The Inverse Oscars
As I frequently (probably too frequently) mention on Daily Fuel, I’m still bitter about the 2017 Oscars. Like most of the country, I preferred La La Land to Moonlight, not just because I enjoyed it more, but because I thought it was more illustrative of what a movie should be. It was more approachable, warmer, and relevant to a broader audience. I could go on and on.
So as you can imagine, I was hesitant when I attended a screening for Moonlight director Barry Jenkins’ latest film, If Beale Street Could Talk. I was determined not to let my biases cloud my judgement, but I was not exactly ecstatic. Fortunately, the film was phenomenal and crisis was averted.
The movie, set in 1970s Harlem, is an incredibly simple story. It follows a young African American couple who fall in love, and the strain placed on their two families when he is unfairly arrested and pressured to plead guilty to a crime he didn’t commit. Nothing about the story is particularly unpredictable…it has less of a plot than Moonlight (which, of course, has no plot). Yet while that movie dragged on, this one absolutely sings. Every aspect of the film feels like a massive improvement, and I’m looking forward to spending Oscar season recommending it to everyone I know.
As I’ve mentioned here before, I was not a fan of La La Land director Damien Chazelle’s latest film, First Man. In a crazy twist of fate, Barry Jenkins’ 2018 film is superior to Damien Chazelle’s in every way. That’s a sentence I was certain I’d never type, but here we are. I found myself wondering why that was the case, when it hit me: Jenkins tried to make a film more like La La Land, whereas Chazelle tried to imitate Moonlight.
Beale Street is so successful because of its warmth. It takes many of the unique techniques and stylistic choices Jenkins pioneered on Moonlight, but adds rich emotion, warm colors, and likable characters. By engaging its audience, rather than isolating it, the film packs an emotional punch equivalent to the best classic romances. First Man, on the other hand, was cold and esoteric, alienating its audience with its lack of human relationships. It squanders Chazelle’s unique abilities with its coldness.
It’s funny, because the subject matter of the films are not THAT different from their 2016 equivalents. Moonlight and Beale Street are both poetic looks at the struggles faced by introverted African American protagonists. La La Land and First Man both deal with the sacrifices we make when pursuing our dreams. Both directors have exquisite technical skills, but their films only succeed when their passion is apparent. At the risk of oversimplification, a case could be made that warmth is the difference between a great film and a mediocre one. If you invite audiences to come closer, rather than pushing them away so that you seem intelligent, you can make a great work of art.
If only the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences would just start reading my blogs…