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A look back at this year's Oscar winner for Best Picture, 'Moonlight'

MOONLIGHT (2016)

Score: 5 Stars (out of 5)

Rated R -- 110 Minutes

"Moonlight wins Best Picture of 2016"

***The following News3LV.com review first appeared on Dec. 15, 2016***

If 2016 was the year of Oscar's African American snub, then 2017 may just be the first time in 87 years that the Oscar's celebrate a year of the African American triumph. Hollywood was color blind last year, but in reviewing all of this year's major films, every one of Oscar's 20 acting nominations could be filled by a person of color. While there is one film, Nate Parker's masterpiece, THE BIRTH OF A NATION, whose deserving actors, crew, and film may be totally shut out, it is a safe bet that when the Oscar nominations are announced on January 24, 2017, nominations for LOVING, FENCES, HIDDEN FIGURES and MOONLIGHT will be front and center.

MOONLIGHT is the first and only film in 2016 that I am recommending to either purchase or rent the DVD. In order to grasp and truly understand all of the subtleties and nuances, you will need to watch it twice, if not three times. Yes, this is a haunting, disturbing film that just may be better seen at home. This can then give family and friends the opportunity for discussing to address the myriad of themes.

MOONLIGHT is very much a director's film. Barry Jenkins will surely be nominated for Best Director of the Year as will his film. Mr. Jenkins, together with Tarell McCraney, wrote the screenplay together, adapting from an original stage play "In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue" by Tarell Alvin McCraney.

The film's narrative is divided into three separate chapters in the life of Chiron, played by Alex Hibbert (boy), Ashton Sanders (adolescent), and Trevante Rhodes (man). Chiron's mother is played by Naomie Harris. Mahershala Ali is absolutely brilliant as Juan and is destined for a Best Supporting Actor nomination. Janelle Monae plays Teresa, and three actors who play Chiron's schoolmate Kevin (growing from Jaden Piner to Jharrel Jerone to Andre Holland) should also be acknowledged.

Equally outstanding is the cinematography directed by James Laxton and the eclectic musical score coordinated by Nicholas Britell. Nominated for 6 Golden Globe Awards.

MOONLIGHT begs the question and brings to light what life is like around the Miami housing project. The themes which I wrote down as the story developed included:

  • Black and poor
  • Drugs
  • Adolescence and parenting
  • Bullying
  • Homophobia and masculinity
  • Incarceration
  • Regrets and redemption

A UNITED KINGDOM (2017)

Score: B

Rated PG -- 111 Minutes

"David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike star in this important historical drama"

Actor David Oyelowo first came to my attention for his role in THE BUTLER (2013), followed by playing Martin Luther King, Jr. in SELMA (2014). Rosamund Pike first came to my attention in 2014 when she was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar in the film GONE GIRL. Their chemistry together as a couple in this beautiful love story strengthens this true historical drama.

A UNITED KINGDOM unfolds slowly, the vision of director Amma Asante. It is almost as if we are reading a book. As each page is turned, their relationship is tested while surviving the ugly, bigoted world of racial segregation. The original book was penned by Susan Williams and the screenplay was written by Guy Hibbert.

The movie chronicles the courtship and marriage of Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo), heir to the throne of the dominant tribe in the country that eventually became Botswana. Ruth Williams was a middle-class clerk in London (Rosamund Pike). The story begins in London when Seretse comes to study law in the late 1940s. At first, during their courtship, the dating of a white woman with a black man is not an issue.

The title of the film comes into focus and is better understood once Seretse and Ruth are married. I had forgotten that there was a long battle between the people of Bechuanaland – later to become Botswana, and the British government, who for years was the land's protectorate. South Africa was the trump card in this political battle. Independence did not actually come until 1966.

At the end, I truly felt the strength of their love, their defiance of multiple governments, and the pain and exile of families divided. After what we have experienced over the past year, I wonder if the battle for full racial equality will ever be won.

The movie was filmed in Botswana and England. The weakest part of the movie is the title of the film itself. Sandwiched this weekend in-between LOGAN and Disney's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, I am afraid that A UNITED KINGDOM will struggle at the box office. And that would be a shame.

PREVIEW OF COMING ATTRACTIONS

Last week I reviewed LOGAN, which became my first "A" rated movie of 2017. The film is projected to have an astounding opening week (combined domestic and international) box office of $170 million.

Next week, through the magic of CG animation, comes KONG: SKULL ISLAND. New York City and the Empire State Building becomes a distant iconic memory as we now find ourselves in southeast Asia. The year is 1973 and U.S. troops are pulling out of Vietnam. Satellite photos reveal the existence of an uncharted island. This new film has a pretty good cast led by John Goodman, Corey Hawk, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, and Thomas Mann. Full review coming next week.


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