“Moonlight,” the story of a young man searching for himself amid a hardscrabble upbringing in Miami, and “La La Land,” an old-school throwback musical about star-crossed lovers seeking fame in Los Angeles, sport little in common, save for bittersweet conclusions.
But shortly after midnight Monday, “Moonlight” scored a Hollywood ending – marking an awards show version of “Cinderella” where, amid unprecedented Oscars confusion, the right envelope finally fit the right movie.
All the questions that could answer how Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway ended up initially announcing “La La Land” as the Best Picture winner remained far from clear. Ballot tabulators PwC took responsibility for the error, saying that the presenters had been given the wrong category envelope by mistake.
One thing is certain: “Moonlight” is a worthy victor in a year brimming with strong films.
“La La Land,” which notched a record-tying 14 Academy Award nominations, is a fine movie that could have ended up going down in fandom annals as another good flick that unfairly became enshrined in greatness by a Hollywood establishment that too often over-rewards films about the entertainment industry.
There’s nothing glamorous about director Barry Jenkins’ brilliantly wrought and acted “Moonlight,” which traces, in three parts, the tale of Chiron, aka “Little.”
The character is introduced as a bullied, latchkey kid who is being raised by his crack-addicted mother (Oscar nominee Naomie Harris) and is befriended by her dealer (Oscar winner Mahershala Ali, who plays Juan with more nuance than menace). In the second part, Chiron is a high schooler dealing with his sexuality and worsening destabilization at home. In the third part, he’s a young man, hardened by prison and life as a drug dealer, but still sensitive and haunted by a past and a love he’s struggling to come to grips with.
The low-budget critical hit stood out in a year filled, as previously noted, with other searing dramas (“Fences” and “Manchester by the Sea”), true-life uplifting fare ("Hidden Figures" and "Lion") and intriguing sci-fi (“Arrival”).
There’s no need to feel sorry for “La La Land,” which took home six Oscars and whose team proved the epitome of grace amid the muddle on the Dolby Theatre stage in the ABC broadcast’s final moments. “Moonlight” scored three statuettes, including the one that counts most and could spur a deserved box office boost.
The two movies will now be linked forever in cinematic history, both winners in their own way, but with “Moonlight” outshining a lighter film that celebrated the “City of Stars.” Movie fans can only hope that the inevitable controversy and conspiracy theories bound to swell won’t overshadow the dramatic triumph of “Moonlight.”