When Faye Dunaway took the envelope from a very confused Warren Beatty and read “La La Land” had won Best Picture, people stood, they clapped and the cast and crew went up on stage to accept the award. Then the shocking truth: “Moonlight” had actually won Best Picture. The audience gasped.
It’s anyone’s guess at the moment how Warren Beatty ended up with the wrong envelope, but another question left unanswered is how did “Moonlight” beat “La La Land”?
“La La Land” is magical, loud, happy and energetic. Every frame is filled with color, and even the darker lit scenes have a glow to them. The story is about two people, an aspiring actress (Emma Stone) and a jazz fanatic (Ryan Gosling), as they fall in love and help the each other achieve their dreams. The strange yet wonderful thing about the film is how director Damien Chazelle is able to combine elements and create a masterpiece: a present-day Hollywood that feels classic and timeless, and a big-budget movie musical that stands on a jazz score. Even the ending that is supposed to be realistic contains an outstanding dream sequence. “La La Land” has its flaws: the singers’ voices don’t sound strong enough, it doesn’t need to be two hours and there’s hardly a cast despite the huge opening number. But it’s an unbelievably happy movie that everyone seems to enjoy.
“Moonlight,” on the other hand, seems to be the complete opposite. It’s realistic, though its atmosphere does give it a dreamlike quality. It’s quiet. The colors are either muted and neutral or harsh and neon. On top of that, there isn’t much of a story. The film is told in three parts, and each part seems like a brief snapshot of the main character’s life. It starts when he’s a boy and he may be realizing he’s gay, then it goes to when he’s a teenager and he struggles with being bullied and finally it ends with him returning to the first guy he had a crush on, now as a drug dealer. There are brilliant performances, like Mahershala Ali, who won an Oscar for playing the boy’s father figure, and Naomie Harris, who was nominated for playing his addicted mother. There’s also an artistic flow in how the shots are framed, how the music underscores what’s happening. It’s quiet and slow-moving, but it tells the story of someone’s life.
So should it have won? “Moonlight” is a historical movie, being both the first all-black and first LGBTQ film to win Best Picture, and the mix-up at the award ceremony has made people forget that. Its subject matter is definitely stronger than “La La Land,” and director Barry Jenkins’s storytelling techniques are creative. Because of that it makes sense for “Moonlight” to have the Oscar. However, the true winner will ultimately be “La La Land” because it is more memorable and easier to watch time and again. History has consistently shown us that the awards don’t determine which movies are the greatest, the audience does.
Photo courtesy of Huffington Post.