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Moonlight (2017)

In 2014 Richard Linklater released his labour of love, Boyhood.  Filmed sporadically between 2002 and 2013 the film told the story of Mason.  As the film took 11 years to make, they could track Ellar Coltrane (Mason) as he grew up, filming scenes at certain stages in his life.  It blew many away with it's brilliantly original method of telling that story, and the effortless nostalgia that came with it.  It currently holds a 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and a perfect 100/100 on Metacritic.  However, it's sprawling storytelling methods aside I think you were left with a story we have all seen a million times before, and it definitely didn't demand any repeat viewings.  It was an incredibly innovative and brave way to capture one particular coming of age story, but in Moonlight it's the story itself that is daringly original.  Both received Best Picture Academy Award nominations in their respective years, both have near identical scores in film critic consensus websites, yet there is only one that lives long in the memory.
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Moonlight is split in to thirds as Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes play Chiron - a boy coming to terms with his sexuality, and balancing that for a society of masculinity. The film has been rightly praised for it's originality as no other film has opened the window in to the struggles facing black, gay american men before. Particularly pertinent recently with the instances of prejudice that have plagued the US, it's an important story to tell. Moonlight's opening act follows a young Chiron as he befriends a local drug dealer, Juan (played brilliantly by Mahershala Ali), and lives around his drug addict mother (played just as brilliantly by Naomie Harris). He's too young to really know what his sexuality is, but there is one heartbreaking scene where Chiron asks Juan what a faggot is. By the second act, Chiron is a teenager that lives in the shadows, learning to hide who he is from the bullies around him. My time at school was incomparable to what this character goes through, but I could definitely empathise with having to stay out of certain people's way and keeping my head down. By the final act however, Chiron has decided to reimage himself and has become someone else entirely. Hiding behind his masculinity, he is a tough drug dealer with gold fronts on his teeth, a flash car, and an intimidating physique. It's a very difficult journey to watch, but one that's forced by his environment and the people that raise him.
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Barry Jenkins and James Laxton did a stunning job with their direction and cinematography respectively. Moonlight's a gorgeous film, but never for aesthetic's sake - every angle, long take, and sweeping movement of the camera as it weaves in between the characters places you right in the middle of that world. It makes it clear that this is no sound stage, there are no false backdrops, and that these people are walking around a living, breathing city. The musical score's just as dramatic, as if every component if the film desperate to tell it's own story. I particularly liked the sudden drop in sound at key moments that emphasised the action (or lack thereof). Seeing as she was stuffing her handbag full of tissues beforehand I think Charlotte and I were mentally preparing ourselves for a gut-wrenching experience going in to Moonlight. I was a bit taken aback by it's steady pace at first and I think it's important to go in to this film expecting that. As soon as I grew accustomed to that form of storytelling I appreciated it all the more for it. This is a film that has no desire to play on emotional manipulation of it's audience to get a reaction. It purposely avoids cliches of structure and character traits to tell a tale that feels real.
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Moonlight is the film Boyhood wanted to be. It goes beyond a coming of age film and makes a comment on the world we live in, taking us right in to lives we rarely see on screen.  It doesn't shy away from the dark realities of life and is full of so many multidimensional characters (played so smartly by it's cast), you could watch a film focused just on them.  A  mother fighting addiction and caring for her young boy.  A drug dealer with a conscience - how can he protect the child whose mother he's selling drugs to?  A Miami cook turning his life around and seeking forgiveness for previous wrongs (André Holland).  And at the heart of it all, a tortured young man trying to unearth the person he wants to be.  Moonlight's a film I haven't stopped thinking about since we saw it.  There was a disappointing showing in the screen we were at and I really hope that turns around.  It recently won 'Best Motion Picture - Drama' at the Golden Globes, and I wouldn't be overly surprised if it ended up beating my punt for the Best Picture Academy Award, La La Land (2017).  I couldn't recommend it more.


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