2017 Oscar Showdown: Moonlight Vs. La La Land

Oscar Showdown: Moonlight Vs. La La Land

Moonlight is a film. La La Land is a movie. 

I watched Moonlight and La La Land back to back right after the Golden Globes. The hype for Moonlight has been enormous. I have been hearing about it for months, especially from my wife who had a former schoolmate co-produce it. I haven't heard anything about La La Land and never even seen a trailer. I originally thought it was a film about Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers because I saw a clip of tap dancing. So I dove blindly into both of these films believing that one of them would end up as Best Picture this year at the Oscars. Sure enough one of them will definitely win even with the pressure of Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge and Scorsese’s Silence (both with Andrew Garfield as lead amazingly). I feel the political pull for the Academy to give it to Moonlight however, since last year's all-white nomination scandal. While Moonlight is definitely a must see, I don’t think it really beats out La La Land

Here's why La La Land should win and why the Best Picture should not be based on righting last year's wrong, but just on overall production value.

Moonlight is a film about lost identity and homosexuality. It's about the masks one is forced to wear to hide from their personhood. The underlying theme is the same as in The Imitation Game, a 2015 contender for Best Picture. In that film, Alan Turing uses his amazing mind to hide behind from his homosexual identity. In Moonlight, Chiron (or later called “Black”) uses his brute strength to make him “hard” and hide his true self. Both of the films showcase prejudice against gays from their social scene, but Moonlight shows us a different world. Chiron is Black where Turing is White. We haven’t seen a film explore the violence against homosexuals within the African-American community, but also showcase the compassion towards gays from those we would least expect.

Three identities emerge in the film separated by chapters. Little is the shy boy who opens the movie. Without saying more than a few words, we understand his internal struggle when it collides with his external circumstances. He is bullied by kids at school for being gay, something he doesn't understand within himself yet. His mother is a crack addict and his father figure is the drug dealer who feeds her addiction. Chiron is the pubescent teenager who has his first sexual encounter with his male best friend. His social awkwardness is cause for violence as other classmates force his best friend, Kevin, to physically abuse him in front of the school. Black is the buff drug dealer with the kindest eyes you’ve ever seen. He is only looking for his purpose and meaning in life. With three versions of himself, Chiron remains confused until the end when he finds solace from his childhood friend, Kevin. 

Moonlight is worth seeing and would probably take home best picture if La La Land was not a contender this year. The problem is the film’s pacing. We are taken on these three journey’s that eventually lead to an unsatisfied anticlimactic conclusion. It would have been more interesting to see it as three short films and have to piece the clues together of who this person is. The identity crises would have been more prevalent. The great thing about this film though is that we hear a voice that has never been heard, but unfortunately that voice is drowned out this year by the dying sound of jazz. 

La La Land
The plot in La La Land is not as deep and dark as Moonlight. It’s not meant to be. Its purpose is not to flood the audience with tears or create a cult classic. La La Land serves to remind us of how entertaining the movie experience can be. It brings us back to the Golden Age of Hollywood, but in the 21st Century.  

The film follows two lovers who cross paths on several chance encounters. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a passionate jazz pianist and Mia (Emma Stone) is a struggling actress who dreams of one day being one of those celebrities who regularly walk into her coffee shop on an L.A. studio lot. Together they find inspiration in each other while singing and dancing their way into he audience’s hearts. They’re dreams however cannot be sustained while they’re together and it becomes apparent that in order to fulfill their callings it would have to be done a part from one another.   

The genius of this film is not found in the romantic story, but in the belly of it’s theme: movies can still inspire. Throughout the film Sebastian refers to his sadness of the eventual loss of jazz music. He claims that jazz is dying and there is nothing that can be done because the newer generation won’t even listen to jazz. As I was watching it I suddenly had a revelation. Like Jazz, movies are slowly dying. More actors are crossing over to television. Shows are more talked about nowadays. With the ability to binge watch comes the opportunity for writers to create characters that evolve in real time. The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones are great examples of how character development has changed. Every season you root for someone you once hated or hate someone you once loved. Your are bound to their deep humanity as they reveal their good and bad habits.  Shows are creating the most memorable characters of our generation, when it used to be movies that did that. 

La La Land’s soul intention seems to be to remind us of how we can have fun at the movies once again. With it’s upbeat original songs, it’s captivating dance numbers, and lovable cast, entertaining movies can beat out serious films. In a year where movie theaters have become stained with the mark of isolated mass shooters and online streaming is the safer and more preferred choice of experiencing the visual story, La La Land so effortlessly sings to us that our escape haven is still intact. We can still go to our own La La Land when reality breaks us in. We can still dance in the heavens when the weight of our lives pushes us to the ground. We can still achieve our dreams when the world’s eye rolls at our passionate attempts. La La Land has not reinvented the way we watch movies, but has reminded us of the way we used to. Hence, we wouldn’t be able to see a film like Moonlight without having the ability to escape into the uplifting world that is La La Land

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