2. Moonlight

An Andrew-approved™ best picture nominee

One of the perks of becoming a Hollywood hotshot is that people want to give you free stuff. And if Snoop-Dogg-branded vape pens aren’t your speed, the next best option for semi-legal swag is awards season, when screener copies of Oscar-nominated movies get passed around like, well, Snoop-Dogg-branded vape pens.

For those of us not yet on the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science’s mailing list, the trickle-down theory of free swag can be a beautiful thing. By working for a screener recipient (or knowing someone who does, when your own boss is rightfully protective of his personal copies), it’s pretty easy to get access to the year’s top films. So when a lack of internet access put a hold on my Star Wars binge, I opted for one of the files I had on hand. 100 movies is a lot; there will be plenty of time for Skywalker et al.

I’m glad I took the time to watch Moonlight, because it’s easily the best 2016 release I’ve seen so far. Granted, that makes it number one out of four or five, but still.

A brief but relevant aside to discuss the other Oscar movies I’ve watched:

  • La La Land is a cute a wholly pleasant diversion, but it’s 30 minutes too long. Cut the dancing in the sky and get on with it. Also, the next time someone asks you to cast an aspirational yet relatable starving artist in Los Angeles, don’t pick literally Ryan Gosling. All that said, I play Another Day of Sun in my car about once a week and I will never apologize for it. B+
  • Jackie could use a touch less whispery archival footage and a touch more action. That’s a minor critique, though, for what is a stunningly shot/directed/designed film. I’m too young to know whether Natalie Portman’s Jackie is true to life, so I can only hope that the real First Lady was as sharp and calculated and quietly vicious as her likeness. For Portman’s performance alone, Black Swan is going on the 100 movie list. And as long as I’m offering unsolicited casting recommendations, Billy Crudup was perfectly cromulent as The Journalist, but how about Jon Hamm in that role? B
  • The Lobster is totally bizarre but at the same time not bizarre enough. I think I need to watch it again to really take it in, particularly the oddball dialogue. Will read the screenplay and reassess. INC
  • Manchester by the Sea bored me straight to death. I can only take so much of Casey Affleck being angry in a Boston accent. Fack this, fack that, fack my sad life. Call me a philistine—I know deserve it—but I can’t see why people love this movie so much. And don’t tell me that it’s because it’s real. That’s a lazy excuse for skimping on a story arc. D+

Okay, that got a little bit long and now I’ve used up all my movie talking points for the year. So, Moonlight.

All I knew going in was that it featured House of Cards’ Mahershala Ali, which is a less than useless way to approach this movie. He is in fact in it, and I’d give him the best supporting actor nod if it were up to me, but his sweet (and stylish) performance is just a small part of a genuinely affecting coming of age story about Chiron, a gay black kid from Miami. We see Chiron as a kid, grappling with vicious school bullies and a drug-addicted mother; as a surly teenager, adding his own confused sexuality into that mix; and then as an adult, attempting to free himself from the traumas of his youth while being drawn back towards them.

Kenneth Lonergan could learn a thing or two about real from Moonlight. There’s not a lot of sunshine in this movie—har har har—but there’s growth and emotion and conflict aplenty. And there’s an artfulness to it, building tension and playing on fairly common themes without ever resorting to cliche or overexplanation. In fact, there’s a whole lot of silence in this movie, expertly wielded to convey the motion of Chiron’s constantly-analyzing mind. Credit is also due to Naomie Harris, who gives a surprisingly empathetic performance as Chiron’s mother. A