Even if La La Land cleaned up at the Academy Awards – and at press time, with the big night just ahead, it seemed like an all but sure thing – the #OscarsSoWhite complaints have deservedly abated this year. One of the major reasons is Moonlight, an indie drama about a young black man’s maturity and identity that earned eight Oscar nominations while both embracing and transcending race.
Directed and scripted by newcomer Barry Jenkins, Moonlight relates a tough but tender story told through three defining chapters in the life of its protagonist, whom we see as a child, as a high schooler and as a young adult, struggling to connect with people and come to terms with his sexuality. The character is excellently portrayed by different actors at his various life points, although academy voters chose to nominate supporting players Naomie Harris, as the lad’s crack-addicted mother, and Mahershala Ali, as the drug dealer who, through caring or guilt or both, becomes an unlikely father figure.
Just as a brief street scene between Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams lingers most from Manchester by the Sea, another of this season’s prime award contenders, there is a similarly short but powerful exchange in Moonlight among Ali and fellow actors Alex Hibbert and Janelle Monáe at a dinner table. You’ll know it when you see it, and it is the stuff of which Oscars are made. I enjoyed La La Land, a joyous musical that celebrates the magic of Hollywood moviemaking (sure Oscar bait), but its music left me cold and its two leads, however likable, could not quite pass muster at song or dance. I mean … 14 Oscar noms?
So, have at me if you’d like, and come see Moonlight when it plays March 24-26 in the Friends of Modern Art film series at the Flint Institute of Arts. Moonlight played only briefly in Genesee County commercially, so this will allow folks to catch up.
Another American FIA entry for March is Paterson, a Jim Jarmusch-directed dramedy that features Adam Driver (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) acting out a week in the life of a poetry-writing New Jersey bus driver. The San Francisco Chronicle calls this “a small miracle … both intellectually dazzling and emotionally provocative.” It comes to town March 31-April 2.
The month’s other three FIA films are from Europe, and have some familiar names. Elle, a French psychological thriller from Dutch director Paul Verhoeven, garnered a best actress Oscar nomination for Isabelle Huppert as a sexual assault victim who has revenge on her mind. It’s set for March 3-5.
Playing March 10-12 is Germany’s Toni Erdmann, an Oscar nominee for best foreign language film. A comedy with some serious elements, it concerns a practical-jokester father who tries to connect with his workaholic daughter by creating an outrageous alter ego and posing as a “life coach.”
FOMA favorite Pedro Almodóvar, the frequently outrageous Spanish filmmaker, returns to the series schedule March 17-19 with Julieta, an adaptation of stories by the Canadian author, Alice Munro. After a chance meeting, a middle-aged woman in Madrid is forced to painfully re-examine her life after learning that her long-lost daughter has resurfaced. Almodóvar’s films usually have interesting roles for women, and this is no exception.
For show times and more information on FIA movies, visit flintarts.org or call 810.234.1695. And if you’re a big La La Land fan, well … don’t take the above personally.