Moonlight is easily the most impressive film I have ever seen. First of all, I’ll give you some stats. While Avatar took 10 years to make, Moonlight was filmed with only one camera in only 3 weeks. The budget was $1.5 million (Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides‘s record-breaking $411 million is 274 times greater). And most people in the film, including main characters, are young non-actors from Liberty City, Miami itself. It was the first full-length film Barry Jenkins ever wrote or directed, cinematographer James Laxton’s first major film, editor Joi McMillon’s first film, and composer Nicholas Britell’s first major score—yet each of these people did some of the best work ever done on an indie film, all tallying Oscar nominations. Ultimately it was nominated for a whopping 8 Oscars and picked up 3 wins (including Mahershala Ali for his first major acting role and Jenkins for his first screenplay), as well as the highest honor of them all: Best Picture.
But awards don’t do it justice. I remember seeing it at Dallas’s Magnolia Theater the day it came out. All I knew was that it’s a coming-of-age drama, and that critics were calling it one of the best films ever. They weren’t wrong. The technical features are so intricately done, and the depth of both the characters and the story is audacious. I found myself questioning reality, society, pain, neglect, how people are treated by their perceived labels alone, the reductive stereotypes constructed by apathy, and so on while marveling at the film’s sheer artistry. To be fair, non-snobs who don’t have an eye for cinematic nuance may call this film simply “boring”—but they couldn’t be more wrong. Normally I try to validate everyone’s opinions and be inclusive of all opinions about any film. Yet for this I will take on all who stand in my way, who undersells this work of high art.
At the end of the day, everything about Moonlight Is sensational. And more than that, its core is so powerful in both literal and figurative ways. There is a degree of vivaciousness, a palpable sense of living texture, with which Barry Jenkins’s screenplay glides from start to end. I remain shocked—and sputtering to find the words to convey how much I consider this film “essential viewing” for all film lovers. So indeed, this indie drama is perhaps the greatest film ever made in terms of the amount of input produced despite such a low budget of only $1 million (i.e. how daringly well every member of the cast and crew performed their duties), thus resulting in a remarkable and literally flawless masterpiece.
And make no mistake: Moonlight is far from mere “Oscar bait.” It is clearly a serious and genuine attempt to explore the inner depths of inherent human nature, as well as the adulterations of society. The script ensures with each line how immersed you are in its ghetto—as you enter the psyche of a young, poor, black, gay man growing up in a ghetto without any friends or role models—whose dad was never in the equation, whose mom is a crack addict, and whose only role model is his mom’s compassionate drug dealer. And it transcends conventional knowledge in many ways, exploring the human condition at both its darkest and its lightest. The script, score, directing, cinematography, acting, and so on are masterful. The list continues.
All in all, Moonlight tells a story nobody has ever seen on this level. The script, screenplay, cinematography, score, and acting are all masterful—with particularly legendary performance from supporting actors Mahershala Ali (who won an Oscar for it) and Naomie Harris. This film will challenge you. It will break you. It will evoke your inner demons. It will creep down your spine while vanquishing stereotypes about life as a minority. It will blow you away. Plus it will change you. For this isn’t one of those works that merely symbolizes trends in humanity; rather, it’s one of the works that will actually move such colossal mountains by itself, rather than merely representing or symbolizing how we’ve progressed. In terms of qualitative potency, the only thing I can even really compare it to is a supermassive black hole.
On top of it all, the best film I have ever seen also resulted in the best trailer I’ve ever seen.