Each performance is phenomenal, capturing the essence of the character with nothing lost in translation. Director Barry Jenkins relies on lighting, space, and setting to convey meaning as much as, if not more than, dialogue. 

In the film’s first act, Chiron is taught how to swim in the ocean by a man who would become a father figure in his life. It’s a stunning scene reminiscent of a baptism. At the beach, this man tells Chiron a story about identity and self-discovery. In the second act, Chiron has an intimate experience with a friend named Kevin. It’s his first of that nature, and takes place on the same beach, next to the same ocean. In the final act, Chiron meets up with Kevin at a restaurant. They have not seen each other in more than a decade. The camera focuses on Chiron staring at the restaurant entrance during a moment of contemplation. He hears cars driving by on a rain soaked street, a recreation of the sound of waves crashing down on a beach.

This is a beautiful film in so many ways. I do not envy the academy voters.

Performances to watch: Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders, Alex R. Hibbert

Grade: A

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Wednesday: Hacksaw Ridge

Holy hell, this is one violent film. It may have the largest on-screen body count I’ve ever seen, and it holds nothing back in showing the gruesome demise of its fallen soldiers. This is a portrayal of the brutality of war at its finest. So naturally, the movie centers on a pacifist. Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) is the only soldier on the front lines of World War II without a rifle in hand. The first act explores the moral and religious philosophies that drive Doss. Practicing non-violence in a combat unit brings forth questions about the very meaning of war and the convictions of those who fight in them.

If the first act is philosophical and theoretical, then the second act puts those theories into practice. It’s filled with stunning sequences of violence, filmed with breathtaking realism. And while there are plenty of grenades, missiles, and flamethrowers to add to the spectacle, the film’s real message lies with Doss and his heroics. Amidst all of the carnage is an unarmed soldier who attempts to save the lives of those who previously condemned him for his beliefs. The film’s final hour is almost non-stop intensity, thanks to the direction of Mel Gibson and the performance of Garfield. This is one war film that is as thought-provoking as it is action-packed.

Performance to Watch: Andrew Garfield

Grade: B+

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Check back later this week as I discuss the remaining two nominees and share some final thoughts.

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