Is “Moonlight” the best Best Picture ever? Let the debate begin. It’s been a week since the monumentally moving film directed by Barry Jenkins surprisingly won Oscar’s highest honor. Note to reader, we here at Cinema Buzz weren’t surprised. Or at least I wasn’t. I called for the victory right here months before the ceremony.
The general consensus is that the film’s victory was a huge upset. No, it wasn’t! “Moonlight” consistently won major awards throughout awards seasons, it was loved by critics’ groups across the country, it was showered with praise by leading film critics and it was arguably the best reviewed movie of 2016.
There are two critically respected websites that grade movies. Rottentomatoes and MetaCritic both utilize film critics to measure the artistic value of films. Neither of these sites date back to the first Academy Awards so judging the 89 Best Picture winners isn’t exactly objective. But if you go strictly by the numbers, “Moonlight” is one of the best Best Picture winners ever. The movie has an impressive score of 99 out of 100 at MetaCritic and is at 97% at Rottentomatoes. Compared to other Best Picture winners that have been critiqued by both sites places “Moonlight” at the top of the heap.
There are several reasons why “Moonlight”’s win was so important. When it won, it became the first film with an all-black cast, the first L.G.B.T.Q. film, and the cheapest film to win best picture. Those are all very historical benchmarks.
What “Moonlight” does best is erase the notion that stories about other ethnicities and cultures are risky. There isn’t a single non-black in the film. And why should there be? There is no need for a white savior figure. Real life doesn’t play out that way.
“Moonlight” also won Best Adapted Screenplay (Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney) and Best Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali). I am still mad at Viola Davis who robbed Naomie Harris from a much deserved win as a crack addicted mother in the film. Davis’s performance in “Fences” was a lead role not supporting.
The most astonishing fact about the Best Picture winner, though, is that it was made with only $1.5 million, which makes it the lowest budget movie to ever win Best Picture. “Moonlight” cost less than a 30-second ad during the Oscars telecast (reported price: $2.2 million).
Yes, the announcement of the Best Picture winner at the 89th ceremony was a total fail. However, no “screw up” can diminish the historical importance of the win. The Academy does need to look into not hiring star-struck accountants. However, to their benefit “Moonlight”’s Best Picture win helps to ease the pain the organization had been feeling about its lack of diversity. At least temporarily.
Note to reader, we knew it was only a matter of time that the lure of the selfie would destroy mankind.
“Moonlight” got robbed of its moment (and man, The Academy would have loved to have captured that moment to replay over and over again) but fortunately history lasts forever.
“Moonlight “ will always be the winner of Best Picture at the 89th awards show. Now let’s talk where it ranks.
Ranking movies on the surface is silly. How do you compare art? Nonetheless, we do it all of the time. So here it goes.
THE 5 BEST PICTURE WINNERS
1. Moonlight (2016)
2. The Godfather Part 2 (1974)
3. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
4. The Godfather (1972)
5. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
And while we’re at it, here is a list of movies that should’ve won best picture but didn’t.
THE 5 BEST MOVIES THAT SHOULD HAVE WIN BEST PICTURE
1. Raging Bull (1980)
2. Do the Right Thing (1989)
3. The Social Network (2010)
4. Star Wars (1977)
5. Pulp Fiction (1994)
These are the movies that will be in contention for Best Picture next year.
2017 OSCAR FRONTRUNNERS
Netflix paid $12.5 million at Sundance for Rees’s “Mudbound,” a sprawling, slow-building drama about the tensions between a white farm family and black sharecroppers in 1940s Jim Crow South. The film’s powerful take on racism made it another festival favorite this year. Expect Netflix to give it a huge awards push.
“Dunkirk” is director Christopher Nolan’s first foray into history tells the true story of the massive, miraculous evacuation of Allied soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk, France, in the early days of World War II.
Todd Haynes’s latest adapts Brian Selznick’s beautiful, illustrated novel about a boy and a deaf girl, separated by 50 years, each longing for escape. (Selznick also wrote “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” the source material for Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo.”) Haynes cast Simmonds, a 13-year-old deaf actress, and shot her scenes as a silent film to capture her perspective. It sounds like another ambitious, unconventional effort from one of cinema’s most gifted directors.
4. Thurgood Marshall
“Marshall” is based on an incident in the life of Thurgood Marshall, when he was a young lawyer, long before his appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. As the nation teeters on the brink of WWII, a nearly bankrupt NAACP sends Marshall to conservative Connecticut to defend a black chauffeur against his wealthy socialite employer in a sexual assault and attempted murder trial that quickly becomes tabloid fodder. In need of a high profile victory but muzzled by a segregationist court, Marshall is partnered with Samuel Friedman, a young Jewish lawyer who has never tried a case. Marshall and Friedman struggle against a hostile storm of fear and prejudice, driven to discover the truth in the sensationalized trial which helped set the groundwork for the Civil Rights Movement to come.
Payne’s last three movies—“Nebraska,” “The Descendants,” and “Sideways”—have earned best picture nominations. This one, a reunion with frequent collaborator Jim Taylor (“Election”), is something of a departure from their signature wry dramas. It’s a big-budget (for Payne), special effects-laden drama about a man who decides his life would be better if he shrunk himself down to a very small size. But it’s not a complete departure for these guys because, as Taylor told me a couple of years ago, the movie contains social satire reminiscent of “Election” and “Citizen Ruth.”