“Moonlight” could be A24’s big Oscar horse this year

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It’s always a real pleasure to be blown away by a movie. You always hope something is going to be good, but sometimes you’re not prepared for just how good it will be. That was the case last month when I saw Moonlight, the latest film from Barry Jenkins. A24 knew they had something special when they picked this one up, and it doesn’t disappoint. This week, after a very successful film festival run, it begins its theatrical run, with a healthy performance on the precursor circuit not far behind. At the moment, this is on my top ten list for 2016 to date, and that should tell you something.

The film is a character study of the highest order. We follow a young black man named Chiron as he grows up in a tough Miami neighborhood. As a boy (Alex R. Hibbert), he knows he’s different, with his classmates picking on him. Chiron hasn’t quite figured out that he’s gay yet, but the kids have, and so has both his mother Paula (Naomie Harris) and a local drug dealer named Juan (Mahershala Ali). Lacking a father figure, Juan guides Chiron at this point in his life, though he’s out of the picture by the time he’s a teenager (Ashton Sanders). That’s where he begins to form a bond with Kevin (Jharrel Jerome), one that will continue into adulthood (where Chiron is now played by Trevante Rhodes and Kevin is played by André Holland). It’s just so tender, though I’m being vague on purpose. Jenkins co-writes with Tarell McCraney and directs. Other cast members include Janelle Monáe, Jaden Piner, and more. James Laxton handles the cinematography here, while Nicholas Britell contributes the score.

For me, this is one of the year’s best so far. From Jenkins’ direction to the performances, especially by Ali, this is just a beautiful motion picture. The emotional truths put forward are simply haunting. The full power of the movie only becomes apparent at the end, but it’s consistently enthralling throughout. If I had to nitpick, I’d say that Harris’ character is a bit cliched, though her work is very solid. Jenkins is going to become a huge filmmaker because of this, while Ali is very much on his way to becoming an A-lister. From top to bottom, it just works in a big way.

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Awards wise, I think A24 has a horse here. For a small film, there’s going to be a big campaign launched. Look for efforts to be made in Best Picture, Best Director (for Jenkins), Best Supporting Actor (for Ali, Hibbert, Holland, Jerome, Rhodes, and/or Sanders), Best Supporting Actress (for Harris and/or Monáe), Best Original Screenplay (for Jenkins and McCraney), Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, and Best Original Score. Right now, Picture and Original Screenplay seem like definite possibilities with Ali in Supporting Actor and Harris in Supporting Actress certainly potential nominees as well. This could do way better than you’d have initially expected, especially if the precursors are kind to it.

Overall, Moonlight comes out on Friday in limited release and is an absolute must see. Ali and Jenkins have really left their mark on the year already, while the rest of the cast could follow along soon. This is really something worth the buzz and the raves so far, but you have to see it in order to fully believe it. Stay tuned for much more on Moonlight as the awards season progresses, since this is going to be a big player. In fact, there’s a chance that it could contend not just for nominations, but for wins as well. Sit tight folks…

Be sure to check out Moonlight, in theaters starting this weekend!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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